Halloween in Los Angeles: Go out there and live!
Last night while attending a Mormon rager hosted at our house complete with lots and lots of sugary sweets and attempts at making s'mores in the microwave and over candlelight (we literally had one girl sitting at our fake fireplace roasting her mashmallow with a knife over one of the candles placed there (and it actually came out really good)) because — due to rain — we were unable to break in our newly constructed firepit in the backyard, I was working out what I wanted to do this weekend with some new friends here in Nashville.
In the back of my mind, I felt like there was something going on this Saturday. But I couldn't remember what. And then... oh ya, Halloween.
Maybe because I've been so lost in moving madness and trying to get settled into this new area, time has become slightly irrelevant to me. And although it feels like fall here and I'm in love with it all, I am missing Los Angeles just a bit. I've been reminiscing on the last couple of years especially and all the random findings that only Los Angeles dreams up that I would usually do around this time.
So, in that spirit, I put together a little list of my favorite Halloween-y things I've done in LA:
- Museum of Death
- Dearly Departed Tours
- Nightmare Before Christmas at the El Capitan Theatre
- Theme Park Scare-a-thons: Knott's Scary Farm, Universal Studios, & Disneyland
- West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval
- Día de Los Muertos on Olvera Street
See below for all the experience deets.
To get in the mood...
Upon entrance, we were greeted with an adorable beagle, who seemed to have the most fitting loud bark for such a place. My favorite though was the 17 year-old Siamese turtles, Eng and Chang (named after the very famous Siamese twins).
I'm not sure what I thought was in store for me at this museum, but I feel that I got my $15 worth of admission. Basically anything relating to death was featured and chronicled here. That included a room dedicated to famous serial killers, including their biographies, some art pieces, and letters (there were also serial killer board games which became really disturbing when reading some of the ways you can gain points like killing someone and the witness! Go YOU!); caskets; execution styles (lethal injection vs. electrocution vs. hanging etc.) and the debates surrounding them as well as a preserved guillotined head; the embalming process; pictures of catacombs, crazy car accidents, and an unsolved case; a room dedicated to the mass suicide of Heaven's Gate that occurred in 1997 including one of the actual bunk beds that they were in; and then to wrap it all up — a room of animal, mostly albino, taxidermy displays.
It was crazy, a little disturbing at times, slightly overwhelming and graphic, but mostly to me, a very educational and intriguing experience about all these different aspects of death in a way that I usually have never thought about (I mean, who necessarily wants to consider the psychology and life of a serial killer except in make-believe television shows?). I highly recommend checking it out. If you're over sixteen at least. This is kind of some heavy stuff.
Being in that museum though, you do start to feel sort of dead yourself being around all these skulls and remnants of different people's pasts. After spending a couple hours there, I was glad to go and leave unlike some of the skulls.
My favorite thing was when people left, the museum attendant would say, "Now go out there and live!" It was the best.
After doing the Museum of Death the one year, April and I were really set on discovering some other weird Los Angeles thing-to-do. So we found these tours. We went on the Tragical History Tour, and had the best animated story-telling guide named Brian. Traveling by van, we went through a lot of different parts of Hollywood and Beverly Hills area while Brian told us all these real-deal stories about what murder actually happened in front of that beautiful building here or that nice neighborhood there.
They even had a binder accompaniment with pictures from the crime scenes among other pieces of memorabilia that brought the stories to life. The most disturbing thing about this whole tour (aside from maybe that I was on it) was the 911 phone calls they played. One murder in particular we drove by the mansion/house it took place in and then listened to the 911 phone call by the son who was actually the murderer but pretended to be shocked and devastated by finding his parents dead. I MEAN. WHAT. Brian had to tell me a couple times that this kid really was acting on the phone call because I didn't understand how you could sound so completely devastated and have just committed that crime. And the reason was something so ridiculous. Even now, I'm still weirded out.
It was kind of a tradition to watch the "Nightmare Before Christmas" between Halloween and Christmas growing up. And it was really a joy to see it on the big screen in "4D" (which basically means 3D + some things like a wind machine or "snow" or Christmas lights that actually happen in correspondence with the scene that's showing). Although the time we went was pretty late so I was honestly falling asleep through some parts (no disrespect intended), it's also a fun excuse to go out to Hollywood and just marvel inside this beautiful theatre. You can learn more about the theatre here.
Theme Park Scare-a-thons
Personally, I've only experienced Knott's Scary Farm, but I've also heard Universal Studios was pretty chilling (get the VIP if you can so you can skip through long lines — maybe even literally) and Disneyland is a little more family friendly fun Halloween style.
My first time going to Knott's Scary Farm was actually in middle school, and is still a vivid experience. I was freaked out. It's like the first time seeing a horror film. You don't know what's going to happen next. They change out what was once some happy-go-lucky rollercoaster or fun ride into your own personal nightmare. But the creepiest part was the people that just jump out at you. I didn't know until the end of the night that those scary characters couldn't actually touch you. Once I knew that, the scariness wore off a bit, and the next time I went it didn't seem as horrific. Still a good time though.
The day of...
A lot of times — when it became unreasonable for me to go out and trick-or-treat — my Los Angeles Halloween experience consisted of going to a church dance, or eating out and watching scary movies. But for about three different years, I pushed myself to brave the LA traffic and go out to West Hollywood/WeHo for an extreme Halloween experience.
A portion of Santa Monica Blvd. is shut down each year on Halloween and left open to costume goers who traverse up and down the block, sporting delightful, creative, and sometimes just a little too extreme costume creations (the worst, and I guess most memorable, costume I saw the first year I went was a used tampon and pad — why?).
The last time I went, I wore my sunshine carebear costume. Unfortunately, this wasn't exactly a sunshine carebear crowd. I got more people wondering what the heck I was versus shout-outs. It's ok though.
From the first time to the last time I went was a bit different. As it becomes more and more well-known and popular, it also seems to get more and more crowded. Getting there early helps because it's not as crazy, but you also might miss some of the best costumes. By 11pm the last time I went, we left because it was so crowded that it was getting to a point where it was hard to move.
Parking can be really awful to ubering or taking a bus is honestly the best way to go — one year, I drove and it took an hour for us just to get out of the parking garage (so avoid parking garages if at all possible). And Frank really had to go to the bathroom so that was unfortunate for him.
Some of my favorite parts of that last time I went was sitting in traffic. Seriously. My friend Candice used that time to recite to us some really creepy/scary stories from here (including in the comment threads).
Bonus time! After, we all went out to Cafe 50's for shakes and food. They even had a discount for people that showed up in costumes and you could color a pumpkin-shaped-paper.
I mean seriously, these moments were everything I really wanted Halloween to be.
Post-Halloween (but it can actually be before or during too...)
My friend April and I went to this last year and made it an extra adventure by taking the metro there (for some reason that always adds another element of greatness to an LA day-trip).
The day included looking at the altars on display — celebrating the memories of loved ones who have passed, as is the real spirit and intent of Día de Los Muertos, "Day of the Dead" — and enjoying those who dressed up in costume. There was also facepainting (which was a forever long line but completely worth it for us), a procession, performers, a picture on the fake donkey, and strolling through Olvera Street itself (one of my favorite places in Los Angeles).
The below photo might be my favorite. Those eyebrows on that chihauhua are on point.