Here is our list of 2011 Halloween haunts with an emphasis on our personal experiences over more than 16 Seasons of the Witch in California. We have also included a few places we would like to see in other parts of the country so that those who have the ways and means to travel to them, or in many cases are located in their backyard cemeteries, can get the most of the season and hopefully tell us what they thought so we can include it in next year’s list. Sure, it is an ambitious plan to get followers to send us their thoughts for next year’s list but, if you can’t trust your fellow travelers of dark alleys, who can you trust? Enjoy!!
This year is going to be rigamortis-stiff competition between the two biggies of Southern California: Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios. I recommend at least one night at each!
Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt (Buena Park): The original Halloween haunt in America and approved by Mr. Knott back in 1972 this haunt yearly boasts at least 13 haunted attractions and scare zones with themes and designs being changed yearly. This year’s show lineup includes some blasts from year’s past with prop comedian Marty Putz and magician Ed Alonzo returning for fun and high jinks. During the day a kid’s safe trick or treat experience is provided for the little ones because the nights bring on true adult terror. Tip: Don’t ride the unthemed rides and ride the themed ones early (mine and log rides), their lines only get longer. Also if you can afford the VIP dinner the food is terrific and gets you into the park slightly earlier.
Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights (Hollywood): This haunt went on for a few years and right at the height of it’s creative Hollywood mazes (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, House of 1000 Corpses, Clive Barker’s Body Bags, WWF Undertaker) it went dark and has built back up slowly to be a contender for big thrill park best scares. This year new mazes include John Carpenter’s The Thing (based on the movie coming later this year), Eli Roth’s Hostel, Alice Cooper’s Nightmares and a return of the last year’s innovative 3D maze Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses (different from the above mentioned). Their mazes and attractions are fewer than Knott’s but they make up for it with Hollywood movie worthy special effects. If you can hit HHN Orlando in the same season you will know Haunt Nirvana. Tip: There are water effects in the mazes and some shows that tend to have an uncanny ability to hit electronic equipment, particularly cameras. I suggest you take a ziplock or water tight bag to keep them safe through these and Jurassic Park In The Dark. Also to make the most of the night get a Front of The Line Pass, it more than pays for itself with avoiding very long lines.
Magic Mountain’s Fright Fest (Valencia): It started fairly small with a few mazes, rides in the dark, and Colossus running backwards but has grown more and more each year. It recently went through a bit of an image problem for the kind of crowd it attracted but seems to have recovered with several mazes and shows as well as DJ and Rave parties and the infamous Heckles and Twitch Show. This is the haunt attraction for the partyers who like to combine their mixes with their mayhem. Tip: Doing the rides in the dark can be fun (Colosus backwards is cool) but you probably want to get any mazes you want to hit out of the way first.
Disneyland’s Halloween Time (Anaheim): Not a scare experience really this event is aimed at family wholesome fun. The Haunted Mansion is transformed into The Nightmare Before Christmas, Halloween decorations across the park include a giant Mickey jack O’ lantern in Town Square, carved pumpkins throughout the park and a Halloween Tree. During the night and for a separate admission you can trick or treat with or without the kiddies and see a special Halloween fireworks show. Tip: Disneyland has restrictions on what costumes can be worn during the trick or treat event, make sure to check before going!
Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor (Long Beach): Queen Mary’s haunt in previous years was known as Shipwreck and though I heard the maze talent was exceptional it was the rave parties and rough crowd that became the most known feature of this haunt. So last year one of the best haunt designers on the west coast stepped in and brought on board one of the best haunt soundtrack composers and they worked together to create a wonder and top notch haunted attraction. They used the naturally scary atmosphere of the believed to be haunted Queen Mary and the vacated Spruce Goose hangar and filled it with scare actors with excellent costumes, makeup and additional props to make an incredible haunt. If you listen carefully you might just hear your name whispered while you walk through the mazes, I know for a fact you can hear mine. Tip: Make sure to go through the mazes at your own pace to take it all in, especially the pool area where a lot of ghost sightings have happened!
Castle Park aka Castle “Dark” (Riverside): By day it is Castle Dark Fun By Day for the whole family, but when the sun goes down it becomes Castle Dark Fright By Night with two new mazes this year “Insanity” and “Carnevil” as well as their returning Slider Alley and scare themed rides that includes their ever popular “Terror on the Tracks” train ride. Tip: One admission gets you both Fun By Day and Fright By Night so coming late in the day lets you enjoy both! Or take the kids during the day and arrange for a babysitter at night.
