The Best Halloween Theme Parks in the Greater Los Angeles Area: Knott’s Scary Farm, Halloween Horror Nights, Fright Fest, Dark Harbor
Below is a list of the Best Halloween Theme Parks in the Greater Los Angeles Area. These are the big guns among Halloween Events: year-round entertainment centers like Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Six Flags Magic Mountain that put on special Halloween haunts during October.
Typically, these offer multiple seasonal attractions, including haunted houses, mazes, scare zones, and shows, with their year-round rides and attractions redressed for Halloween. Not all of them are located in Los Angeles, but all of them are easily accessible by freeway.
In order to distinguish between these elaborate Halloween Theme Parks from smaller scale seasonal events that take place in venues such as the Los Angeles Zoo and the Aquarium of the Pacific, here we include attractions that provide a full night (or day)’s worth of Halloween entertainment, not merely a sideshow on top of their usual attractions. Each of these attractions is listed on its own page.
Best Halloween Theme Parks: Comparison
Which is the best Halloween Theme Park in Los Angeles? The answer varies from one year to the next, but each venue has consistent strengths and characteristics that determine how highly they appeal to personal taste. Disneyland’s Halloween Time and Legoland’s Brick-or-Treat are appropriate for younger Halloween fans.
If you are seeking real scares, the Knott’s Berry Farm Halloween Haunt is the longest-running and the largest Halloween Theme Park. Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood is the most elaborate. Queen Mary Dark Harbor makes good use of its unique setting, an actual ship with ominous dark corridors. The Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest has the best roller-coasters, and some of its mazes now rival the best in the South Land.
We have explored this topic in depth on two previous occasions. For your convenience, the articles are reproduced toward the bottom of this page. Click the links to jump to the text:
- Best Theme Park Halloween Attractions in Los Angeles
- The Best Haunted Theme Park Events in Los Angeles
Halloween Theme Park Updates
Find the latest news about Halloween theme park archive.
Halloween Theme Parks Listed
Though not all theme parks have officially announced cancellations, none are expected to be presenting a Halloween haunt in 2020.
Best Halloween Theme Parks: Articles
The following two articles are out of date in some details, but we stand by their overall assessments.
Article #1: Best Theme Park Halloween Attractions in Los Angeles
By Steve Biodrowski, originally published September 7, 2008
Halloween is approaching, so I am anticipating the annual flurry of email messages asking about the Best Los Angeles Halloween Theme Park Attractions: Which one offers the most exciting and horrifying events? In order to avoid answering this question multiple times, I will address it in this post, hopefully once and for all.
Best Halloween Theme Parks: Overview
People want to know the best way to spend Halloween in Los Angeles. We’re not talking about yard haunts or even professional haunted houses – which are good for an hour or two of scares and thrills. We’re talking about the A-list attractions where you can spend an entire evening – places with lots of money to throw around – basically, year-round theme parks that redress themselves for Halloween: Knott’s Berry Farm’s Halloween Haunt, Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights, the Queen Mary Terror Fest, and the Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest.
Usually, the question is asked in reference to Knott’s Scary Farm and Halloween Horror Nights, but my answer will encompass all four theme park haunts. Unfortunately, my answer is an elusive one:
It all depends on what you like.
Personally, I enjoy all of these haunted attractions, for different reasons, and hardcore Halloween enthusiasts in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas would certainly find it worth their while to attend all of them. Those who want to see only one or two may consult the following guidelines.
The decision rests on your answers to two questions:
- Do you want quantity or quality?
- Do you want more than just scary Halloween stuff?
If you can decide upon answers to those questions, you can decide which haunts you want to hit.
Best Halloween Theme Parks: Knott’s Scary Farm
Knott’s Berry Farm Halloween Haunt is technically not in Los Angeles, but it is freeway-close for Los Angeles horror fans, and it is by far the biggest Halloween event in the Southland, and the most experienced, having been around the longest. This attraction boasts thirteen haunted mazes or rides,1 half a dozen shows, and four or five scare zones. There is so much, in fact, that even if you do not like half of it, you will still get your money’s worth.
However, you can really take advantage of this abundance only if you go early in the season, before the crowds. Get there near opening time in the first week or two of operation, and you can hit everything; you can even, in some cases, walk out of a maze and go right back through a second time time with only a minimal wait in line.
