Halloween is one of my favorite seasons in San Francisco. When I first moved here from New York almost a decade ago, I was impressed by how seriously Bay Area residents take this holiday. I love the way they go all-out, dressing up in elaborate costumes, purchasing candy in bulk, and transforming their homes into haunted houses. If you have young children, Halloween can be an especially exciting time. While navigating madhouse trick-or-treating streets may not be on your agenda, there is so much you can do to make the season special for your family. So what are you waiting for? Let the spook-fest begin!
Get crafty: During the weeks leading up to Halloween, get your kids in the spirit with some pumpkin carving and crafts. If your little one is too small to wield a knife, dig up colorful Sharpies, glitter, paint, and glue to create simple jack-o-lantern faces, or visit www.spoonfun.com for other simple pumpkin-decorating ideas. To some kids, the most satisfying (and grossest) part of the process is scooping out the pumpkin guts with their bare hands. Be sure not to waste those seeds — rinse them, toss with olive oil and salt, and roast at 300 degrees until golden brown for a healthful autumn snack. For another fun family project, pick up a few of those versatile foam balls at a local craft store. Turn them into goofy spiders by painting them black and adorning with pipe-cleaner legs and googly eyes, or into friendly ghosts by wrapping them in white tissue paper and stringing from the ceiling. Visit www.familyfun.go.com for more kid-friendly craft ideas.
Throw a shindig: Hosting a children’s Halloween party doesn’t need to be an endeavor worthy of Martha Stewart. Keep it simple by inviting kids to come dressed in costume and getting them involved in the decorating with fake cobwebs, mini pumpkins and gourds. For an interactive snack, arm children with candy corn and licorice bits and challenge them to create pumpkin or witch faces on frosted cupcakes. Use cookie cutters to turn bread slices into ghost-shaped sandwiches. Create a spooky playlist with songs like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and The Doors’ “People are Strange.” Mix fruit juice and sparkling water in a punch bowl for a refreshing “witch’s brew.” And don’t forget to snap lots of pictures of those cuties in their costumes.
Hex in the city: As Halloween approaches, take advantage of the City’s many holiday events, several taking place on Saturday, Oct. 27: the Randall Museum’s Family Halloween Festival (415-554-9600, www.randallmuseum.org) will feature live entertainment, crafts and pumpkin carving; the Presidio YMCA’s annual Halloween Carnival (415-447-9650, www.ymcasf.org) promises fun, games and goodies for all ages; for trick-or-treating and a planetarium tour of the night sky, attend the California Academy of Science’s SuperNatural Halloween (415-379-5411, www.calacademy.org); and finally, head for the San Francisco Zoo’s Boo at the Zoo (415-753-7080, www.sfzoo.org), which will offer family games and trick-or-treating. The Halloween Hoopla & Costume Walk (415- 543-1718, www.ybgf.org) at Yerba Buena Gardens on Sunday, Oct. 28 offers little ones another opportunity to parade around in their superhero costumes. Of course, trick-or-treating is the highlight of any kid’s Halloween week, and most locals flock to kid-friendly blocks like Avila Street in the Marina, Jackson Street in Pacific Heights and Lake Street/Seacliff in the Richmond for prime booty. For more toddler-friendly candy grabbing, head to the annual Chestnut Street Halloween Parade, which begins at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 31 outside the Moscone Recreation Center. There, pint-size Power Rangers and princesses line up to begin their march down Chestnut Street to nab treats from local merchants. How do you know your child has had a truly remarkable Halloween? When she ends her day with a light heart and a heavy bag of pillage.
Get out of town: Kick off the month with a Halloween- or autumn-themed day trip. Get into a ghoulish mood while touring a haunted house, navigating a corn maze, or taking a hayride to a pumpkin patch. On the weekends of Oct. 11–14 and Oct. 17–21, drive up to Sonoma for the Tolay Fall Festival (707-565-2041, www.sonoma-county.org), where you’ll find pumpkin picking, harvest crafts and a Native American village. Or head south to the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival (www.miramarevents.com) Oct. 13–14 to enjoy a pumpkin patch, a spooky barn and costume contests. Closer to the city, one of the Bay Area’s most popular Halloween events is the Goblin Jamboree (415-339-3900, www.baykidsmuseum.org) at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito. On the weekend of Oct. 13–14, the museum is transformed into a haunted wonderland, complete with a witch’s school, games and pony rides. For a celebration with old-school charm, attend the annual Harvest Celebration at Slide Ranch (415-381-6155, www.slideranch.org) in Muir Beach on Saturday, Oct. 13 for live music and old-fashioned activities like scarecrow building, butter churning and wool spinning.