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10 Best Halloween Festivals in the U.S.

Halloween isn’t just about sugar overloaded kids knocking on your door taking some of your hard earned candy. It’s a time to enjoy life, family, and exciting cultural activities. In this article, you will find info on the history of Halloween and the 10 U.S. cities that offer the best Halloween festivals.

History of Halloween

Many believe that one of America’s favorite holidays, Halloween, originated from an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain. During the festival, folks started massive bonfires and dressed up in costumes to ward off evil. Souls of the undead were thought to come back to haunt the living. People would leave food and wine on doorsteps to appease the spirits. They also wore masks to blend in with ghosts that came to terrorize the town.

Later, Pope Gregory III created a day to honor all martyrs and saints alike; All Saints Day, celebrated on Nov. 1st, brought back some of the traditions of Samhain (the Celtic festival). The evening before eventually became known as Halloween. Today countries across the world celebrate this day with foul costumes, sweet treats, and exciting gatherings. (1)
Americans spent a whopping $8.4 billion on Halloween in 2016: $3.1 billion on costumes, $2.5 billion on candy, $2 billion on decorations, and $390 million on greeting cards (2)

Best U.S. Halloween Festivals

1. Sleepy Hollow Halloween

   Where: Sleepy Hollow, New York
Washington Irving’s Headless Horseman roams free in Sleepy Hollow, as October brings out the best of this historic landscape. Sleepy Hollow Halloween lasts the entire month of October. Attractions include haunted hayrides, candlelit cemetery tours, and fall parades. Stop by the famous Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to view the final resting place of the classic author Washington Irving. The Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze boasts a giant floating dragon made entirely from pumpkins. Stroll along city streets lighted with 7,000 individually carved pumpkins.

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2. Festival of the Dead

   Where: Salem, Massachusetts
Who can forget the Salem witch trials where 20 people were found guilty then subsequently executed for the practice of witchcraft. (3) The Festival of the Dead commemorates Salem’s rich history with 31 days of mayhem that attract over 400,000 visitors each year. Get an authentic psychic reading and gaze into the future at the Annual Psychic Fair & Witchcraft Expo. Listen to messages from deceased loved ones or get your dance on at the Witches’ Halloween Ball. Honor loved ones who have passed with The Dumb Supper: Dinner with the Dead.

Photo by WehoCity

3. West Hollywood Carnival

   Where: Los Angeles
Home to one of the largest street parties in America, West Hollywood Carnaval attracts half a million people every year. The streets of Hollywood are filled this night with fantastic music as 50+ music acts take center stage on 6 different street venues. Famous pop stars compete for “Queen of the Carnival,” where one star is chosen as queen each year. Admission is free and tasty food can be found from numerous bars that line the streets.

4. Little 5 Points Halloween Festival

   Where: Atlanta
Enjoy a wicked food-oriented, family-friendly party in the Little 5 Points Halloween Festival and Parade. Master local chefs set up curbside trucks selling everything from wood-fired pizza to seasoned chicken tacos. The parade itself is full of wicked costumes and is open to the public. Live music from amazing local bands fills the crisp autumn air.

Photo by Joy Kramer

5. Halloween on Halsted

   Where: Chicago
This Chicago district celebrates Halloween with their very own Halloween on Halstead. The parade begins with a squad of zombies (the Chicago Thrillers) dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Halloween on Halstead is open to the public, but visitors wishing to walk in the parade must register first. Prizes are given to those with the best costumes. Participants are divided into 4 categories: theme, group, scariest, and drag. Hallmarks of the parade include fire breathers, marching bands, and classical movie characters. The parade is only .7 miles long, and plenty of bars line the route for those who strike up a fierce hunger.

Photo by Shannon Tompkins

6. The Louisville Zoo Halloween Party

   Where: Louisville
Widely regarded as the “World’s Largest Halloween Party,” the Louisville Zoo knows how to throw a monster mash without the monster scare. The Zoo’s Annual Halloween Party is perfect for children too young for horror but in the mood for sweets. Pumpkin carving contests replace original displays. The entire complex is transformed from ordinary zoo to extraordinary wonderland, full of classic movie characters from The Pirates of the Caribbean and The Wizard of Oz. Themed areas like Mumpkin the Giant Pumpkin, Superhero City, and Under the Sea allow visitors to explore all different types of landscapes. Families can ride the Boo-Choo-Train, go on a Headless Horseman Tour, or get a face painting.

7. The Murder Mystery Train

   Where: Canon City, Colorado
Enjoy a meal and a show aboard the Murder Mystery Train in Canon City. Customers board the train and enjoy delicious Colorado-raised, slow roasted prime rib while they watch a clever “who-dunnit” murder mystery performed by the infamous Red Herring Productions. Passengers are thrust into the action as the performers' rage across the aisles in an attempt to convince the jury of their innocence. Who killed Brett Dawson? It’s up to you to find out.

8. Great Halloween Lantern Parade & Festival

   Where: Baltimore, Maryland
Come celebrate this spooky holiday in the fashion of Día de los Muertos at the 17th Great Halloween Lantern Parade and Festival. Learn the Mexican traditions of altar making, go to lantern workshops, and take a cruise on a hayride. Live music from local bands plays as the sun sets and performers prepare to march in the parade. The event is free to the public, and all are invited to walk with their community during the parade. Costumes of all shapes and sizes are welcome. Come out and support the Artesanas Mexicanas this Halloween, a group part of the Creative Alliance.

Photo by Hypnotica Studios Infinite

9. Asbury Park Zombie Walk

   Where: Asbury, New Jersey
The Asbury Zombie Walk set the Guinness World Record for most zombies in one area in 2013 with 9,000. The event began in 2007 and involves the large group of zombies walking through public places on their way to a final destination. Deemed “The Largest Zombie Gathering in the Entire World,” Asbury is a perfect location for Halloween thrill seekers and families alike. The festivities include a Thriller dance workshop, Jell-O brain eating contest, and live music played throughout Asbury Park.

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10. Spirit of Halloweentown

   Where: St. Helens, Oregon
Every October the city of St. Helens is transformed into Halloweentown in remembrance of the classic Disney Channel movie filmed in this city. The city celebrates all month long and kicks things off with a Halloween parade full of ghosts, ghouls, and Star Wars characters. Guest celebrity Kimberly J. Brown, who played the 13-year-old heroine in Halloweentown, is coming back this year to St. Helens for photos with fans. Come and enjoy the Great Pumpkin lighting in the central plaza. Kids will love the pumpkin carving and scarecrow contest. Thrill seekers can take a ride in a haunted hot rod.

Hope you enjoyed this article on the best Halloween festivals in the United States! For more fall fun check out 15 Fantastic Fall Getaways.


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