For most of us, Halloween is about parties, costumes and handing out candy to trick-or-treaters. We don’t always think of the spooky holiday as a reason to travel, but you may want to reconsider that notion. October 31 falls on a Sunday this year, making it especially convenient for a weekend getaway. Plan a trip around one of the following cities, all of which mix haunted history with fun-filled seasonal events.
Las Vegas, Nevada
It only makes sense that Sin City would know a thing or two about Halloween. The Strip’s high-profile nightclubs usually have themed nights with special guests and costume contests. You’ll also see people dressed up at tourist hotspots like The LINQ promenade (home to the world’s tallest observation wheel) and Downtown’s Fremont Street Experience. Make a point to visit the Haunted Museum with dozens of creepy exhibits curated by Zak Bagans of the Travel Channel’s “Ghost Whisperers.” Away from the tourist areas, Downtown Summerlin hosts the Halloween-themed Parade of Mischief every Friday and Saturday night in October.
New Orleans, Louisiana
A city with so much history and character is destined to have a spooky side. Locals swear New Orleans is haunted and you can find out for yourself with a ghost tour by Haunted History Tours, French Quarter Phantoms (specializing in creepy cemetery visits) or Royal Carriages (through the French Quarter on mule-drawn carriages). If that’s not enough, you may want to book a night in a haunted hotel. Hotel Monteleone, where mysterious things happen on the 13th floor (advertised as the 14th floor to the public) and Hotel Provincial, formerly an 18th century military hospital are known to be full of spirits. An annual Halloween parade, the Krewe of Boo!, returns October 23.
If you want to maximize the chills this Halloween season, head north of Boston to Salem. The Massachusetts town has embraced its notorious witch trial history with events throughout the entire month of October. Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the Salem Horror Fest, Salem Psychic Fair & Witches’ Market, Ghost & Legends Trolley Tour and Salem Halloween Museum. If you’re flying in and out of Boston, make sure to save time for a haunted pub crawl.
Los Angeles, California
It’s hard to beat Disneyland in September and October for family-friendly Halloween fun. The theme park is a spectacular sight with spooky decor, characters in costume, Halloween Screams fireworks shows and the Main Street Pumpkin Festival. The Haunted Mansion is extra special this time of year and even California Adventures gets in on the act with the Guardians of the Galaxy ride taking on an “after dark” format. Another iconic SoCal theme park, Knott’s Berry Farm, transforms into Knott’s Scary Farm, a haunted attraction with mazes, shows and costumed performers.
Between the Great Chicago Fire and a history of mob-driven organized crime, the Windy City has a legacy of loss and violence that makes it one of the most haunted cities in the country. Sign up for a tour with Chicago Hauntings, which provides an up-close look at spirit-infested locations like the site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Holy Name Cathedral and Lincoln Park, where an old cemetery used to be. In an annual tradition, the Chicago Botanical Gardens hosts the Night of 1,000 Jack-o’-Lanterns during the two weekends leading up to Halloween. You’ll see more than a thousand decorated pumpkins on display, including a few over 100 pounds in size. Arts in the Dark (October 30) and Haunted Halsted (October 31) are the city’s two largest Halloween parades.
A suburb outside the Twin Cities, Anoka may be the least-known destination on the list, but the Minnesota city proudly calls itself the Halloween Capital of the World. The tradition dates back to a Halloween parade in 1920 with subsequent events only growing in stature over time. Festivities take place throughout October, ranging from spooky movie nights in George Green Park to adult pumpkin carving contests. However, the Light Up The Night Parade (October 23), Gray Ghost Run (October 30) and Grande Day Parade (October 30) are the most high-profile reasons to visit.
This Georgia port city is the very definition of Southern charm. Its preserved architecture, weeping willow trees and town squares add up to an engaging downtown area that’s beautiful, but has a dark side. The Savannah Ghostwalker Tour provides small groups real K2 EMF meters to detect spirits while exploring historic areas. Ghost City Tours, on the other hand, has a haunted pub crawl that takes advantage of the city’s loose open container laws with drinking allowed on streets and sidewalks. Make a point to visit Fort Pulaski National Monument, formerly a prison camp during the Civil War that’s said to be haunted. The Oatland Island Wildlife Center’s annual Halloween Hike is October 15-16 and the Alee Shriners Terror Plantation operates every Friday and Saturday in October.
New York City, New York
The Big Apple is coming alive again with the return of Broadway shows and other forms of entertainment, thanks to widespread “proof of COVID vaccination” policies. After being cancelled last year, the Village Halloween Parade has been cleared to return October 31 in Greenwich Village. It’s one of the largest Halloween spectacles in the world with anyone in costume invited to participate. Guests are not only encouraged to wear masks for safety this year, but also turn them into costumes. Take a drive north of the city to Sleepy Hollow, a village famous for being the home of the fictional Headless Horseman in Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Visit during Halloween season and you’ll see reenactments of the story, cemetery tours and the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze.
Key West, Florida
Enjoy an off-the-grid feel in Key West, the southernmost location in the United States. The tiny island off the coast of Florida is home to Fantasy Fest, one of the best excuses to travel after receiving a vaccine. The 10-day event runs October 22-31 as a celebration of costumes and diversity. The schedule is filled with gatherings large and small throughout Key West. Highlights include the Masquerade March October 29 and performances of the Rocky Horror Show October 14-29.
Charleston, South Carolina
The birthplace of the Civil War is one of the most haunted cities in the United States. Visit Fort Sumter, where the first shots were fired between Union and Confederate soldiers. Many believe lost souls from the war continue to haunt the national monument. If you want to explore the historic architecture of downtown Charleston, Old South Carriage Co. has a haunted tour that runs 40 minutes at dusk. It’s one of the best ways to see old churches, alleys and graveyards while hearing stories guaranteed to leave a shiver down your spine. It should also be noted that Charleston Beer Week overlaps with Halloween with more than 50 craft brew events over 10 days (October 29-November 7).
Bonus Destination: Oaxaca, Mexico
While Halloween is one of the most popular holidays in the United States, don’t overlook Dia de los Muertos, otherwise known as the Day of the Dead. It’s a more upbeat celebration throughout Mexico that honors departed friends and family November 1-2. The southern city of Oaxaca stretches the holiday even further, from October 28 to November 3. That gives you plenty of time to experience festivals, parades, agave spirits and Mexican cuisine — especially dishes topped with mole, a flavorful sauce made with dozens of regional ingredients.