Why California Scares Florida's Theme Parks

September 8, 2022, 8:40 AM · Forget the coaster wars. When Arthur Levine of About Theme Parks, who is from Massachusetts, and California's Robert Niles of Theme Park Insider tangle, it's coastal wars. The veteran park journalists will be tackling topics and defending the alleged superiority of their respective regions in a series of concurrent articles. Befitting their professional demeanors, the exchanges will be collegial and respectful. Oh, who are we kidding? The gloves will be coming off for knock-down, drag-out, cage match fights to the finish. The two start by taking a stab at theme park Halloween events. Who will draw first blood?

Sure, Theme Park Insider readers voted Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights as the industry's best theme park event last year. So I cannot begrudge Arthur leaning on that event to proclaim the east coast the better coast for Spooky Season. But of all people, those of us in Southern California know that one or two stars are not enough to win a championship. If they were, the LA Angels' Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani would be wearing World Series rings.

No, you need also a deep bench of supporting players to win a title. That is what makes Southern California the best location in the country for Halloween haunts. [See what Arthur has to say in Why Florida Slays California.]

Arthur has to broaden his focus to the entire east coast to find enough Halloween events to make a compelling argument for his side. Meanwhile, I can stay within just three California counties to make mine. Let's start, as Arthur predicted, with the event that started it all – the runner-up among Theme Park Insider readers for Best Halloween Event – Knott's Scary Farm.

Knott's Scary Farm

There remains no spookier setting during the Halloween season than the fog-filled scare zone of Ghost Town during Knott's Scary Farm. This is blood-spurting, beating heart of Halloween horror. Knott's does not regurgitate movie scenes for its Halloween event – every maze here is an original concept, often presented with innovative staging, jaw-dropping production design, and many scare actors who bring the talent and experience of motion picture, television, and professional stage résumés to their roles.

But if you want all those movie references in a Halloween event, Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights delivers. Despite what Arthur said, Universal held its first Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood in 1986, and not in Orlando, where the event started under the Fright Nights name in 1991. Hollywood's event might not be as big as its younger sibling in Orlando, but when you step off the Terror Tram onto Universal Studios Hollywood's backlot, you are walking the very ground where Hollywood horror was born in the early 20th century. Talk about chills.

What about Disney? The Oogie Boogie Bash at Disney California Adventure beats Walt Disney World's Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party by giving the Disney baddies an attraction of their own with Villains Grove – the first Halloween maze in a Disney theme park in the United States. Putting the after-hours Halloween party at California Adventure allows Disneyland to run its special Halloween Screams nighttime show for all guests, who also get to enjoy Halloween overlays on multiple attractions across the two parks, including Haunted Mansion Holiday, Guardians of the Galaxy Monsters After Dark, and two Cars Land rides. Good luck finding much Halloween outside the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

Down in San Diego County, we have Brick or Treat at Legoland California and Howl-O-Scream at SeaWorld San Diego, matching their sister events in Florida. But head back up the 5 to LA County, and we have a Six Flags Fright Fest at Magic Mountain, another Halloween event that Florida lacks.

But here is the real Insider secret. Southern California wins with its countless world-class haunts located beyond its theme parks. The Thirteenth Floor produces outstanding events across LA County, such as the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, the interactive theater experience Delusion at a real-life Haunted Mansion in Pomona, and the brand-new Shaqtoberfest next to the Queen Mary in Long Beach. Or just drive around town and stop to enjoy some of the many home haunts created by fans with professional themed entertainment or theatrical design experience. Southern California is the Entertainment Capital of the World, and we do not take Halloween off.

Finally, Southern California also is home to Midsummer Scream, the world's largest Halloween-themed convention, which previews and kicks off the season from its home in Long Beach each summer.

Sorry, Arthur. You can wander about the east coast looking for the Halloween spirit. But I can find it all right here at home. Check into the Hotel California, Halloween fans. Because once you get here, you never will want to leave.

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Replies (6)

September 8, 2022 at 9:13 AM

Oh we started today off with violence? Well ok then! Love it!

September 8, 2022 at 10:08 AM

It certainly helps in SoCal to have TV/movie industry professionals who can ply their trade on Halloween attractions when they're not working their "day job". Here on the east coast, we have numerous one-off attractions typically created by amateurs and property owners just looking to one-up their neighbors that for my money have more charm, enthusiasm, and a less polished aspect than the professional outfits you find in SoCal and at the major theme parks.

September 8, 2022 at 11:04 AM

I think to Russell's point, there's three big hubs that come to mind (at least for me) when I think of The Halloween Haunt Industrial Complex. There's Southern California, Central Florida and (apologies if this is a poor geographic description) the mid-east, which generally encompasses Pennsylvania/VA/Etc.

Russell can certainly speak to the latter better than I can, but I've always been impressed and really appreciate the diversity of the haunts you can find in that mid-east area. The "best" versions of these have long ago outgrown the "home haunt" definition and (at least to my eyes) appear to be decent-sized small businesses. They're also of a different flavor than the more theater-style productions you see in Southern California, which really aren't my cup of tea.

While Horror Nights in Orlando is, for my money, the best Halloween Haunt you can blow a paycheck on, it's cool that there's still something somewhat regionalized about this tradition.

September 8, 2022 at 2:00 PM

@Jacob - And that's really the difference there...HHN and many of the "professional" attractions in SoCal, Orlando, and other theme parks tend to be expensive or require a theme park ticket to experience. Often those pricier experiences do give you good bang for your buck and I agree that HHN is by far the best because of the size, scope, and variety of attractions they have), but many of the one-offs costing a fraction of the price of a typical theme park ticket can be just as good even though they're lacking the big money IPs and/or expensive automated special effects. Just like many of the horror movies that inspire these attractions, some of the best are the ones that cost the least amount of money to produce.

September 8, 2022 at 1:53 PM

Team SoCal for the win, lol!

Queen Mary was actually my favorite...

September 8, 2022 at 8:00 PM

Let's also not forget events like Creep, Delusion, 17th Door, Reign of Terror, Downtown Repertory Theater (with Witch! this year and It's Alive last year), Zombie Joe Underground, Cemetery Lane, 17th Door, Castle Dark, Haunted Trail, and so much more. And all that is in ADDITION to the already big players of HHN, KSF, Disney, and Fright Fest. Not to mention all the high quality home haunts and displays. I can't think of any other area that has such a broad selection.

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