The Empty Grave (Anaheim): A single maze haunt located at the Anaheim Garden Walk. The Empty Grave is nicely located for attending more than one haunt or catching some good scare fun on a night with other plans. This haunt has a reputation for making the monsters the bigger haunts will hire later but they have their own hardcore horror force that returns year after year and gives great scares that will have you buying another ticket to go through again. These monsters take pride in their performances and though the name stays the same they always come up with new scares. Tip: There are several good restaurants nearby to grab a bite to eat before or after, making this haunt a part of a well rounded date night.
Sinister Pointe (Brea): A group that has been the talk of the Southland since their first year, Sinister Pointe is known for high quality mazes, often involving licensed franchises such as Saw and Silent Hill. Visitors can always count on a visually impressive scare that takes you right into their environment and if you let them, make you forget that such haunts are actually safe. Tip: Early arrival is suggested because the line tends to get long fast and the staff limits the number of people who can go through at a time maximizing everyone’s scare. Another option is their front of the line pass which is definitely worth. Also don’t wear loose fitting dresses or skirts, you’ll thank me later.
Field of Screams (Lake Elsinore): There are many “Fields of Screams” across the country but the difference between this one and most is usually the field refers to open farmland or corn mazes, in this case it is a baseball field! Field Of Screams is a little off the beaten path but promises great scares for any who make the jaunt with a whole stadium to fill with horrors in the form of three mazes and two scare zones. Arsonists attempted to burn down one of the mazes recently but the fire was put out quick and the crew started working around the clock and are back on schedule to open on September 29th! Tip: No cleats allowed.
Coffin Creek/Chambers of the Mausoleum (Norco): Coffin Creek started as a small haunt put together in an idealic isolated location and worked by a couple of the hardest working scare actors around and over the years it has grown and teamed up with Chambers of the Mausoleum which is run by folks who make animated figures for casinos and theme parks including Disneyland’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and put their animatronics to work for scaring. Add to it the Shady Hollow Hayride and this can make the trip out there to the middle of nowhere worth it. Tip: Attractions are sold on an individual bases of $13 each or five for $33. If it is a busy night there is a good chance you may not be able to see all the attractions so you may want to plan to catch it more than one night or purchase individual tickets with Chambers of the Mausoleum being the highest recommendation.
Human Roast House (Riverside): A small haunt that has grabbed a bit of attention this is reputedly the home of a Riverside serial killer and his ghastly work is still spread throughout the rooms and halls, as well as the energy of madness that drove him to the acts. Apparently much like so many who fear what goes bump in the night… we discover clowns were not his friends. Tip: This is a small haunt and would work great into a night of haunt hopping, especially with Castle Dark in the same town.
Los Angeles Haunted Hayride (Los Angeles): Mostly-known as an East Coast tradition, hayrides are growing in popularity across the country and one can now be found in the shadow of the Hollywood sign at the old Griffith Park Zoo. A 25 minute hayride, a scare maze and and an old fashioned Side Show called the Human Menagerie make this a small event that got big word of mouth over the last couple of years. Tip: The location can make it a bit of a Hollywood hot spot from time to time so if you happened to see some celebs, remember they are people to just trying to get their scare on!
Ghost Ship (Newport Beach): This is a haunt of a different color of blood. Created by the crew behind the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride this event is only open six days over the season and only available three times a day. It is a multi deck ship that embarks on a 75 minute voyage into dark terror at sea. Space is limited as well as voyages and if you buy your $60 ticket make sure you aren’t late, you might miss the boat! Tip: Dramamine and alcohol don’t always mix.
The Legend of Boot Hill (Irvine): With a dozen years under their gun belt this home haunt brings people from all over the Southland to this ever growing and popular homestead where the Old West isn’t dead, but it sure looks undead. Run by folks who have been around the haunt industry for quite a spell, this ain’t a greenhorn production. Tip: The haunt is free but they take donations for Children’s Hospital of Orange County, so get a good scare and support a good cause!
Nightmare, A Haunted Attraction at Fairplex (Pomona): The name kind of says it all except that there are five mazes including Wicked Wild West and The Amazing Oloff and His Circus Freaks. Very reasonably priced this is definitely worth a trip to Pomona!
Horror Valley High School (Santa Clarita): Put on by volunteers at Golden Valley High School this is actually an older haunt that has been moved and re-themed to “Terrors In Time.” Years of professional haunt design experience is combined with the fresh excitement of new volunteer scare actors so this should prove to be an exciting terror trip. Tip: Discount tickets are available at the Santa Clarita Jack In The Box though all proceeds go to school programs.
