San Francisco loves Halloween. The city has a long history of its celebration, so it’s no surprise that October is replete with revelry. Actually, some may argue that every day is Halloween in San Francisco: One needn’t venture far to find someone dressed in what could pass for a costume, and there’s always some type of celebration to be found.
Ready for a brief Halloween history refresher? It began as a Celtic harvest festival marking the end of summer and beginning of winter. Then the Romans added a day for honoring the dead, and not to be outdone, the Christians put their mark on the day with All Saints Day, which was renamed All Hallows and then subsequently shortened to Hallowe’en. All the celebrations involved dressing up, whether in animal skins, as saints or angels, or as impersonations of the dead.
So don your favorite hide or halo, and go celebrate!
Start scary with the San Francisco Ghost Hunt (year-round, Wednesday through Sunday), which meets in front of the Queen Anne Hotel. The tour continues inside and throughout the neighborhood to other haunted mansions with tales of ghosts and things that go bump in the night (1590 Sutter Street, 415-922-5590, sfghosthunt.com).
At the fourth annual “sinister chic” Haunted Hotel (Oct. 31) at the W Hotel San Francisco, find world-renowned D.J.s spinning Top 40, Hip Hop, International, and more in four rooms; costumes are required (181 Third Street, 415-573-0740, wsanfrancisco.com).
Halloween Goes Hollywood (Oct. 31) transforms the Julia Morgan Ballroom of the Merchant Exchange Building into, you guessed it, a Hollywood set with lights, camera, and action — complete with paparazzi. Two D.J.s will spin House, Top 40, EDM, and club mixes (465 California Street, location415.com).
For the seventh year, A Nightmare on Van Ness (Oct. 31) takes over three levels of the Art Deco treasure, The Regency Center, with billing as the most “extravagant and entertaining” Halloween event in the city, promising a bigger and better party that will sell out. Grab your cocktail from the open-all-night bar, and dance to tunes spun by seven D.J.s playing Top 40, Electro, and Hip Hop. Special features: go-go dancers and a cash prize costume contest (1300 Van Ness Avenue, 415-573-0740, nightmareonvanness.com).
Take your revelry to the bay aboard the Fume Blanc Commodore for a four-hour Titanic Masquerade Halloween Party Cruise (Oct. 31), where the party spans three decks with an open-all-night bar and music from two D.J.s on two floors; partygoers must come in costume and a mask (Pier 40, 415-573-0740, sfnightlife.com).
If you’d rather just bar hop in the neighborhood, then the World Famous Halloween Pub Crawl (Oct. 30–31) is for you. Meet at Bar None in your coolest costume for registration check-in and details on where you’ll be crawling, which includes dozens of the most popular drinking establishments offering drink specials in Marina/Cow Hollow (1980 Union Street pubcrawls.com).
For the performance-preferring crowd, Bats Improv has a month of horror in store starting with Four Scary Stories (Oct. 2–23) in the tradition of Tales From the Crypt and Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Halloween Horror Musical (Oct. 30–31), described as “frightfully delightful” (Building B, Fort Mason Center 415-474-6776, improv.org).
Check out the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Oct. 31) at perhaps the most unlikely of venues, Davies Symphony Hall, to celebrate the film’s 40th anniversary. The symphony will perform a spooky preshow with music from classic scary films, like Psycho, The Exorcist, Poltergeist, and more. Guest host Peaches Christ will provide commentary and instructions for audience participation during the film. Costumes encouraged, of course (201 Van Ness Avenue, 415-864-6000, sfsymphony.org).
Head over to the Presidio Officers’ Club for The Masquerade Macabre — Do You Dare? (Oct. 31) and dance to ghoulishly goth swing by the award-winning Lee Presson and the Nails. Find the Salon de Guillotine by Thrillpeddlers, a fortuneteller, and specialty spirits (for purchase) from Arguello. Best of all? It’s free (50 Moraga Avenue, 415-561-4400, eventbrite.com).
Have fun and raise funds in Sausalito at the beloved Goblin Jamboree (Oct. 17–18) at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, which supports the museum’s mission to ignite and advance creative thinking in children (557 McReynolds Road, 415-339-3900, baykidsmuseum.org); the Supernatural Halloween Party (Oct. 23) at the California Academy of Sciences benefits their educational outreach activities (55 Music Concourse Drive, 415-379-5411, calacademy.org); and the Howlin’ Moon 5K and 1K Fun Run (Oct. 25) supports public education at the Claire Lilienthal Alternative School (Little Marina Green, 415-713-5201, clairelilienthal.org).
Head across town to Yerba Buena Gardens for the 15th Annual Halloween Hoopla (Oct. 31) for interactive games and performances, music, crafts, a ghoulish photo booth, and costume parade (750 Howard Street, 415-543-1718, ybgfestival.org); or hang in the ‘hood for the Chestnut Street Halloween Parade (Oct. 30), which starts in Moscone Park with crafts and activities before heading down Chestnut Street for trick or treating (1800 Chestnut Street, 415-292-2045, sfrecpark.org). Between the two at Aquarium by the Bay, you’ll find their Halloween (Oct. 29–Nov. 1) celebration with underwater pumpkin carving, squid dissections, and other fun presentations and activities that celebrate the bay’s “creepy creatures and freaky fish” (Embarcadero at Beach Street, 415-623-5300, aquariumofthebay.org).
Find family-proper performances at Fort Mason Center with the Young Performers Theatre production of Sherlock Holmes’s spine-chilling mystery Hound of the Baskervilles (Oct. 24–Nov. 8), the story of death, fangs, a family fortune, and a family curse (2 Marina Boulevard, Building C, 415-346-5550, ypt.org); and the Company C Contemporary Ballet production of Arcane: A Tale of All Hallows’ Eve (Oct. 24–31), about the star Arcane, the allegorical muse of autumn, who sits at the hip of the harvest moon, and visits earth one night each year to awaken the dead who have left something undone or unsaid so they may rectify the past (2 Marina Boulevard, Cowell Theater, 908-708-0752, companycballet.org).