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Nothing against the many haunted houses that open for Halloween or the brave souls who seek thrills and chills therein. If you like the adrenaline rush of being chased through a dark, labyrinthine building by a chainsaw-wielding psychopath (ahem, actor), then more power to you. Not your thing? There are plenty of other ways to revel in the spooky season. From delightful dog parades to raucous street fests, we’ve scared up some of the best Halloween events around the U.S.

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Halloween in Salem

Halloween in Salem | Flickr CC: Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism

Festival of the Dead, Salem, MA | Through November 2

What better place to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve than the bewitching New England town of Salem? The month-long Festival of the Dead explores death from different angles, including “macabre customs, heretical histories and strange rituals.” Activities with a supernatural bent include psychic readings, a “graveyard conjure,” a “ritual transformation” ceremony (where attendees throw a “symbol of their old lives” into the “Dark Cauldron”) and “The Dumb Supper,” a silent dinner that honors the dead where courses are served in reverse order, with dessert first. If all this sounds every bit as scary as a haunted house, be aware that the fest features less-freaky events requiring fewer quotation marks, such as the Official Salem Witches’ Halloween Ball on October 28.

Louisville Zoo

Louisville Zoo | Photo courtesy of @godsmix

The World’s Largest Halloween Party, Louisville, KY | October 13–16, 20–23 & 27–30

Yes, that’s the official name of the Louisville Zoo’s fantastical, family-friendly Halloween bash. Billed as “cheery, not eerie,” the yearly Louisville fest offers tons of excitement for little ones, including trick-or-treating (for guests 11 and under) in several themed areas around the zoo: Astro Disco, Land of Oz, Dinoland, Wonderland, Superhero City, Pirate’s Cove and more. There’s also a hay maze, train rides, a “spooktacular” carousel, face painting and hundreds of pumpkins aglow. Oh, to be a kid again….


Tompkins Square | Flickr CC: editrixie

Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade, NYC | October 22

This pawpular [sic] event in NYC’s Tompkins Square Park goes well beyond your typical wiener-dog-wearing-a-hot-dog-bun spectacle. Head to New York for the revelry and you’ll see pups on parade, many dressed in astonishingly creative and conceptual costumes, competing for thousands of dollars in prizes. Doggone adorable outfits in past years have included “Mutt” Romney, Eva Péron, a bowl of pasta, a mini wedding cake and Marty McFly riding around in a mini Delorean. Squeee!

ALSO: Scare up travel rewards with Orbitz Rewards


17th street High Heel Race | Flickr CC: Ted Eytan

17th Street High Heels Race,Washington D.C. | October 25

Get ready for lots of leather, feather boas, fishnet, tutus and faux fur. Drag queens in extravagant costumes and sky-high heels run down 17th Street at this storied event in D.C.‘s Dupont Circle. The informal race, which has been “Crossing the Line Since 1986,” now attracts thousands of spectators and has inspired similar drag races around the country. Come out and celebrate 30 years of “well-heeled” fun.

New Orleans Vampire Ball, New Orleans, LA | October 29

It’s widely known that New Orleanians love to play dress-up, and Halloween is second only to Mardi Gras in terms of elaborate events and costumed revelry in the Big Easy. This year’s Vampire Ball, themed “Endless Night,” is described as a combination of Venetian masquerade ball, vampire court, burlesque cabaret and rock show. Held at the House of Blues, it maintains a strictly enforced dress code, so don’t turn up without a mask, fangs or full Dracula-esque get-up, or the Gatekeeper will turn you away. (And that would be a bloody shame.)

Northalsted Halloween Parade, Chicago, IL | October 31

Everyone from costumed kids to decked-out parents to elaborately dressed drag queens gather in Chicago‘s Boystown neighborhood for this frightfully fun Halloween parade. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the event sees its share of zombies, witches, superheroes, storybook characters, terrifying monsters and creepy clowns (too soon?!), but there are always surprising and outlandish new costumes on view, too. And don’t miss the “Thriller” flash mob, now in its fifth year.


West Hollywood Carnaval | Flickr CC: Bunnicula

West Hollywood Carnaval, Los Angeles, CA | October 31

Drawing more than 500,000 people annually, this wildly popular West Hollywood street party does not mess around. Often described as one of the most “outrageous” Halloween events in the world, attendees should expect (according to the official ‘WeHo’ website) “drag queens, muscle boys, lots of glitter and a freaking good time.” The event, which is best suited for adults, also features an honorary “Queen of the Carnival” crowning, costume contests and plenty of surprises. If all you wanna do (to quote Sheryl Crowe) is have some fun until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard, this one’s for you.


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Tagged: California, Family time, Midwest, New York

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Laura Pearson

Laura Pearson

Laura is a travel-loving Chicago-based journalist who writes about art and culture. Follow her on Twitter at @tislaurapearson.

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