Make no mistake about it, Halloween in America is a big deal.
This is one occasion where the movies aren't lying to you: the streets really do come alive with ghouls and sexy vampires and frat houses really do rock raucous all night parties as children collect tricks or treats from houses so trussed up in spooky deco that they look more like theme park attractions than suburban homes.
If you still succumb to the lure of a good scare but have outgrown candy; San Francisco offers some real grown up thrills to get your blood pumping and your hair standing on end:
1. Explore Alcatraz after dark
The inspiration for Harry Potter's Azkaban, Alcatraz was one of the most formidable penitentiaries the world has ever seen; housing legendary criminals such as Al Capone, George 'Machine Gun' Kelly and Robert Franklin Stroud, aka 'the Birdman of Alcatraz'. Perched on a lonely and remote island off the coast of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz was famous for having no successful escapes, though one failed attempt led to the, very nasty, 'Battle of Alcatraz' which claimed the lives of two inmates. Nowadays the prison is used solely for tours, however, it's power to chill the bones remains, and it is widely considered to be one of the most haunted places in America. Halloween ups the scare factor with night time tours that allow you to explore some places of the prison that are usually off limits, including the hospital ward. If your nerves can handle it you can also wander the dark, cold halls by yourself.
2. The Winchester Mystery House
The Winchester Mystery House is one of the more baffling legends of America: a sprawling mansion complete with staircases to nowhere, doors that open to nothing and secret passageways galore. Legend has it that the house was built by Sarah Winchester, under the guidance of a medium. After the death of her child and husband, a devastated Mrs Winchester was allegedly told that she would suffer a similar fate if she did not build a house to appease spirits who were angry that they had been killed by the famous 'Winchester Rifle' that her family had created. Quite why the spirits decided they fancied a large Victorian Mansion is still a mystery; but the house is a feat of invention and decidedly creepy nevertheless. Halloween sees intrepid ghost hunters stalk the winding halls with only a flashlight for company; hoping (or not!) for a glimpse of the ghost of Mrs Winchester herself.
3. Shocktoberfest by Thrillpeddlers
Shocktoberfest is a San Fran legend! Based on the Grand Guignol theatre in Paris (which was basically a rather controversial, live, Victorian splatterfest where the success of a performance was judged by the number of faintings it induced), Shocktoberfest consists of three 'terror plays' which will this year include the original Guignol production 'Kiss of Blood' (spoiler: if you don't like the idea of brain surgery gone wrong, avoid!). The performance ends with Thillpedler's signature 'black out' finale which promises some 'lights out thrills' to end your night with a bang.
4. Los dias de los Muertos (The Day of The Dead)
A sombre, Mexican, tradition that has its roots in pre-Hispanic indigenous culture and is more about reverence for the departed than cheap thrills, Los Dios de los Muertos is an unforgettable experience. The festival takes place on Novembers 2nd and consists of elaborate, deathly costumes and a parade through the Mission. The parade ends in Garfield Park which is adorned for the occasion with shrines, candles and photos of deceased relatives.
Written and contributed by Helen Cross