The origins of the childhood (OK, grown-ups like it, too) holiday we call Halloween can be traced to an ancient Celtic harvest festival. When the Romans conquered the Celts, they added a couple of their own fall celebrations to the mix, one of which honored the Roman goddess of orchards and gardens, known as Pomona.
This month our own Pomona – a city, not a goddess – is the site of one of SoCal’s biggest Halloween events. And there are plenty more, of all shapes and sizes, spread throughout the region throughout October.
Pumpkin Nights (www.pumpkinnights.com) populates the Pomona Fairplex from Oct. 10-Nov. 3 (but is closed on Halloween). More than 3,000 hand-carved real and synthetic pumpkins will inhabit this magical, multisensory Halloween installation that is composed of seven Pumpkin Lands: Forbidden Pumpkin City, Monster Mash, Great Pumpkin Hall, Maravilla Lane, Pumpkin Pirate Cove, Pumpkin Reef and Enchanted Pumpkin Forest. The Spirit of Pumpkin Fire Show, outdoor movie screenings and a pumpkin patch are also part of the fun. $20 adults, $16 ages 4-12.
Rising in Calabasas’ King Gillette Ranch is Nights of the Jack (www.nightsofthejack.com), open Thurs.-Sun. evenings Oct. 3-27 and nightly during Halloween week. Along a half-mile trail, visitors will encounter thousands of hand-carved, illuminated pumpkins featuring images of movie stars, sports heroes and animated characters, plus two new Nickelodeon-themed installations: “SpongeBob Square-Pants” and “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” Advance tickets are required for this family-friendly Halloween adventure, which includes an activation zone (might be scary for little ones) and live carvings. $27 adults; $22 ages 3-12.
The jack-o’-lantern extravaganza Carved debuts at Descanso Gardens (www.descansogardens.org) in La Cañada Flintridge from 6:30-10:30 p.m. Oct. 23-27. A thousand carved pumpkins – more than 70 that weigh more than 100 pounds – will line a mile-long path through the Camellia Forest and Oak Grove. Reservations are recommended for Carved, which also will serve up seasonal snacks and live carving demonstrations. $30.
Families can search for hidden pumpkins during The Great Pumpkin Hunt at South Coast Botanic Garden (www. southcoastbotanicgarden.org) until Nov. 30. The garden will also host Freight Fright, The Ultimate Halloween Train Show from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 26-27 and the Trunk or Tree holiday party from noon-3 p.m. Oct. 27. Garden admission is $9 adults, $6 students, $4 ages 5-12, while admission to the party is $12 adults, $7 ages 5-12.
Railroad fans can also take a ride to Irvine Park Railroad’s Pumpkin Patch (www.irvineparkrailroad.com) through Oct. 31. You’ll find pumpkins and mini-train rides, a hay pyramid, carnival games and a not-so-spooky haunted house. Admission is free, but there are fees for parking and some activities.
SoCal boasts a bumper crop of pop-up pumpkin fields, but we’ll mention just two. Mr. Bones (www. mrbonespumpkinpatch.com) in Culver City will be stocked with an abundance of pumpkins and entertainment daily Oct. 4-30, though some features are weekend-only. Mr. Bones hosts a dog-friendly Howl-O-Ween party from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Oct 16 and a Trick-or-Treat Spooktacular from 6-8 p.m. Oct. 25. Admission to this holiday mainstay is $5-$20, with some attractions requiring an additional fee. Tina’s Pumpkin Patch (www.tinaspumpkinpatch.com) in Sherman Oaks is open to Valley jack-o’-lantern hunters daily Oct. 4-31. Tina’s also hosts an array of playful activities, including a straw maze, a climbing wall, pony rides and a petting zoo. Admission is free, but some attractions require additional fees.
Kidspace Children’s Museum (www.kidspacemuseum.org) in Pasadena’s Brookside Park welcomes families to its Pumpkin Festival from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 19-20. Besides a plethora of pumpkins, the event includes carnival games, a petting zoo, pony rides, bouncers, seasonal crafts, live music and performances. Admission is free. There is a charge for some activities, and proceeds benefit Kidspace.
Kids can dress in their costumes, enjoy some early trick or treat and meet some frightfully fun characters Oct. 12-13 at Kidspace Spooktacular: Monster Mash. The event lasts from 5:30-9 p.m. each night, and required, timed-entry tickets are available at www.kidspacemuseum.org. $14 ages 1 and older. Bring your own goody bag.
The Marina Spooktacular (www.visitmarinadelrey.com/events/halloween-marina-spooktacular) docks at Burton Chace Park from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Oct. 26-27. During the day, this free Halloween festival’s family-friendly attractions include pumpkin carving, Dia de los Muertos JAM sessions, DJ music and food trucks. The Spooktacular turns spookier at night with a blackout maze and graveyard treasure hunt recommended for ages 13 and older.
