But have no fear — this guide offers a little bit of everything, from the real-life filming locations of some of the Bay Area’s scariest movies to drag horror parodies and the sources of San Francisco’s most famous ghost stories.
Here are 20 of the best things to do in the Bay Area for Halloween.
1. Tour the Bay Area’s city of the dead
“It’s great to be alive in Colma!” or so the town’s slogan goes. Founded as a necropolis in 1924 after San Francisco began running out of space for the dead, it has a living population of about 1,700, with another 1.5 million buried 6 feet under. Today, 17 cemeteries make up 73% of Colma’s land mass — and they’re open to the public. Look for the grave of San Francisco eccentric Emperor Norton in Woodlawn Memorial Park, head to Pet’s Rest to see the final resting place of Tina Turner’s dog and stop by Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery to find the grave of Joe DiMaggio.
Various locations in Colma.
2. Delve into the spooky tunnel at Sutro Baths
Some people swear up and down that the 130-year-old tunnel at San Francisco’s Sutro Baths is haunted — one of the most famous tales alleges that if you enter in the middle of the night and light a candle, a drowned spirit will materialize and cast it into the rushing water. Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, which was headquartered nearby in the Richmond District, said he regularly patronized the Sutro Baths and claimed to have spent hours looking for ghosts there, even going so far as to say he placed a curse on the ruins that led to their fiery demise in 1966. (However, Blanche Barton, his partner for the last 13 years of his life, disputed rumors that satanists painted pentagrams on the walls and held human sacrifices there.) You can read the full story about the lore surrounding the tunnel, but it’s worth the visit for a bit of festive atmosphere. Light a candle if you’re feeling brave.
1004 Point Lobos Ave. in San Francisco. Open daily.
3. Look for the famed White Lady of Stow Lake
It’s no secret that the White Lady of Stow Lake is San Francisco’s most famous ghost story — the lore has been going around for well over 100 years. For those who’ve never heard the tragic tale, here’s a recap: In the years before the 1906 earthquake, a young mother decided to go for a stroll around the lake in Golden Gate Park with her baby in tow. Eventually, she stopped at a bench to rest her feet and talk with a friend. While the two were chatting, the stroller rolled away, unnoticed.
A few minutes later, the mother looked over to check on her baby and realized the stroller was gone. In a panic, she ran around the lake, frantically looking for her child, who was nowhere to be found. When she realized what had happened, she cried out in agony and ran into the lake, never to be seen or heard from again. That is, while she was alive.
Some say she still haunts the area on foggy nights, occasionally emerging from the lake to ask people if they’ve seen her baby. Others have only heard her haunting sobs. There’s only one way to find out if the fable is true.
Too spooked to venture out yourself? Cozy up with your warm beverage of choice and read the real story behind the legend.
Stow Lake Drive in San Francisco. Open daily.
4. Visit Point Reyes Station for ‘The Fog’
This misty retreat has plenty of haunting allure on its own, but it’s also home to several iconic filming locations from John Carpenter’s criminally overlooked 1980 horror flick, “The Fog,” which centers on a band of ghostly sailors that come back from the dead to seek vengeance on the fictional town of Antonio Bay.
It features a legendary cast, namely real-life mother-daughter duo Janet Leigh (“Psycho”) and Jamie Lee Curtis (fresh off her breakout role as final girl Laurie Strode in 1978’s “Halloween”).
Carpenter and late screenwriter-producer Debra Hill said they chose the town of Point Reyes Station for the film because of the now 152-year-old landmark, and how creepy it looked from its perch overlooking a cliff.
Unfortunately, you can’t go inside the lighthouse, and if you did, you wouldn’t find a radio station. But Loretta Farley, a retired ranger with the National Park Service who gave many tours of the landmark over her 20-year career there, said you can still take in plenty of the film’s chilling ambiance.
“I’ve seen ‘The Fog’ at least 15 or 20 times over the years,” Farley told SFGATE last October. “I’ve bought a number of copies of the film because it’s a great travelogue of West Marin, the lighthouse, the stairs. If you know the area and you’re from the bay and see the scenery, it’s kind of special that way.”