If you do not attend until later in the season, you will need to purchase a fast pass; otherwise, you will spend an hour in line for each attraction, and you will be lucky to get to half of it, let along everything. This seriously neutralizes the haunt’s major advantage over the competition: if you’re going to get to only five or six mazes, you might as well go to any of the others.
Best Halloween Theme Parks: Halloween Horror Nights
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood has the advantage of being set in the famous Universal Studios Hollywood, home of classic movies monsters Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man. That means that HHN has an army of skilled craftspeople who know how to build sets, apply makeup, and rig special effects for the annual Halloween event. You are simply not going to find another haunted theme park attraction in Los Angeles that is this elaborate and beautifully done, and on such a large scale.
The downside is that their haunt is relatively minimal in terms of seasonal Halloween attractions. There are typically four walk-through mazes, one backlot tram tour, and half a dozen haunt zones. Without too much effort, you can get through everything in a few hours and still have time to kill; fortunately, the regular attractions (like Jurassic Park and The Mummy rides) will give you something else to do.2
In 2008, Universal added a bit more to the pot: For a few dollars more, you could buy a ticket allowing you to enjoy the studio tour during the day and then stick around for the night-time haunt. (Basically, they borrowed this idea from the next haunt, which has used it as standard procedure for years.)
Best Halloween Theme Parks: Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest
Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest is a bit like Knott’s Scary Farm lite. You get a great amusement park with lots of roller-coasters, plus the Halloween events. In terms of quantity, you get a little bit less than you would at the Queen Mary Shipwreck (five mazes instead of seven), and there are only three haunt zones (as opposed to five or six at Universal and Knott’s). The mazes themselves are good but a bit generic, although they do feature some memorable gags, and we loved the 2005 maze called Brutal Planet (the title of an Alice Cooper album).
The big advantage of the Fright Fest has always been that Six Flags does not charge a separate admission to see the night-time haunt. You just buy your regular ticket, go all day to enjoy the regular rides, and then hang around at after sunset to enjoy the ghost and goblins. If you’re only interested in Halloween, this haunt might not be for you, but if you enjoy roller-coasters and getting soaked in the river rapids, then the supernatural stuff may be just the icing on your cake.3
Best Halloween Theme Parks: Queen Mary Shipwreck/Dark Harbor
The Queen Mary Terror Fest (aka the Queen Mary Shipwreck) gets a lot of bad reactions from some fright fans because it is obviously not as elaborate as Universal Studios or even Knott’s Scary Farm. There are fewer sets, props, and effects, and the land-bound mazes tend to be made of simple painted flats; the ship-board mazes use minimal decoration relying on the boat itself (and lots of darkness) to provide the atmosphere.
All of this may be true, but the simple fact is that those long, long corridors leading through the bowels of the boat (allegedly the longest mazes of any Halloween attraction in Los Angeles) really are genuinely spooky, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that you are in a real place, not a set! I’ve never had a bad time at the Terror Fest; even if it doesn’t have the elaborate production values of Universal and Knott’s, the actors are enthusiastic, and the Queen Mary herself provides all the atmosphere you could need.4
- In the years since this article published, Knott’s Berry Farm has scaled back the number of mazes, emphasizing quality rather than quantity.
- In subsequent years, Universal has expanded the number of mazes during Halloween.
- The mazes are no longer included with the price of regular admission at Magic Mount: in 2008 Six Flags began charging a separate fee them. That eliminated one major advantage for Six Flags over the competition; however, Magic Mountain Fright Fest is much closer for Los Angeles Halloween fans.
- In 2009, the Queen Mary retired the old Halloween TerrorFest put on by Shipwreck Productions, replacing it first with the Haunted Queen Mary and later with the Queen Mary Dark Harbor. Overall quality is much improved, and there is a greater emphasis on upscale experiences (bars, private lounges).
The following article was originally written as the beginning of a series recommending the best Halloween events in 2012, which also included recommendations for Haunted Houses and Hayrides; Home Haunts; and Halloween Horror Shows and Screenings. Although its commentary is specific to that year, much of it remains relevant. It has been slightly revised to stand-alone here.
Article #2: The Best Haunted Theme Park Events in Los Angeles
By Steve Biodrowski, originally published September 19, 2012
What will be 2012’s Best Halloween Theme Parks? This is a perennially popular subject, which we first elucidated in a 2008 article titled “Best Theme Park Halloween Attractions in Los Angeles.” Since then, the article has been tweaked from time to time, to prevent it from falling hopelessly out of date, but now we will take the opportunity to re-examine the subject with fresh eyes.
