It’s not just a bunch of hocus pocus: Anytime is a good time to visit Disneyland, but if we had to pick favourites, Halloween is truly the most wonderful time of the year. As summer fades and fall sets in, Disneyland goes all out with specialty fireworks, attractions overlays, and so many seasonal snacks you won’t know which to eat first.
Each year, Disneyland receives a stunning transformation to become the ultimate Halloween destination, decked out in carved pumpkins and autumnal decorations. And it’s not just the theme parks — the entire Disneyland Resort, including its three on-site hotels and Downtown Disney, get in on the fun with their own ghoulish lineup of seasonal eats, décor, and entertainment.
Halloween arrives at Disneyland Resort on September 1, with most activities running through October 31.
Plan a spooktacular trip to Disneyland this Halloween
Disneyland Halloween decorations
Seemingly overnight, Disneyland’s two theme parks — Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park — receive seasonal makeovers.
At Disneyland Park, the beloved Main Street Pumpkin Festival returns, taking over the enchanting walkway with hundreds of gorgeous hand-carved gourds perched on windowsills. At the forefront is a giant Mickey Mouse pumpkin that’s become a favourite photo spot, ideally situated with Sleeping Beauty Castle looming in the distance. The entire park gets in the holiday spirit with Halloween décor throughout. Catch the honorary ghost hosts, Mickey, Minnie, and pals, dressed for the occasion in new outfits adorned with bat detailing.
Disney California Adventure Park gets a Halloween transformation, and Cars Land (which becomes “Radiator Screams” for the season) is a highlight. The park’s most immersive land, home to Lightning McQueen, features the beloved Pixar characters in their “Haul-O-Ween” best.
And of course, guests can play their part by donning inspired looks from Disneyland’s Halloween merchandise collection, which includes specialty spirit jerseys, ear headbands, limited-edition popcorn buckets, and more.
Halloween screams fireworks
The sky over Sleeping Beauty Castle lights up each weekend with specialty fireworks during Halloween Screams. Projections, special effects, and haunting music fill Main Street, USA and beyond for the perfect finale to a haunting day. Guests with MagicBand+ will be treated to an extra-special experience as this wearable piece of technology adds a layer of immersion and new dimensions to the show with shiver-inducing vibrations and ominous illuminations.
Wondering where to enjoy the festive fireworks? “Main Street, USA and Sleeping Beauty Castle are wonderful and popular places to grab a spot to enjoy the show, however, I love grabbing some popcorn and heading to It’s a Small World,” PlanDisney Disneyland specialist Carrie H. shared with Travel + Leisure. “This is especially great if you have little ones as there is usually a bit more wiggle room there, and you get a unique view of the projections!”
Spellbinding seasonal treats
Disneyland’s culinary team cooks up wildly creative treats every season. During the Halloween season, they team up the ante with dozens of frightfully delicious and visually appealing bites and sips added to menus across the property. Delectable sweets are joined by an impressive lineup of savoury bites added to many favourite locations, like the Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe. These goodies are always popular, so it’s best to use the Disneyland app to order your treats using the very helpful mobile ordering feature.
Attractions with Halloween overlays
Each year, Disney Imagineers transform select attractions throughout the parks with fun, themed overlays. Family-friendly Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree in Cars Land changes its tune with a haunting new soundtrack to become Mater’s Graveyard JamBOOree, while Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters becomes Luigi’s Honkin’ Haul-O-Ween. New this year, car-acter Guido will wear a new car-stume to welcome guests to Casa Della Tires.
Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout will be totally reimagined to become Guardians of the Galaxy — Monsters After Dark. The already scream-inducing ride receives a frightening elevation with a new storyline and soundtrack. In the seasonal story, the Guardians crew enlists the help of riders to save adorable Groot from the monsters running amuck inside. The transformation for this popular overlay takes place each afternoon and proves to be very popular.