Inverness. Open daily.
5. Go to a haunted house in historical digs with a vampire-themed bar
If you dare to brave the depths of the Old Mint building on Fifth and Mission, you’ll find the best haunted experience San Francisco has to offer. Returning with an all-new theme, drag legend and filmmaker Peaches Christ’s immersive attraction “The Summoning” is back and better than ever. First, guests are invited to mingle with sultry ghouls at its ’80s new wave-themed cocktail lounge, Fang Bang — a nod to the bygone goth club Roderick’s Chamber — before journeying through the 148-year-old vaults to retrieve the severed head of Lucretia, a disgraced vampire queen. Unlike previous years, guests can go up to the third floor of the building and even see the guillotine from Christ’s 2010 horror comedy, “All About Evil,” dodging plenty of scares along the way.
88 Fifth St. in San Francisco. Wednesdays to Sundays through Nov. 5. Tickets $55-$75.
6. Or try a haunted Victorian
For the last decade, a 136-year-old Victorian between Washington and Jackson streets in San Francisco has transformed into Mayhem Mansion, a horrific reimagining of the carefully preserved Haas-Lilienthal House. If you dare, embark on a guided tour of all three stories facilitated by history-focused nonprofit SF Heritage, which is also headquartered in the spooky abode. Just be wary of the spirits hiding in the shadows of every room.
New this year, guests can also calm their nerves at the Spookeasy in the ballroom and, as always, dip into the complimentary candy cauldron.
2007 Franklin St. in San Francisco. Oct. 21-22 and 27-29, 7-11 p.m. Tickets $20-$30.
7. Party at a dive bar themed around Halloween 365 days a year
If you have to choose one spot to grab a drink on Halloween, make it the Avenue in Oakland. Operated by die-hard horror fans Curtis and Tana Howard, it’s the only bar in the Bay Area themed after the holiday every single day of the year, with a treasure trove of horror movie relics bursting from every corner. On one side of the bar, you might see a pinstriped cavern of killer clowns like Pennywise from “It,” while evil jesters with yellow eyes ominously play on a teeter-totter. On another, you could encounter a DIY escape pod from “Alien” complete with a creature bursting through the wall, a xenomorph table and real footage from the International Space Station. And that’s barely scratching the surface. For the ultimate experience, be sure to go to the bar’s annual Halloween party and costume contest.
4822 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland. Open nightly.
8. Pay your respects at the Winchester Mystery House
The famed mansion is going all out this year with a celebration of life for heiress Sarah Winchester, who died in her curiously designed abode just over 100 years ago. While it’s likely that everything you know about the Winchester Mystery House isn’t true — namely, claims that Winchester built her estate to escape from vengeful spirits and held seances there — you’ll find that today it’s home to one of the most popular walk-through haunts in the South Bay, “Unhinged: Nightshade’s Curse.” As usual, guests can go on guided daytime tours of the mansion and are invited to leave flowers, cards, photos and mementos in the front gardens to honor Winchester. Looking for something a little more supernatural? Check out “Beyond the Veil,” where psychic medium James Van Praagh will lead guests through the halls of Winchester’s home and attempt to contact the spirits within. Midway games, ax-throwing and more will round out the festivities.
525 S. Winchester Blvd. in San Jose. Tickets $64.99-$250.
9. Get your scary movie fix
There are so many horror classics to see at the Bay Area’s historical movie houses this month that it’ll be hard to choose just one. And why should you? Here’s what I think you shouldn’t miss — but be sure to check your local theater’s website for other programming.
The Alamo Drafthouse will present the 1983 gothic vampire thriller “The Hunger” starring David Bowie, Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve on Oct. 17 as part of Peaches Christ Presents: Queer Horror, with a special intro recorded by the former host of “Midnight Mass.” A double feature of “Predator” and “Predator 2” will be shown on 35 mm at the Castro Theatre on Oct. 22. The Roxie Theater’s Gialloween series on Oct. 18-27 will return with four blood-drenched murder mysteries from the ’60s and ’70s, including the San Francisco-set “Perversion Story.” Best of all, a series pass grants you free admission to Dario Argento’s latest film, “Dark Glasses.” The Balboa Theater will present “The Exorcist” on 35 mm on Oct. 24, followed by the 1924 Austrian silent horror film “The Hands of Orlac” accompanied by a live orchestra on Oct. 26, plus the 1987 slasher “Blood Diner” with a director QA and a DJ afterparty on Oct. 30. Finally, Grace Cathedral and SF Jazz will join forces for a screening of the 1923 silent film classic “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” live scored by organist Dorothy Papadakos, on Oct. 31.
