Dressed as Maleficent, Stefanie Brizuela of Santa Cruz watches over the final day of Outside Lands on Halloween 2021. (Brontë Wittpenn/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)
We know, we know. There’s too much to be done already. There’s a hay maze on the horizon and pumpkins to spend four hours picking out, only to carve them up into oblivion. There are costumes to plan and candy to buy and decorations to hang and your local neighborhood Spirit store to run amok in. But once all of that’s done, you have to actually pick some events to go to. Which is where this handy guide comes in.
There is something for everyone this year, whether you’re a screaming (drag) queen, a movie buff, a rock ’n’ roller, or a pet with a wardrobe. Altogether now! It’s creepy and it's kooky / Mysterious and spooky / It’s all together ooky / Bay Area Halloween!
Most people will come to the Halloween Meltdown for the music: sets from Amyl and the Sniffers, Lydia Lunch, Josie Cotton and many more. But for a smaller, creepier bunch, the weekend will be all about the costume contest (there was a $500 prize last year!) and much-anticipated on-site haunted house. Artist and horror enthusiast Rob Fletcher has been meticulously designing the tented attraction for months.
“The Haunt is going to be a throwback to 1960s and ’70s-style dark carnival rides, but very much centered around trash culture,” Fletcher tells KQED Arts. “There will be gore. There will be vulgarity. There will be lobsters! If all goes according to plan, it should be total chaos.”
You’d be hard pressed to find a better venue than Grace Cathedral for a screening of 1923’s Hunchback of Notre Dame—save for the real life Parisian cathedral, of course. Everything about Wallace Worsley’s silent masterpiece is epic: its detailed replica of the real-life Notre-Dame, the thousands of extras used on set and, best of all, Lon Chaney bringing pathos (and not a little athleticism) to a monstrous visage.
As an SFJazz presentation, organist and composer Dorothy Papadakos will live score the horror classic. Papadakos has been passionate about using her musical prowess to bring old classics to life for years now, with previous presentations of Phantom of the Opera, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Nosferatu. Papadakos will even provide a brief history of the film before she takes her seat behind the 7,500-pipes of Grace’s 88-year-old Aeolian-Skinner organ.
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose Sept. 13—Oct. 31 (16 select dates)
There’s plenty to be creeped out by in the Winchester Mystery House on any given day. The seance room full of one-way doors. The preponderance of the number 13 in the windows and decorative features. That damn door on the second floor that would send you plummeting to death or serious injury if you walked through it. But for Halloween, the Mystery House is ramping things up even further with 16 immersive evenings that step beyond the Sarah Winchester legend.
The Nightshade’s Curse event is set in 1949. A fictitious carnival owner and paranormal investigator named Madame Nightshade has temporarily taken over the property to ghost hunt within the house. Meanwhile, her small carnival has set up on the grounds to entertain guests with games and tricks, plus food offerings and a bar. There will be self-guided tours of the labyrinthian home throughout the evening, and not all routes will be the same. A word of warning before you go: Guests shouldn’t be surprised to run into a ghost or two...
There are two things that we all absolutely, fundamentally deserve on Halloween. The first is candy. The second is dogs wearing costumes. That’s it. Everything else is incidental. (I said what I said.)
There’s a lot going on in Sausalito this Halloween for kids, grown-ups and pets. A parade starts at 6pm at the Station 1 Firehouse and ends at a special Trick or Treat Lane. The City Hall Game Room hosts a haunted house. But the most important thing of all is that the Howl’O’Ween Dog Costume Contest is happening. It’s free to enter and there are three prize categories: best little dog (under 35 lbs.), best big dog (over 35 lbs.) and best couple (human and dog). In all, perfect for those who like their Halloween to be more heartwarming than bone-chilling.
October is always a good time to visit the Camron-Stanford House. Every year, this Lake Merritt gem puts on its creepiest finery and gets into the Halloween spirit, Victorian-style. (Which, as we all know, is the scariest kind, on account of the Victorian obsession with trying to conjure dead people every five minutes.)
This year is no different. Camron-Stanford is offering a new exhibit, Ghoulish & Ghastly: 19th Century Monsters in Popular Culture starting Oct. 2, as well as the Haunted Garden, an annual, family-friendly Halloween party on Oct. 30. In addition this year, amateur sleuths are invited to come to the house and help solve a murder in a Clue-style game that encourages Victorian cosplay.
This Oct. 21 whodunit will begin in 1890 at a memorial reception for a recently murdered wealthy Oakland man. The evening’s hosts, Franklina and William will offer clues to help you catch the killer before they get the chance to strike again. Adding to the fun? The game includes characters based on real people from Oakland history, so everyone will learn a little something too.
Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley and Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco Oct. 21–29, times vary
SF Symphony’s Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen is conducting special programs scattered throughout October that lean into themes of magic, myth and horror—and there are three distinct Halloween highlights.
The San Francisco Mint, San Francisco Oct. 7–Nov. 5
The official description for this drag-fueled, Peaches Christ-starring haunted house experience is so magnificent, it bears repeating in its original form:
Guests will participate in a real live seance that rips a hole into the supernatural world and takes them on a terrifying adventure! Prepare to come face-to-face with demonic spirits while you attempt to retrieve the severed head of an unethical vampire queen.
(Because presumably, unethical vampire queens are the worst kinds of vampire queens...)
Everything about The Summoning promises to be extra-extra. Groups of 11 guests at a time will be guided through the experience, which will include (*deep breath*): nudity, gore, “4-D effects,” mazes, theatrical segments and a cast of 78. (Seventy-eight!) Peaches and friends ask that you leave your high heels and Halloween masks at home, but feel free to grab a drink at the on-site ’80s goth pop-up bar afterwards. It’s called (*checks notes*) Fang Bang. Like I said: extra-extra.
Both Oakland and San Francisco are holding kid-thrilling Boo at the Zoo events this year.
Oakland Zoo is offering a fun-filled animal-themed scavenger hunt across its grounds. Costumes are encouraged; choosing to use the zoo’s collection of snakes, scorpions, spiders and other delightful creepy crawlies as inspiration is optional.
San Francisco Zoo is holding a costume parade and contest at noon on event days, and is also offering a self-guided, sloth-themed jaunt around a variety of haunted houses on the zoo’s grounds. Houses include “Count Dracu-sloth’s Fortress” and the “House of Franken-sloth.” Get ready to squee!
A heads up: Both of these events usually sell out fast, so families are encouraged to book in advance.
Truth be told, the Alamo is never not doing Halloween, thanks to Terror Tuesdays, Weird Wednesdays and a general commitment to digging up old horror movies and putting them back on the big screen. But while the Mission movie theater is always a reliable source of jump scares, it’s ramping up the horror content for the entire month of October.
And if parents need something that younger eyeballs can feast upon, look for Ghostbusters on Oct. 4 and Beetlejuice on Oct. 12—both of which will be full-blown parties. The Ghostbusters one will include Slimer slime, Stay Puft marshmallows, and glow necklaces “you can wave around anytime the Ghostbusters use their proton packs.” May “I ain’t ’fraid o’ no ghost” be your mantra for the evening.
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