Don your Halloween outfit and enjoy a monstrously fun evening at Haunted Little Tokyo from 6 p.m.-midnight Oct. 26. This holiday block party features local food vendors, live music, games and a costume contest, and is just one high-light of Little Tokyo’s month-long Halloween calendar, which can be found at www.hauntedlittletokyo.com. Admission is free, but some activities have a fee.
Halloween enchantments will materialize in Topanga Canyon from 4-10 p.m. Oct. 26 during Theatricum Boo-tanicum (www.theatricum.com). Entertainment includes ghost stories, games, food and beverages and performances by Creative Playground, Peter Alsop and the Off The Grid comedy improv group. Boo-tanicum’s unique haunted house is always a highlight of this annual fundraiser. $22-$24 adults, $10-$12 ages 4-12.
The Bob Baker Marionette Theater has a new home but is sticking to tradition by performing seasonal favorite ‘HaLLoWe’eN SpoOkTaCuLaR’ Fri.-Sun. through Oct. 20 – plus daily performances Oct. 25-Nov. 3. This jazz-flavored musical revue features more than 100 Halloween-inspired puppets, from glow-in-the-dark skeletons and “xylo-bone” playing ghouls to the Purple People Eater and the Invisible Man. $15 ages 3 and older
Don’t let the name scare you off. Zombie Joe’s Under-ground Theater’s Urban Death Tour of Terror (www. zombiejoes.com) is a haunted house experience that’s actually family friendly (at least, for ages 8 and up). This “a-maze-ing” theatrical installation will be staged at 7 p.m. Saturdays Oct. 5-Nov. 2 and on Halloween night. An “adult” version runs from 8-11:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat. $16-$20.
If that show sounds too intense, head to Santa Monica Playhouse (santamonicaplayhouse.com) for its original holiday staple, “Absolutely Halloween.” This All Hallow’s Eve musical adventure tale is performed at 2 p.m. Sat. and 12:30 p.m. Sun. Oct. 5-27, and audience members get to help a young girl named Candy in her efforts to save Halloween. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12.50 for children, and the theater is offering a free performance Oct. 13 (call 310-394-9779 or email email@example.com for reservations).
A Faery Hunt Show and Fairy Halloween Party (www. afaeryhunt.com) comes to Griffith Park Oct. 19. The whimsical musical quest to find fairy royalty begins at 10:30 a.m., followed by the Halloween Party, which features storytelling, games, food, fairy unicorn readings and one-on-one time with the fairies. Everyone is invited to wear costumes! $25 per person for both events, $15 per person for the show or party only.
Frightening fauna are featured this month at the L.A. County Arboretum (www.arboretum.com) in Arcadia. On Oct. 12 and 19, its Creepy Critters workshop spotlights the tarantulas, scorpions, millipedes, cockroaches and worms that call the Arboretum their home. The Wacky Pumpkin Science workshop Oct. 5 lets kids investigate scientific concepts by making pumpkin volcanos and pumpkin slime. Feel free to wear your favorite animal attire or accessories. Sessions run from 10:30 a.m.-noon and cost $15 per person. Reservations are required and adults must accompany their children.
The autumnal arachnid invasion, meanwhile, continues at the Natural History Museum (www.nhm.org) where the Spider Pavilion will spin its web of intrigue through Dec. 1. The admission fee of $19 adults, $16 students, $11 ages 3-12 includes NHM admission. Bugs are also a main attraction at the Enchanted Crawly Hallow’s Eve party from noon-5 p.m. Oct. 20 at Star Eco Station (www.ecostation.org) in Culver City. The Butterfly Tent and infamous Fear Factor Edible Insect Challenge highlight this annual event, where visitors can also enjoy food, games and Eco Station tours. Admission is free; some activities have a fee.
Share the Halloween spirit with a host of different animals during Boo at the Zoo from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily Oct. 1-31 at the L.A. Zoo (www.lazoo.org). Explore the pumpkin patch and hay maze during the week, or visit on the weekend to see special animal feedings, an interactive puppet show and a Spooktacular Science show. The weekends of Oct. 19-20 and 26-27 will also include trick-or-treat stations and creepy crafts. $22 adults, $17 ages 2-12
For undersea fun, visit The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium (www.cabrillomarineaquarium.org), which has expanded its popular Sea Scare from 7-10 p.m. Oct. 26. and is premiering a new Trunk-or-Treat area. Dress up in your Halloween costume and enjoy the eerie evening escapades, which have a bioluminescence theme this year. Tickets are $10-$12 adults, $5-$8 children. The Aquarium of the Pacific (www. aquariumofpacific.org) transforms into Scarium of the Pacific from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 26-27. The weekend will be stuffed with spooky storytelling, crazy craft projects, magic shows and the always-amusing children’s costume contest. Visitors can also encounter unusual marine life in the Great Hall and watch underwater pumpkin carving demonstrations. $34.95 adults, $24.95 ages 3-11.
Michael Berick is Calendar Editor of L.A. Parent.