Various locations, dates and ticket prices.
10. Experience ‘The Shining’ like never before
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Head over to Rye bar in Nob Hill throughout the month of October for an eerie tribute to the Overlook Hotel’s cocktail lounge — red jacket-wearing bartenders, creepy twins and all. Imbibe on a Red Rum (Denizen vatted dark rum, Campari, pineapple, lime and coconut with a large red ice cube), an Overlook Old Fashioned (spice-infused Knob Creek rye, creme de cacao, pumpkin and bitters served on an ice cube with an orange twist) and other beverages on a themed menu inspired by the horror classic written by Stephen King and directed by Stanley Kubrick. Just look out for swinging axes!
688 Geary St. in San Francisco. Open nightly.
11. Go on a corny ghost tour
Walking tours aren’t just for out-of-towners anymore — they’re a great way to take in the history of the city, and the possibility of encountering an apparition along the way is just fun, whether you believe in them or not. The Haunt offers a walking tour through Chinatown and Jackson Square, and you might hear about the tale of whiskey king A.P. Hotaling or the mysterious pale face in a window that shocked scores of San Franciscans in the late 1800s. Or, check out the Haunted Haight Pub Crawl, which promises a paranormal adventure through the haunted bars and clubs of the neighborhood. And the Vampire Tour of San Francisco led by Kitty Burns-Nasarow will guide you through a special gothic history of Nob Hill.
Various locations, dates and ticket prices.
12. Ward off undead pirates
Pirates of Emerson’s walk-through attraction is back after hosting the Bay Area’s only drive-through haunted house during the pandemic, preserving the same commitment to a good scare that it had when it began more than 30 years ago.
Founder Brian Fields and his parents, Patty and Karl Fields, have managed their DIY haunted theme park for just over three decades, beginning in the backyard of their Fremont home on Emerson Street in 1991. Over time, the haunt grew in size and popularity, and they had to find a new venue.
“We started with a keg and some friends in the backyard and a bunch of the neighborhood kids,” Brian Fields told SFGATE in 2020. “It got bigger and bigger. During our last year at the house, we had 3,000 people show up over two nights, and so the city shut us down and said we couldn’t do it anymore.”
The annual haunt moved to the Alameda County Fairgrounds 13 years ago, and since then, it’s been one of the most popular Halloween attractions in the Bay Area, featuring mazes, live music, a “misfortune” teller and other horror-centric entertainment.
Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton. Various dates in October. Tickets $20-$78.
13. Trek to the Bay Area towns still living in the shadow of ‘The Birds’
It’s been nearly 60 years since Alfred Hitchcock’s avian thriller “The Birds” was released in theaters and became one of the most iconic horror movies of all time, paving the way for creature classics such as “Jaws” and inspiring the likes of Carpenter and Guillermo del Toro. Today, thousands of fans still flock to Bodega and Bodega Bay, the tiny Bay Area towns where the movie was filmed. Stop by the St. Teresa of Avila Church and the historical Potter Schoolhouse where Tippi Hedren and dozens of children fled from a murder of crows, and grab a bowl of clam chowder for lunch at the Tides Wharf Restaurant where the town’s residents sought shelter from the winged predators. You can also pose for a photo with Hedren and Hitchcock mannequins at Seagull Antiques and purchase a souvenir at Artisans’ Co-op, where crows are etched into pottery, painted on plates and carved into gold vermeil jewelry. Just be aware that you might have to dodge some birds yourself, as I did.
Bodega and Bodega Bay. Most attractions open daily.
