In a lot of countries, people only know Halloween from the decoration section of the supermarket, but in the States, you feel the real spirit of the holiday. The Halloween tradition is deeply entrenched in American society, and fall would be unthinkable without “trick or treat.” Across the whole country, people go to great lengths to dress their front yards in spooky decor, leaving passersby marveling at the elaborate skeletons, gravesites, and zombies. It’s no different in California, where it’s actually pretty warm and you’re not likely to hear the howl of the frigid autumn wind. But Halloween is very much alive there, and it’s not about to go anywhere.

I can heartily recommend the following three places for a great time on Halloween:

The Winchester Mystery House

Sarah Winchester’s haunted house is worth a visit any day of the year. The trip to San Jose is worth it for that alone. But the festivities on Halloween make it the perfect time to appreciate the history of this house.

As the story goes, the house belonged to Sarah Winchester. Her father-in-law was the inventor and manufacturer of the rifle by the same name, which made him an enormous fortune. Sarah and her husband led a happy married life and soon brought a child into the world. But the baby died, along with Sarah’s husband shortly afterwards.

Mrs. Winchester was unable to recover from the blow. She began to practice occultism, and it was revealed to her that the ghosts of the victims of the Winchester rifle had taken their revenge on the family in this way. She also learned that the ghosts would continue to haunt her. To save herself, she began to build a house whose secrets still impress visitors today.

Mrs. Winchester was the main architect of the house. She built it bit by bit, without a full blueprint, which resulted in several dozen rooms, hundreds of stairs, and staggered floors. Every night, she would sleep in a different room so that the ghosts wouldn’t find her. There were stairs that led to a wall and doors that hid a sudden drop or nothing more than a wall.

Were there really ghosts? It’s believed that Mrs. Winchester communicated with them every evening in a room with seven exits but just one entrance. But no more giveaways! Your best bet is to visit the haunted house yourselves – and fall under its spell. I’ve already been there three times, and I’d go again!

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Halloween in the San Carlos Neighborhood

What really makes an American Halloween is the tradition of going from house to house and saying “trick or treat.” The best neighborhood for experiencing this is around Eucalyptus Ave in San Carlos near San Francisco. Nowhere else do people go to so much trouble to decorate their houses and provide entertainment – all along the entire street. One homeowner even puts on creepy shows with the help of a number of costumed participants. Once it was a zombie garden, and last year it was Jurassic Park with a big, roaring dinosaur.

The parents and dressed-up kids trek down the streets, and the kids’ costumes are just as outrageous as the decorations. Hint: come early so you can snag a parking spot nearby. This holiday is very popular, and there’s no lack of visitors.

san-francisco-halloween-best-neighborhoodThe Mystery Spot – Where Water Flows Upwards

The bravest among you can venture into the Redwood forest. Near Santa Cruz is the Mystery Spot, where the laws of physics cease to work and a gravitational anomaly prevails. Here water appears to flow upwards, people stand at an angle despite their best efforts, and the compass points in the wrong direction. Of course, these are probably optical illusions. But where else on Halloween can the spirits pass through the thin veil between the two worlds, if not in a place that downright invites them to do so?