For over two decades, Haunted Mansion has received a cult-favourite transformation that lasts from early September through the end of the year. Haunted Mansion Holiday is not just an attraction overlay — it’s a beloved annual tradition. The hallowed halls of the iconic attraction and its 999 happy haunts are taken over by Jack, Sally, and the rest of Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” gang. Each year, the ballroom scene sees a new haunted gingerbread house that’s become a favourite to spot as riders glide by in their doom buggies.
Animation Academy is a year-round hands-on experience where guests learn how to draw favourite characters from a Disney animator — and during the spooky season, the ever-changing lineup of characters welcomes some special Halloween additions. “This is the perfect activity to head to during the afternoon if you need a break from the sun,” Carrie H. shares. “Pro Tip: The daily schedule can be found on a board in the lobby, so pop in earlier in the day to find the perfect character to draw.”
Plaza de la Familia and Tributes to Dia de los Muertos
Disney California Adventure’s Paradise Gardens Park becomes the vibrant Plaza de la Familia, honouring the Mexican traditions of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Celebratory bites, live entertainment, crafts, and a stunning marigold display are at the heart of this family celebration. The characters and music from Pixar’s “Coco” breathe new life into this tucked-away corner of the park with live mariachi musicians and traditional folklórico dancers. I especially love the ability to leave your own mark on the park by writing a remembrance note and displaying it on the Memory Wall.
While the plaza acts as the main hub for Dia de los Muertos, both Cars Land and Disneyland Park’s Frontierland will honour the celebration as well. This celebration lingers beyond Halloween through November 2.
Downtown Disney district and Disneyland resort hotels
The sights and frights continue to Downtown Disney District, Disneyland’s dining, shopping, and entertaining complex. In addition to festival-fueled décor, entertainment, and eats, ghoulish guests can partake in Pluto’s Pumpkin Pursuit, a limited-time scavenger hunt.
Disneyland’s three on-site resorts also add to the fun with seasonal décor and snacks. The fan-favourite bake stand returns to the lobby of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa with homemade baked treats beside a larger-than-life (and edible) chocolate display.
Disney’s Happiest Haunts guided tour
For a more intimate approach to the holiday, consider booking Disney’s Happiest Haunts Guided Tour. This separately ticketed small group tour offers guests a behind-the-scenes look into one of Disney’s biggest annual celebrations. Highlights include a walking tour of Disneyland Park, a photo-op with the iconic Hitchhiking Ghosts, an exclusive pin, and a reserved viewing area for Halloween Screams.
Oogie Boogie Bash
Super-popular Disneyland after-hours event Oogie Boogie Bash returns to Disney California Adventure Park select evenings from September 5 through October 31. Beloved villains and limited-time experiences take over the park with various treat trails that offer a chance to get up close and interact with rare characters — and snag handfuls of candy along the way. Redwood Creek Challenge Trail receives an ominous makeover to become Villains Grove, a unique walk-through attraction with eerie projections and a haunting soundtrack.
Iconic Disney characters, including the Haunted Mansion gravediggers, are on full display in the event’s exclusive Frightfully Fun Parade, shown twice nightly. It’s a guest favourite, so I recommend waiting until the second showing as the first is often busier.
Oogie Boogie Bash is known to sell out well in advance, so book tickets now if you plan to visit this year.
Tips for visiting Disneyland during Halloween
With many of Disneyland’s Halloween festivities included in general theme park admission, the season proves to be a busy time to visit, with crowds growing as Halloween gets closer. Weekends tend to be busier thanks to the Halloween fireworks, so generally, weekdays during September will be an ideal time to visit if you want to avoid the crowds.
Attractions with holiday overlays, like Haunted Mansion Holiday, prove to be the busiest, so it is best to arrive when the park opens and visit those first. Disney Genie+ is an invaluable tool to use during this busier season as it allows guests to reserve time windows to visit popular rides.
(Hero and feature image credit: Disney Resort)
This story first appeared on travelandleisure.com