Visit if you dare: These 5 spooky towns go all in for Halloween

Hang out with the Headless Horseman in the Hudson Valley, eat with ghost sailors in Savannah, and smash pumpkins in the "Halloween Capital of the World"

A pumpkin planetarium at the Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze. | Photo: Alexandra Charitan

Halloween fans might be disappointed that they’ll never be able to visit Halloween Town, the fictional setting for Tim Burton’s 1993 stop-motion classic The Nightmare Before Christmas. But there are plenty of places around the U.S. that take the late-October holiday (almost) as seriously as Jack Skellington. Salem, Massachusetts, has turned its sordid past into a booming tourist industry, but just like colorful fall foliage, New England doesn’t have exclusive rights over the holiday known alternately as All Hallows’ Eve.

Southern cities dripping in always-creepy Spanish moss honor their genial ghosts with voodoo offerings and multicultural art parades. The Pacific Northwest is home to a different fictional Halloween town brought to life each year thanks to an enormous lighted pumpkin—a bit too big for upstate New York’s favorite anti-hero, the Headless Horseman, but perfect for fans of the 1998 Disney classic Halloweentown. But it all started in Minnesota—at least according to the residents of Anoka, site of one of the country’s first Halloween celebrations and the official “Halloween Capital of the World.” 

From family-friendly frights to truly haunted historic houses, here are five of the best places to celebrate Halloween around the country. 

An arched metal sign says spirit of halloweentown
St. Helens, Oregon. | Photo: Shutterstock

1. St. Helens, Oregon

This small town in Northwest Oregon was named for its view of Mount St. Helens. Located less than 40 miles from the active volcano and 28 miles from Portland, the area was used as a filming location for the Disney Channel’s 1998 movie Halloweentown and the Twilight film adaptations. St. Helens leans into its spooky reputation year round, but especially in the fall, lighting a huge pumpkin in the courthouse plaza on the first of October (it remains illuminated all month).

Attractions, open primarily on weekends, include several themed photo ops, a family-friendly haunted hotel, dance demonstrations, tarot card readings, a costume contest, and scarecrow story hour. This year, the Halloween weekend festivities will feature a “Little Trick Or Treaters Costume Parade,” as well as appearances from Halloweentown and Twilight cast members including Kenneth Choi (the “hip broom sales creature”) and Kellen Lutz (Emmett Cullen).

a white pyramid that says "omnia ab uno"
Nicholas Cage’s mausoleum. | Photo: Alexandra Charitan
a white mausoleum with a plaque about Marie Laveau
The grave of voodoo queen Marie Laveau. | Photo: Alexandra Charitan

2. New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans may be known for Bourbon Street and its Mardi Gras celebrations, but one of the country’s most-haunted cities comes to life in October as well, with haunted houses, cemetery tours, macabre museums, and, of course, a huge parade. The inaugural Krewe of BOO! was launched in 2007 by “Mr. Mardi Gras,” Blaine Kern Sr., as a post-hurricane Katrina fundraiser. After a 6-year absence, the parade was “revived from the dead, brought back by popular demand ” in 2013.

St. Louis Cemetery #1, New Orleans’ oldest and most famous burial ground, attracts more than 10,000 visitors a year wishing to pay their respects to voodoo queen Marie Laveau or see the future final resting place of Nicholas Cage. (Because of the influx of tourists and vandalism, the cemetery is now accessible only by guided tours.) 

a sign says welcome to historic sleepy hollow with pumpkins, cornstalks, and hay bales
Welcome to Sleepy Hollow. | Photo: Alexandra Charitan
a painted wooden cutout of the headless horseman
The Headless Horseman at Sunnyside. | Photo: Alexandra Charitan

3. Hudson Valley, New York

East Coast Halloween-fanatics don’t need to go all the way to New England for their tricks and treats. The New York Hudson River Valley is home to several small towns that embody the spooky spirit in October and early November, including Sleepy Hollow, Croton-On-Hudson (home of the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze), Irvington, and Tarrytown. The region’s historic homes are beautiful year round, but in the fall Lyndhurst, a Gothic-Revival mansion used as a filming location for Dark Shadows, is draped in spiderwebs and populated by ghoulish mannequins.

Nearby, Kykuit, a 40-room Rockefeller residence, offers incredible views of the colorful fall foliage from its majestic hilltop location. Irvington, the former home of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow scribe, plays host to several events including a reimagining of the terrifying tale, performed outside with live music and an appearance by the Headless Horseman himself.

a tombstone featuring a skull and crossbones
A tombstone at Bonaventure Cemetery. | Photo: Alexandra Charitan
a skeleton wearing a shirt that says "boo y'all"
A Savannah skeleton. | Photo: Alexandra Charitan

4. Savannah, Georgia

Savannah, Georgia, claims to be the country’s most-haunted city—and it certainly feels that way, especially in the city squares and Civil War-era cemeteries draped in Spanish moss. In October, visitors can board a Trolley of the Doomed for a “Halloween ‘frightseeing’ journey,” support animal rescue organizations (and see cute, costumed pets) at Wag-O-Ween, or see a scary movie at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival. In addition to a delicious Southern-style buffet, the 250-year-old Pirate’s House, located in one of Savannah’s oldest buildings, boasts underground tunnels and ghost sailors who have been seen floating from table to table.

Bonaventure Cemetery doesn’t need to decorate—with more than 100 acres of beautifully-carved tombstones, mausoleums, and other grave markers dating from the late 1800s, it’s the perfect place for a historic Halloween stroll. (The Bonaventure Historical Society offers free guided tours on the second weekend of every month, but visitors can take a self-guided tour, using an app or printed guide available at the visitors center, year round.)  

a lightpole banner featuring pumpkins that says "anoka, halloween capital of the world"
Anoka, Minnesota, “Halloween Capital of the World.” | Photo: Flickr

5. Anoka, Minnesota 

In 1920, Anoka, Minnesota, hosted what is believed to be one of the first Halloween celebrations in the U.S. Located about 20 miles northwest of Minneapolis, Anoka names new Halloween ambassadors each year; in 1937, 12-year-old Harold Blair “carried with him to Washington, D.C. a proclamation naming Anoka the ‘Halloween Capital of the World.’” It’s a title the town does not take lightly: A separate website dedicated to the festivities features a countdown clock and list of the annual events, including several parades, a carnival, Gray Ghost 5k, and pancake breakfast.

The festive fun continues into November, when the city’s Waste Reduction and Recycling Board hosts the “Don’t Trash it, Smash it” pumpkin smash. Billed as an “environmentally-friendly opportunity,” participants are instructed to remove all candles or other decorations before tossing their jack-o-lanterns into a community composting bin.