Halloween Harvest Festival at Pierce College (Woodland Hills): The name doesn’t exactly fill the heart with dread but they are known for having a couple good mazes every year and with Factory of Nightmares Haunted House and Creatures of the Corn Haunted Trail this year promises to mix a bit of family fun with some decent scare.
The House On Haunted Hill: One of the legends of Los Angeles when it comes to home haunts is The House On Haunted Hill. Using many of the same special effects utilized in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion with the same voice actor who does Disney’s “Nightmare Before Christmas” overlay and a soundtrack made by the composer of the opening for “House” this is a theme park production done in a home haunt setting complete with a story. Tip: Parking can be difficult so plan on getting there early to get a good spot and the street up the hill is often blocked off so have your walking shoes on!
Old Town Haunt (Pasadena): The oldest building in old town Pasadena, it has a creepy history before you add on the Halloween haunt attractions. Go for the truely spooky atmosphere and stay for the hard working scare actors. Who knows maybe the next thing you see moving in the dark might not be a scare actor… Tip: It never hurts to get a little knowledge with your haunt experience, and you never know what might happen in this building.
Boney Island (Sherman Oaks): If Tim Burton decided to do a home haunt based entirely around skeletons it would probably look something like this. After disappearing off the map it seems to have made it’s way back in 2011 for a family fun haunt loaded with odd animatronics! Tucked in Studio City it is in an excellent location in case you have taken your kids out for a day at some of the big parks’ scare free outings and need to figure out what to do with them when the sun goes down!
Reign Of Terror (Thousand Oaks): With The Haunted House, The Asylum, and Blood Manor this attraction makes a trip up the 101 to Thousand Oaks worth it. Reasonablly priced, raved about in reviews and a great part of a haunt trip north! Tip: Front of the Line Passes are always a good plan and you can take the kids through for a Lights On Tour for $5 which includes the parents for free, a good way to initiate the border aged kids to the wonders of a haunt.
Fear Gates (Oxnard): Ok when you have been running around haunt attractions longer than a lot of the actors have been out of diapers you see that though good it is very seldom that a haunt breaks into really new realms because they tend to go for the common scare demoniators. This haunt has The Ripper here asking for a special stop in Oxnard which was Creepy Elly’s old stomping ground. The Coffin Ride, the nation’s only ‘Double Wide Simulated Coffin Ride.’ I would describe it to you, but I think you should make the trip too. Tip: If you find yourself in Ventura County seek out Corales Mexican Food. Your stomach will thank you.
The Grove: Formally known as Hobb’s Grove, the owners had a falling out and part of them decided to carry on the haunt tradition with The Grove. With their haunted house, haunted forest and haunted hayride there is a lot of fright to be had and a safe-zone midway if you find your heart is racing a bit too fast. Located in Fresno County it is a bit of a drive but has been a haunt institution since 1999. Tip: Short shows are shown in the Theatre Macabre and those who brave it on opening night get a chance to win a t-shirt (the design is amazing, I want one!)
Raven’s Gate: Another well known haunt amongst the community this haunt located out near The Grove is doing something a little different this year. The attration is based around the “death” of a member of the haunt family, Zylo Hobb (aka Hobb’s Grove) who took the wretched out to his Grove every year to be amongst their own. Zylo’s death is attributed to a lynch mob and so the Raven family is out for revenge! With Raven’s Grove and a haunted hayride to pick their victims… err guilty from they are sure to make lynch mobs think twice! Tip: If you go to Raven’s Gate first and pay normal price you get $5 off The Fear Factory. If you got to the Fear Factory first you get a “fast pass” for Raven’s Gate. Add to this that The Grove and Raven’s Gate have an interlocking storyline and you have a haunt trifecta in the Fresno area!
The Fear Factory: Another haunt favorite located outside of Fresno, this one tells the story of a small mental hospital where slowly the patients drove the doctors and nurses mad so that soon there was no sanity left in the hospital allowing depravity and cannibalism to run wild! The authorities shut it down and locked it up until now give you a chance to look into the insanity. Tip: As mentioned above there are deals to be had by multiplying your night’s terror!
The Chamber: Located in Bakersfield, folks in the Fresno area who just can’t get enough haunt often make the trek down here to the point that is almost a haunt mecca. Very professionally done for a small haunt, The Chamber offers two attractions this year, one in 3D! If you find yourself travelling to central California during the haunt season this is always a must hit. Tip: there is an online coupon available for every weekend except Halloween and be sure to check out their website, if you were unsure before this may sway you towards the trip!