How can we divine which Halloween Theme Park is best, when we have yet to encounter what await us this year? Our assessment here is based upon these criteria:
- How consistently have these Halloween Theme Parks performed over the years?
- How scary/memorable/original/innovative were last year’s presentation?
- What – if anything – new can we expect this year?
Best Halloween Theme Parks: The Basics
There really are not many Halloween theme parksin Los Angeles – or even within reach of Los Angeles. Besides Halloween Horror Nights, only Queen Mary Dark Harbor and the Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest are within the city limits. Joining Knott’s Scary Farm in Orange County is Disneyland Halloween Time. For those who do not mind a longer sojourn into dangerous and uncharted territory, there is the Castle Dark Halloween Haunt in Riverside and the Legoland Brick-or-Treat event in Carlsbad.
But truly, the competition for providing the biggest dose of theme park Halloween Horror in Los Angeles comes down to a battle among Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags Magic Mountain, and the Queen Mary. The arcane advantages of these vicious venues breaks down along these bloodlines:
Knott’s Berry Farm’s Halloween Haunt continues to surpass all other Southern California haunted house events in terms of sheer size; there is so much to do that it is hard for even a technically superior theme park attraction to outperform Knott’s. Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights is by far the Mount Everest of haunted houses, in terms of set design, makeup, special effects, and the impressive scale of its spectacle. The Queen Mary has the enormous advantage of its location, with its dark metal corridors, redolent of Davy Jones’ locker, suggesting sinister spooks year-round, not merely during the Halloween season. Magic Mountain’s Fright Fest offers an all-day event that allows you to ride the roller-coasters during daylight, before experiencing a different form of fright by night.
If you know your own scare preferences, you can probably already make your own decisions, based on the above knowledge: Would you choose quality over quantity? Do you prefer authentic environments over Hollywood-style sets? Are you solely interested in ghosts and ghouls, or do you want the adrenaline rush of rider a roller-coaster backward? If you are still not sure, read on for specific recommendations.
Best Halloween Theme Parks: 2012 Recommendations
Note: We are considering not only theme parks as a whole but also individual attractions contained therein. Enjoying Halloween in Los Angeles is not merely a matter of which parks you attend; it is also a matter of which attractions contained therein are worth the wait in line.
Top Pick: Knott’s Berry Farm Halloween Haunt
This year’s top recommendation goes to Knott’s Scary Farm. Why? Looking back over our reviews from 2011 and 2010, we recall being supremely – almost supernaturally – impressed with the Knott’s Halloween Haunt, and we expect to be equally electrified this year. Five new mazes await us, like lurking monsters hungry for victims: Trapped, The Evil Dead, Dominion of the Dead, Trick-or-Treat, and Pinocchio Unstrung.
Trapped 1 sounds truly innovative – a lengthy, reservation-only maze that seeks to generate a higher level of interactivity by allowing in only small groups. The Evil Dead maze appeals because we have long wanted to experience a maze based on the film franchise. Dominion of the Dead resurrects the vampire theme that Knott’s had done so well in Lore of the Vampire. And Trick-or-Treat actually harkens back to traditional Halloween imagery – something attempted by too few haunted events in Los Angeles. As for returning mazes, we have fond recollections of Terror of London and of Dia De Los Muertos. Overall, this is the theme park event we most eagerly anticipate.
Second Place: Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood
We have no doubt that Universal Studios Hollywood will once again deliver the most convincing monsters and mazes to be unearthed in Los Angeles crypt this October, far surpassing any other 2012 Halloween theme park. We enjoyed last year’s Halloween Horror Nights immensely, but we felt that we were seeing too many old props and set-pieces recycled and rebranded – old plasma in new bottles.
We hope Universal taps a fresh vein this year; conceptually, however, 2012’s bloody brood of new and returning mazes does not jolt us to life like a lightening bolt striking the Frankenstein Monster. La Llarona was decent enough in 2011 but did not leave us eagerly awaiting a return engagement. Silent Hill has its fans among videogamers, but the film from a few years back did not inspire us to want to walk-through a 3-dimensional realization of its imagery. We have seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre before at Universal: sure, the previous one was based on the remake, and this is based on the original, but it’s still a guy in a leather mask wielding a chainsaw. Universal Monsters Remix will offer classic Universal characters (hooray for Dracula, the Wolf Man, and the Mummy), but backed by modern dance music – a potentially comically incongruous combination more outlandish than anything Dr. Frankenstein stitched together.
