Theme parks already specialize in themed experiences — and during the Halloween season — Knott's Berry Farm, Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain are the best places in Southern California to visit for thrills and chills. As night falls, these family-friendly destinations transform into PG-13 and adult-oriented Halloween haunt events filled with frightful mazes, scare zones and seasonal shows.
The best haunt event: Knott's Scary Farm
Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park is the granddaddy of Halloween events as the birthplace of theme-park-wide haunts. Now in its 45th season of producing a Halloween haunt, the creative team at the seasonally re-named "Knott's Scary Farm" continues to dream up the most original, innovative and scary mazes at any theme park. Knott's continues to up the ante with its three new-for-2017 mazes: "Dark Ride," "Pumpkin Eater" and "Trick or Treat: Lights Out," while six other returning mazes have also been "plussed" and enhanced.
• Don't Miss: Knott's Scary Farm is the exclusive Halloween-season home to the legendary Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, who performs a Las Vegas-style stage show. After performing at Knott's for decades, Elvira's 2017 show is billed as her "farewell show" and it showcases Elvira at her best: sexy, funny, witty, campy; she sings and dances up a storm! The titillating show pays tribute to Elvira's legacy as the Queen of Halloween, while staying entertainingly relevant. It's worth mentioning Elvira is not retiring; she is just no longer going to perform a nightly show at Knott's during the Halloween season. She performs at 9 and 11:30 p.m. every night of Knott's Scary Farm and the show is included with admission.
• Best Maze: "Dark Ride" has guests walking through an abandoned carnival ride where creepy characters and sideshow freaks linger in the shadows. The set design and details are simply amazing and larger than life, as you follow the tracks of the decrepitated ride trying to find the exit.
• Tip: Arrive early to beat the crowds and the first maze to visit should be "Special Ops: Infected" since the line moves slower than other mazes. Unique to Knott's, "Special Ops" places visitors in the middle of a "real-life video game" as soldiers recruited to stop the zombie apocalypse in an all-out war against the undead in this interactive experience. Armed with laser guns, groups of guests embark on a mission through sprawling city streets, buildings and subway tunnels in a post-apocalyptic setting.
• Knott's Scary Farm remaining dates: Oct. 26-31, 2017. Hours: 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday-Tuesday; and 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. knotts.com
Be 'in' the horror movie at Universal Studios
Universal Studios Hollywood's "Halloween Horror Nights" immerses guests in a living, breathing, three-dimensional world of terror. The event features a new slate of film and television production-quality mazes, scare zones and a re-imagined "Terror Tram."
The 2017 Halloween Horror Nights haunted maze lineup consists of both classic-and-modern horror titles: "The Shining," inspired by Stanley Kubrick's classic 1980 psychological thriller starring Jack Nicholson; "American Horror Story: Roanoke," based on the popular FX-TV series; "The Horrors of Blumhouse," featuring iconic moments from "The Purge" movie franchise, "Sinister" and "Happy Death Day," inspired by prolific filmmaker Jason Blum's blockbuster films; "Insidious: Beyond the Further," based on the upcoming supernatural thriller from the "Insidious" movie franchise; "Ash vs. Evil Dead," based on Starz's comedy horror television series; "SAW: The Games of Jigsaw," inspired by the "SAW" film series and "Titans of Terror," which unites classic slasher film villains, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface; and "The Walking Dead" year-round attraction inspired by AMC's TV series about human survival in the zombie apocalypse.
• Don't Miss: The all-new "Titans of Terror Tram: Hosted by Chucky" transports guests into a nightmare of carnage on Universal's world-famous studio backlot, pitting guests face-to-face with Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface and the infamous serial killer doll, Chucky. The Terror Tram drops off guests on the backlot for the chance to walk by the famous Bates Motel from "Psycho," stand on the steps of the iconic "Psycho" house for a photo opp with Norman Bates, and walks through the massive "War of the Worlds" airplane crash scene — all the meanwhile seeing re-created scenes from Freddy, Jason and Leatherface films.
• Best Maze: The set design for Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" is visually stunning; as the maze designers went to great lengths to recreate details of the Overlook Hotel as seen in the classic horror film, including the color and pattern of the carpet, wallpaper, lighting fixtures. One will also see the likeness of Jack Nicholson, who plays Jack Torrance in the film, as scareactors wearing "Jack" masks threaten guests throughout the maze by swinging hatchets. The maze depicts key moments of the film, including ghostly appearances by the Grady twins, the elevator hall and blood flood sequences and the words "REDRUM" bloodily materializing on the walls.
• Tip: Complimentary early entry for all Halloween Horror Nights ticketholders begins at 5 p.m. with the chance to visit three mazes at Universal's lower lot before the event officially begins at 7 p.m. Lines for HHN are also notoriously long; upgrading to a Front-of-the-Line pass is worth every penny — or one might deal with 2-to-3 hour lines per maze.
• Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights remaining dates: Oct. 25-29, 31 and Nov. 2-4, 2017. Hours: 7 p.m.-2 p.m. in October and 7 p.m.-2 a.m. in November. halloweenhorrornights.com/hollywood
Magic Mountain: Thrills by day, frights by night
Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia holds the reining title as the "Thrill Capital of the World" with its 19 roller coasters. During the Halloween season, Magic Mountains raises its thrill factor with its "Fright Fest" nights.
Comprised of seven mazes, six scare zones and plenty of coasters, Magic Mountain's Fright Fest is one of Southern California's more unique Halloween event. Most other theme parks operate as usual in the daytime; have a hard close; and then reopen at night for Halloween events, requiring a special-event ticket. But Six Flags Magic Mountain's Fright Fest is included with admission, whether someone is already there in the daytime and stays for scary nighttime fun; or arrives in the evening just for Fright Fest
Guests who have been there, day or night, are free also enjoy the park's rollercoasters like Twisted Colossus, Goliath, X2 and Batman: The Ride — but with added thrills of "rollercosters in the dark" with minimal lighting — as well as walking through the several, themed scare zones throughout the park. If guests also want to experience the haunted mazes, they can purchase an upcharge wristband for access to all the mazes.
• Don't Miss: "Suicide Squad: The Six Flags Fright Fest Experience" is an incredibly themed scarezone — that is actually not scary — and based on D.C. Comics' "Suicide Squad" movie and comics. Guests will find photo opps with characters like the Joker and Harley Quinn; while surrounded by a visually stunning environment filled with projections, special effects, fog and fire within a sketchy, urban cityscape.
• Best Maze: "Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising" is a sprawling walk-through of an immersive, post-apocalyptic environment. This maze is an impressive, visual wonder with towering-and-destroyed buildings, fire and smoke effects; filled with the park's highest concentration of zombie scareactors and dangerous, human survivors.
• Tip: Since Fright Fest is open to all guests with regular admission or a season pass, the best deal is to purchase a 2018 season pass that also includes admission for the rest of 2017.
• Six Flags Magic Mountain's Fright Fest remaining dates: Oct. 27-31, 2017. Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Tuesday. sixflags.com/magicmountain