By Rae Alexandra
For some, Halloween is a simple time of pumpkin carving, family fun, and trick-or-treating. For others, it’s an opportunity to get outlandish with like-minded misfits and fly the biggest freak flag you can find all month long.
For 2023, we’ve put together a Halloween guide that incorporates both ends of the spectrum and everything in between.
Now go get weird, Bay Area.
The Mint, San Francisco Sept. 29—Oct. 31, Show times vary
You might have questions about this one. Such as: Is it a haunted maze? Is it a play? Is it a drag performance? Well, let’s just say that Peaches Christ is one of the masterminds behind The Initiation so the answer to those questions is, of course, yes, yes and yes.
After the success of 2022’s The Summoning, this year’s Into the Dark experience promises to plunge visitors into the world of cults. Inspired by infamous Bay Area figures like Anton LaVey, Jim Jones and the Symbionese Liberation Army, curious souls (aged 18 and over) will go on a hair-raising journey of initiation — and apparently not everyone will make the cut.
If you do somehow survive The Initiation‘s menacing ceremonies (and its 87 cast members!) and find yourself still wanting to “drink the Kool-Aid,” however, you literally can. Because Fang Bang — the ’80s vampire goth bar situated in the Mint’s vault — will be serving (what else?) Kool-Aid vodka shots. (Try not to think too hard on that one…)
Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Niles Oct. 8, 3 p.m.
The Niles Silent Film Museum is a treat any day of the year, honoring and preserving a movie period rarely given a look in at other theaters. To get everyone in the mood for Halloween 2023, there will be Sunday afternoon entertainment dedicated to some light-hearted short thrillers from the start of the talkies era.
Though 1930’s The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case and 1931’s Chickens Come Home will both be showcased, there are joys on the bill outside of Ollie and Stan too. The Little Rascals’ Hide and Shriek (1938) will offer some nostalgic fun, but the real treat will be 1935’s The Tin Man. This delightful little caper involves a creepy mansion, a crazed scientist and two gorgeous (and hilarious) dames dining with a robot. It alone will be worth the day trip.
USS Hornet, Alameda Oct. 13, 7 p.m. / Oct. 28, 7 p.m.
While Alameda’s USS Hornet is a fascinating sea, air and space museum by day, by night it’s said to take on a life all of its own. So many visitors to the imposing aircraft carrier have had paranormal experiences over the years, the California Institute of Technology used to regularly document them on a website that remains online today. Apparitions, disembodied voices, strange light anomalies and objects moving on their own have all been reported — usually by visitors who stay aboard after the sun goes down.
In the spirit of Halloween this year, the Hornet will be offering a special after-dark tour. The three-hour exploration will take daredevils (age 13 and over) to areas that are usually off-limits, including several that have documented paranormal activity. Ticket holders are asked to bring their own flashlights for the scary sojourn — even though museum employees have previously admitted to having a problem with flashlights turning off on their own.
For folks who want to visit the ship in a slightly less nerve-rattling way, there’s also Oct. 28’s Monster Bash. The themed dance party will feature live music from The Cocktail Monkeys, a costume competition with big prizes, and mini tours of the ship’s Sick Bay — for those brave enough to venture off the dance floor anyway.
Fox Theater, Oakland Oct. 13, 7 p.m.
For mysterious host Glynn Washington and the producers of the Spooked podcast, scary stories are for every week of the year, not just Halloween. And as any Spooked listener could well tell you, the most frightening thing of all is that every spine-chilling story featured in the series is true.
For this special KQED Live event on (when else?) Friday the 13th, special guests will be sharing real-life tales of supernatural happenings, ghostly goings on and ominous incidents that defy explanation. Be sure to get plenty of rest the night before this one because restful sleep might be a little evasive afterwards…
Jack London Square, Oakland Oct. 20, 11 a.m.
Everything is better with dogs, especially Halloween. (Dogs in wigs! Dogs with fake limbs! Dogs with weapons!) If you’re one of those people who can’t get through the season without seeing at least one doggy costume contest, this year’s DogFest has just what you need.
Get ready for furry fiends, muttly monsters and creepy canine clowns.