Pirates of Emerson: Originally a small haunt started by a few pirate enthusiasts this haunt keeps growing so much that they moved to a larger location last year. Now celebrating 20 years they have such attractions as Habitat Of Hags, Doll Hostel, Mental Maze and one of their first: Pirates Of Emerson. They also have a miday as well as animatronic and just plain animated characters wandering about the grounds. Tip: Ask to see the ship fire and get the front of the line pass otherwise the lines get too long to do it all in one night. Also the crew is very unfriendly towards cameras.
Great America’s Halloween Haunt: This great theme park has just started holding it’s Haunt recently and those who visit haunts at other Cedar Faire Parks such as Knott’s will notice some similarities in props but beyond that the scare actors make this haunt all their own. With six mazes and three scare zones as well as excellent shows (particularly the hypnotist and the freak show) this park is a great choice to hit and will probably have you coming back for more! Tip: If you can afford it the Gold and Platnium annual passes not only get you in daily they also get you in to their haunt and any Cedar Faire park during regular operating days! It pays for itself within a few uses. Unless the Boofet has changed I would recommend eating somewhere else first.
Winchester Mystery House Fright Nights: Always intriguing and well… mysterious, the Winchester Mystery House is an interesting place to visit any day or even more fascinateing during their flashlight tours. This year they have decided to add a new event, “The Curse of Sarah Winchester Maze.” Guests find themselves traveling through the Corn Field of Winchester Mystery House into the family Graveyard and finally coming to the infamous Seance Room. The people at Winchester hired some of the best maze and haunt professionals from all over California to build the elaborate maze and have the most outstanding soundtrack. This is one of the most anticipated new haunted attractions of the year and I would not be surprised if word of mouth and ink of press makes it even larger next year. Tip: You can get a combo ticket for the maze and flashlight tour of the house itsself on some nights.
Orlando, Florida: Halloween Horror Nights, Orlando: Disputably the best haunt in the country (fighting Knott’s and their sister Universal Hollywood) but indisputably the best haunt on the East Coast this haunt has little competition back East and draws tons of visitors and revenue allowing them to up the ante and try to outdo themselves every year. They have been doing it for 21 years and they have their system down and since they are not an actual working movie studio they get around a lot of union labor issues. The result is an amazing haunt which seldom repeats it’s theme and has lots of mazes, excellent theming and great scare zones. I honestly would love to see what Mr. Murdy could do with their budget and without the union restrictions, the friendly competition between the two parks would really heat up. This is definitely one of the best haunts and if you have the opportunity the perfect haunt season is hitting the theme park haunts in Los Angeles then travel to Orlando and hit the Harry Potter ride, drink some frozen butter beer and hit HHN Orlando. We did it last year and it was haunt Nirvana. On the West Coast there are so many haunted possibilities, on the East Coast there are some great haunts but HHN is king.
Salt Lake, Utah: One of the few haunts which has a permanent location so it allows for building and rearranging throught the year, Nightmare on 13th is a legend among haunts with its year around castle facade and huge collection of animatronics to compliment it’s live actors. If the name sounds familiar just about every network including the Discovery Channel and CNN had covered it’s work and it’s season had been the subject of articles in such papers as USA Today. I have wanted to make the trip across the desert for years, especially after watching coverage of them, but Nevada is a pretty wide state and October only has so many days. Tip: Get a free VIP pass upgrade by buying your tickets online, $10 savings per ticket!
Reno, NV: Reno is not necessarily one of the top places people would look for haunt entertainment but due to incredibly high unemployment entertainment professionals have had to find other lines of work. The result is some amazingly good haunt attractions being created by some incredibly talented people.
Slaughterhouse is celebrating 5 years of terrifying northern Nevadans and is worth a trip from northern California. Using the illusions of it’s professional magician designer and the energy of a whole bunch of excited scare actors this maze is both spooky and electric with energy. Visitors often go through and then get right back in line. Having seen many, many smaller haunts over the years this is one of the bests. Tip: Bringing a canned good can save you $2 off admission, on sundays they have a noon kid’s safe haunt for $6 and front of the line passes start at $20.
Frightmare is a returning attraction in Reno designed by a couple of long time professionals in the industry and is themed with Evil Clown Town, Rikers Island Prison and Black Hole. Partial proceeds go to the Boy’s and Girl’s Club of Truckee Meadows. Tip: None yet, let us check it out first 😉
Carson City, NV: Celebrating several years of haunting the state capitol, Grimes Castle utilizes excellent animatronics and the music of famous gothic musicians Midnight Syndicate combined with scare actors that terrorize you through the castle and dungeon below it. Tip: Close enough to Reno to hit the haunt attractions in both towns for a wonderfully terrifying night!