14. Try your hand at zombie paintball
You’ll have to venture just outside of the Bay Area for this one, but where else can you find 15 acres of terror replete with a Fear Farm, a sinister hospital and a hayrack ride that culminates in a game of zombie paintball? On its website, Corbett’s House of Horror calls itself the largest haunt in Northern California and promises meticulous set design from artists featured on “Yard Crashers” and “Turf Wars,” plus a team of dedicated live actors and plenty of terrifying effects. What are you waiting for?
46500 County Road 32B, Davis. Various dates in October. Tickets $20-$40.
15. Summon the famed ‘ghost girl’ at the Chapel
Next time you go to this former mortuary-turned-music venue in the Mission District, you might want to keep your wits about you. Six years ago, ex-employees were reviewing security footage after a theft had taken place there only to discover an unsettling sight: a little girl in a white dress running toward the front door before disappearing out of frame. Her presence was unexplained — no children had been in the building that morning.
Staff told SFGATE that other creepy occurrences have taken place at the Chapel over the years, from doors slamming shut with no explanation to floating beer cans and creepy shadows in the bathroom. You’ve been warned.
777 Valencia St. Open most nights.
16. Have a gourd time at Half Moon Bay’s 50th annual pumpkin festival
The weigh-off results were just announced, and this year’s largest pumpkin grown by Travis Gienger broke the U.S. record at a whopping 2,560 pounds. This weekend, you can enjoy even more festivities, from a costume contest, Great Pumpkin Parade and back-to-back pie-eating contests to pumpkin-carving and the 44th Annual Pumpkin Run.
Main Street, Half Moon Bay. Oct. 15-16, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
17. Trick or treat with the best of them
Eucalyptus Avenue in San Carlos isn’t just known for its over-the-top Christmas decorations — the two blocks connecting Tamarack and Orange avenues go all out for Halloween, too. Expect animatronics, live actors, dry ice, fake blood and lots of candy. Just be sure to be respectful of the people living there. In recent years, the city has had to mitigate crowding and traffic issues.
Looking for an alternative? Russell Street in Berkeley and Grand Street in Alameda are similarly popular destinations for trick-or-treating.
Various locations and dates.
18. Explore a giant corn maze or pumpkin patch
Petaluma Pumpkin Patch is just as well known for its 4-acre corn maze, and you can also partake in pony rides, enjoy a carnival fun slide and chow down on funnel cake and kettle corn. You’ll find several other pumpkin patches throughout the Bay Area for all of your jack-o’-lantern needs. Clancy’s Pumpkin Patch at 2101 Sloat Blvd. was the first pumpkin patch to pop up in San Francisco and has been around for 59 years. The Great Pumpkin Patch just past Stern Grove at 317 Sloat Blvd. offers fun houses and a small train for children, while Piedmont Avenue Pumpkin Patch in Oakland even rigs up a haunted house.
Various locations and dates.
19. Watch a horror-themed drag show
Do you like scary movies? Then, you’d better head to Oasis. For most of October, you can catch “SQREAM,” D’Arcy Drollinger’s immersive ’90s drag slasher parody musical loosely based on Wes Craven’s hit film set in Tomales. Fans of the Boulet Brothers’ horror-centric drag competition “Dragula” will also want to be sure to stop by the club on Oct. 14 and 15 for a very special “Reparations” show presented by Nicki Jizz and featuring Saint, the winner of “Dragula Resurrection.”
298 11th St. in San Francisco. Various dates and ticket prices.
20. Rest in peace in the San Francisco Columbarium
Tucked away in the Inner Richmond is one of the only places still inhabited by the dead in San Francisco. Housing thousands of memorial niches and vaults for cremated remains, the Columbarium is the last active nondenominational resting place in the city. The urns on display range from Summer of Love-era music producer Chet Helms to “Muppets” writer and puppeteer Jerry Juhl to Carlos Santana’s father, violinist Jose Santana. In the Athena Room, just beyond the entryway of the Hall of Olympians, you can also say hello to the San Francisco twins, Marian and Vivian Brown. This city landmark is a tranquil, hidden gem.
1 Loraine Court in San Francisco. Open daily.