There will also be local vendors, treats and tricks and plenty of puppy play activities. Best of all, the entire day is a benefit for Canine Companions, an organization that provides free service dogs to people with disabilities.
Alcazar Theater, San Francisco Oct. 20—28, 8 p.m.
Kat Robichaud‘s Misfit Cabaret is not an organization that takes too kindly to limitations. The group’s whirlwind live shows encompass drag, burlesque, acrobatics, live music, comedy and yes, traditional cabaret. This multitalented troupe always likes to err on the side of creepy (their Christmas show featured far more Gremlins than most), so their Halloween spectacular promises to take guests for an even brisker walk on the wild side.
The Monster Bash promises to bring puppets to terrifying life on stage, with aerialist ghosts circling overhead and even a (*checks notes*) zombie Jazzercise instructor. Oh! And there’s a costume contest for everyone in the audience, so dress to impress your misfit hosts.
Complex Oakland, Oakland Oct. 27, 10 p.m.
For a decade now, Jesse and Amina Brooks — the married couple behind Trapxart — have been helping young creatives network, get art out into the world and, frankly, have a damn good time doing it.
The regular Trapxart parties that happen all over the country are always a vibrant hybrid that’s one part art exhibit, one part dance party, one part fashion show and one part marketplace. The Oakland events are particularly special, probably because the town was where Trapxart all started. With attendees being encouraged to come in fashion-forward costumes, this year’s Halloween-themed event promises to one-up even the Oakland originals. Get ready to slay and be slayed.
Gamble Garden, Palo Alto Oct. 28, 10 a.m.
Ah, the owl. Nocturnal denizen of forest labyrinths! Be-taloned harbinger of mouse consumption! Feathered figure that was also truly terrifying in Twin Peaks!
Okay, okay. Not really. While owls used to be commonly associated with all things otherworldly (including Halloween), these days kids are more likely to link them to Harry Potter — a series that painted owls more as messengers than menaces. That’s why the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo will be showcasing a live owl display at Gamble Garden for Halloween this year.
While the owls will be the main attraction, this fundraiser also promises crafting fun, balloon art and sweet snacks you don’t even have to trick and treat for. Organizers are encouraging attendees to don their best Harry Potter-themed attire before immersing themselves in the world of the owls. Don’t forget your wands!
Octavia and Bush Streets, San Francisco Oct. 28—31, 8 p.m.
Since 2016, Christian Cagigal has been leading nighttime excursions of huddled, excited groups around Pacific Heights, sharing stories of San Francisco history and the mysterious hauntings left in its wake. The tour — originally started in 1998 by Cagigal’s friend Jim Fassbinder — begins at the site of Mary Ellen Pleasant’s old mansion and weaves its way around the neighborhood. There are astonishing anecdotes, legends and fascinating local information at every turn.
Cagigal is a knowledgable and charmingly skeptical host with solid jokes and some literal tricks up his sleeve — the history lover, it turns out, is also a magician. Cagigal will be fully utilizing those skills on his special Halloween tours, taking guests on his usual route, but bringing 13 VIPs into an eerie magic show at a nearby haunted hotel afterwards.
There’s nothing hokey or predictable about Cagigal’s ghost tour. If his magic is anywhere near as surprising, his special guests will be in for a real treat.
Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco Nov. 4, 2 p.m.
The incomparable Edna Vazquez will be bringing her commanding presence and stirring vocal prowess to this special program of traditional and contemporary Latin American compositions. Guided by Texas-based Peruvian conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, music will include pieces by composers — living and dead — including Arturo Rodríguez and Silvestre Revueltas.
Before the concert begins, there will be activities to engage the whole family, alongside an array of traditional Día de Muertos artworks, altars and installations in the lobby of the Symphony Hall. Those works have been curated by Martha Rodríguez-Salazar — one of the Bay Area’s foremost experts on Latin American folk, classical and contemporary music. The final result will honor the Day of the Dead holiday and, of course, the souls of the recently departed. Get there early to soak up the magic.
Wishing you a spooky and fun-filled Halloween! Don't forget to follow us for some exciting tips, tricks, and activities that you can enjoy with your loved ones in the beautiful Bay Area.