How a Small SoCal City Does Spooky Season in a Big Way
Halloween 2019 will no doubt bring major debates. Coolest costume choices (Fortnite or Avengers?); best sequel (Zombieland 2 or Maleficent: Mistress of Evil); and the most passion-inflaming candy question (candy corns: yay or nay?).
But here’s what everyone can agree on: the most awesome place for a Halloween-themed break. We’re talking, of course, about Buena Park—or Boo-ena Park, come fall. From mid-September through the end of October, this SoCal entertainment enclave five miles from Disneyland is all Halloween fun all the time—so much so, in fact, that you should plan to overnight here.
Read on for five of our favorite local ways to get in the holiday spirit:
Knott’s Scary Farm
From its earliest years, when a Gold Rush-themed “ghost town” attraction entertained motorists in line for Cordelia Knott’s legendary roadside fried chicken and boysenberry pie, Knott’s Berry Farm recognized that phantoms and fun went hand in bony hand. So for the better part of the last half-century, Knott’s Berry Farm has gotten an extreme Halloween makeover each year. The result—a six-week event called Knott's Scary Farm—involves haunted mazes, hair-raising shows and no fewer than 1000 lurking creatures throughout the park. And you never know exactly what'll be new to the mix.
But we do have the scoop on several new additions for this year: The Wax Works maze, for one, drops you into an abandoned wax museum where a formerly esteemed plastic surgeon is seeking a fresh pool of patients for his, um, unorthodox new procedure. (Let's just say trout pout will be the least of your concerns.) Then there's the new Origins: The Curse of Calico, which puts you right in the middle of a witch trial in Knott’s Ghost Town as the defendant transforms her accusers into, well ...just mind the locals. Or for a little more levity, check out the new Puppet Up! - Uncensored show—an improbable blend of Jim Henson Company puppetry and live improv comedy (seriously, you're going to want to catch this—the director is a veteran of Ellen, Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm).
Of course, plenty of ghosts of Halloweens past are heading back to Knott's Scary Farm this year. Special Ops: Infected, for one, has returned from the dead along with its zombie hordes, whom you'll face down, laser gun in hand, as you make your way through a video game-like maze (complete with a real-time scoring system). Dark Ride is back, too, granting you access to an abandoned carnival ride where ex-carnies and their—let's call it unique—brand of entertainment await you in the shadows. And if one twisted M.D. isn't enough for you after the plastic surgery-gone-wrong Wax Works maze, you should take heart in the reopening of the haunted Hayden Hill Hospital at Paranormal Inc., where doctors tortured patients for decades (the maze will have you dodging the phantasmic victims—as well as the fresh meat-seeking medical staff).
And that, kids, is just a tiny sampler platter. The whole shebang runs on select nights from Sept. 19 through Nov. 2, and requires its own admission ticket.
Knott’s Spooky Farm
Little monsters with a lower tolerance for terror will find Knott’s Spooky Farm more their speed. While Knott’s Scary Farm carries a PG-13 rating, the family-friendly Spooky Farm is aimed squarely at the pre-school-through-grade-school set, who can trick-or-treat through Calico—a ghost town with only friendly spirits and great loot to sweeten the deal. Then there's the town costume contest, where everyone's a winner if you consider that the event leads right into a Peanuts dance party.
Speaking of the Peanuts gang, we should also note that Camp Snoopy is one of the best places to be this time of year, when you'll find everything from the Monsters are Coming singalong stage show to the made-over-for-Halloween Grand Sierra Railroad.
Knott's Spooky Farm is included with regular park admission, and runs on weekends from Sept. 28 through Oct. 27, plus Halloween day.
Vampirates Dinner Adventure
Take an already fun twist on dinner theater—Buena Park's Pirates Dinner Adventure—add a Halloween overlay, and you get the extra crazy Vampirates Dinner Adventure. You'll travel back to the 1800s aboard the evil Captain Black’s ship, where perhaps the biggest question is whether you'll consume—or become—dinner. If you do survive the swordplay, expect a four-course meal that includes vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. (Hey, dinner hosts who feed exclusively on human blood have the ultimate special-needs diet, so they totally empathize with anyone else who's got restrictions.) Note to those who want to take the littles: There's a kid's menu as well, plus an all-age costume contest during weekend performances.
Vampirates takes place Oct. 1- 31 at Pirate’s Dinner Adventure, with showtimes at 7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday; and 3 p.m and 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Local tricks and treats
However fierce, the Vampirates haven't (yet) cornered the market on spooky fall eats and drinks here. To check out the competition, head over to the Cauldron Spirits and Brews, where you won't want to miss the seasonal house-made boozy ice cream, nor the Grey Witch cocktail, a hauntingly delicious blend of gin, champagne and crème de violette. Stop by for the hugely popular Cauldron Costume Contest on Halloween night—or The Witching Hour deals from 12:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday.
The award-winning Porto’s Bakery and Cafe—where ever-present lines underscore the eatery's top spot in the local Yelp ratings—is another seasonal must for the Dia de los Muertos cupcakes and sugar skull cookies, plus Pan de Muerto bread with bone-shaped dough designs and crispy sugar.
For a taste of autumn that goes beyond the purely spooky, hit the local kickoff event: The Olde Tyme Festival. You'll find historic home tours, seasonal crafts, local entertainment, food vendors, storytelling, crafts and old-timey family-friendly games. But because this is Boo-ena Park, after all, there will be a costume parade for those in the Halloween spirit. The free event hosted by the local historical society runs from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28.
Next up, Silverado Days—a beloved and longstanding tradition—returns to town. Expect more food booths, music, games and crafts, plus carnival rides. But the real can't-miss? The contests, which include pie-eating, hog-calling and tail-wagging competitions. There's even a face off for the chubbiest baby cheeks.
The festival, which raises money for local charities, runs from 5 p.m.-midnight Oct. 18; 10 a.m.-midnight Oct. 19; and 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Oct. 20.
Halloween hotel happenings
Given all that's going on in town, you'll want to stay local to eke out—make that eek out—as much fun as possible. There's an extensive menu of lodgings to choose from, and while they tend to be a bargain throughout the year (especially when you compare them to other SoCal counterparts), the Spooky Season sees a number of Buena Park hotels sweetening the deal.
Actually, the Knott’s Hotel, just next door to the theme park, is offering a trio of Scream & Dream deals: The Bare Bones includes accommodations, admission to Knott's Scary Farm and parking from $210; The Haunted Dreams package throws in a pre-scare dinner, early park entry, breakfast boo-fet and a Scary Farm t-shirt from $300; and the top-tier Gruesome Getaway package includes all of the above plus Fright Lane unlimited priority access to all mazes and Fast Lane access to select rides from $470. All Knott’s Hotel packages are based on double occupancy.
For its part, the new Hampton Inn & Suites Buena Park is offering a Spooky Fall Deal for 10 percent off the nightly rate (12 percent off for Hilton Honors members) if you book a week in advance.
But wherever you book in Boo-ena Park, don't be surprised to find yourself trying to extend your stay: Once you see firsthand what all the seasonal boohaha is about, you'll want to revel in as much of it as possible.