Truly, we are only looking forward to two mazes. Alice Cooper Goes to Hell in 3-D seems promising, based on last year’s Alice Cooper Welcome to My Nightmare maze. The inside joke here is that the album Alice Cooper Goes to Hell was a sequel to Welcome to My Nightmare, featuring a new set of songs and imagery; hopefully, the Halloween maze incarnation will be as big a change of pace as the album was, offering something new, not just a rehash.
We also have high hopes for the new maze based on The Walking Dead. We are big fans of the AMC TV series. If Universal Studios can capture the essence of the show, and not just offer up generic zombie mayhem, this maze could be something special. And as always, we expect the back lot tram tour to be a marathon journey into terror.2
Queen Mary Dark Harbor
The Queen Mary totally revamped its Halloween event in 2010, creating a new back story and attempting to create an all-night entertainment experience. The haunt-in-a-box approach to the land-based mazes was cast overboard, while the shipboard mazes continued to exploit the eerie ambiance of the venerable Queen. Our hopes were raised that this would be the first step in creating a monstrous new Halloween attraction that would rival Knott’s Scary Farm and Halloween Horror Nights; unfortunately, 2011 saw little new in the way of realizing that potential.
So far, 2012 sounds as if it will be much the same as before, but at least this year’s Dark Harbor will offers a new maze: DeadRise. The description of this one (the wartime crew of a ship that sank while escorting the Queen Mar, rises from the depths) has us hoping for a watery form of claustrophobic terror, equal parts saltwater and supernatural. We also eagerly anticipate a trip through last year’s Hellfire Maze, whose buckling bridge – suspended high in darkness while sparks erupted nearby – briefly made us feel as if we were about to topple head over heels into Hell itself. Long have we ridden the waves with the Queen Mary during the Halloween season, always enjoying the dank corridors draped in darkness, but the on-shore entertainment has yet to equal the shipboard scares. The Dark Harbor theme is brimming with briny potential; the tide is turning in its favor, but will it reach Tsunami proportions in 2012? Too soon to say… 3
Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest
Our two past visits to the Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest, including one in 2011, have not been the most exciting trips to the crypt ever in our Halloween-loving memory. Nevertheless, we cannot write Fright Fest off for 2012. Last year, The Aftermath was one of our favorite mazes anywhere; its return bodes well for this October season. We are also pleased to see that Willoughby’s Haunted Mansion is getting a new coat of paint, along with a new name: Willoughby’s Resurrected. With its traditional haunted house theme, Willoughby’s has been a perennial Halloween highlight of Six Flags for many years now, but it risked losing its allure due to over familiarity. Hopefully, the new twists and turns will yield new shrieks and screams.4
- Trapped was part of a trend (at Knott’s and other theme parks) toward special upcharge events that required an additional payment over and above the price of admission to the park. In subsequent years, Knott’s expanded on this concept with Skeleton Key Rooms (essentially single-room walk-throughs), but eventually dropped these attractions in favor of concentrating upon their mazes.
- The trends mentioned here have continued over the years at Halloween Horror Nights, which tends to take each year’s brand name franchises and stick them into an overly familiar template with the same basic scares, distinguished only by which particular monster is jumping out of the shadows. Also, Universal’s House of Horrors, a year-round attraction that housed Universal Monsters Remix, closed in 2014, eliminating one of the park’s annual Halloween highlights.
- Dark Harbor continues to run a steady course, changing its case of characters and adding news mazes. However, most of its innovations have been in the form of adding more bars and providing more exclusive access areas, requiring additional fees. In effect, it’s become a Halloween hangout as much as a haunt.
- Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest has shown tremendous improvements since 2012. The old haunt-in-a-box style mazes are gone, and the replacements offer impressive settings, interesting themes, and effective scares, particularly Red’s Revenge, a perennial favorite.
Best Halloween Theme Parks: Another View
Looking for a second opinion? CBS gives their rundown of the Best Los Angeles Halloween Theme Park Attractions here.
If you still have not found what you are looking for, you try this list of Los Angeles Halloween Theme Parks at LA Tourist.