It doesn’t have to be October to enjoy a haunted destination—but it sure doesn’t hurt. The crisp weather, changing leaves, and hint of Halloween in the air make it the ideal time to plan a spooky family vacation and enjoy haunted history tours around the country.
In my family, anything that combines travel and the supernatural makes for a memorable October activity. We love reading Halloween books and watching spooky movies at home, but nothing compares to visiting real-life haunted hot spots. The key, of course, is finding age-appropriate attractions to get the kids into the Halloween spirit without scaring them sleepless. That’s why not just any spooky spot will do.
Family-Friendly Haunted History Tours and Attractions to Visit During the Spooky Season
To me, the best haunted destinations to visit with kids have to be exciting enough to hold a child’s interest (in my case, a notoriously unimpressed tween) but not so scary they result in nightmares. With that in mind, here are my favorite historical attractions and haunted history tours that have just the right amount of spookiness for families.
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1. Winchester Mystery House
San Jose, California
Who needs a corn maze when you can wander the weird and winding halls of San Jose’s spooky Winchester Mystery House? With secret passageways, doors that go nowhere, and staircases that lead to the ceiling, this mysterious mansion is fun for the whole family. Whether or not you believe the legends of vengeful spirits surrounding the home’s former owner, Sarah Winchester, you can still find a lot to enjoy while exploring the 24,000-square-foot labyrinth.
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With younger kids, I recommend taking a guided mansion tour, where you’ll learn about Sarah Winchester’s life and the bizarre architectural elements of her home. If your children are older, consider the Walk With the Spirits haunted history tour featuring a Victorian-era seance. Spend the night at Hotel Valencia Santana Row, which is within walking distance of Winchester Mystery House and local restaurants.
2. Eastern State Penitentiary
Once home to hardened criminals like mob boss Al Capone and bank robber William Francis “Slick Willie” Sutton, today Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary is available for public tours—and exploring its dilapidated cells is the ideal backdrop for a memorable October activity. While shows like Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Syfy’s Ghost Hunters have conducted paranormal investigations at the prison, Eastern State Penitentiary does not generally lean into this haunted history narrative.
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Its daytime tour (with audio narrated by actor Steve Buscemi) focuses on the criminals’ lives within the prison’s walls, which, by most accounts, was spooky enough as it is. However, you can elevate your eerie experience at the prison’s Halloween Nights event if your kids are 12 or older. The event features history tours and haunted houses and runs through early November. Stay at the nearby Independence Park Hotel and recount the day’s events over complimentary afternoon snacks.
3. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
New Orleans, Louisiana
The oldest surviving cemetery in New Orleans, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 perfectly blends local history with unearthly lore. Tours are mandatory if you want to experience this spooky spot—you can’t visit without a licensed guide—but I think it’s well worth the price to view the above-ground graves and hear the stories of those within. Established in 1789, the still-active (and, some claim, haunted) cemetery contains the remains of infamous New Orleans characters like Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and pirate Barthélemy Lafon.
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Kids and parents both will get a kick out of seeing the future final resting place of actor Nicolas Cage, who commissioned a pyramid-shaped tomb in the cemetery, reportedly to appease a curse. For more history and haunts in New Orleans, book a family-friendly ghost tour of supernatural locales like the LaLaurie Mansion and the Andrew Jackson Hotel. Top off your trip with a stay at the historic Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter, where you can walk to local restaurants and entertainment.
4. The Bird Cage Theatre
I love the western U.S. for its many family-friendly dude ranches, but there’s also a delightfully spooky side to the Wild West that pairs well with Halloween season fun. Case in point: Tombstone, Arizona, where you’ll find the famous Bird Cage Theatre, known for its comedy groups, variety acts, magicians, and poker games in the 1880s. Take the family ghost tour to hear tales of cowboy-hat-wearing apparitions alongside disembodied laughter. Be warned they turn the lights out for a portion of this haunted history tour, so if your kids are afraid of the dark, sit this one out.
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You can also take a less spooky self-guided tour of the Bird Cage, which boasts over 140 still-visible bullet holes from 16 documented gunfights. You’ll see the theatre’s balcony and stage, unexpected artifacts like The Black Moriah, the original Tombstone hearse, and quirky curiosities like a mummified “Merman.” Spend the night at the family-friendly Tombstone Grand Hotel, situated just minutes from Tombstone’s top sites. Enjoy a complimentary breakfast before exploring the nearby Boothill Graveyard, where many of Tombstone’s original residents were buried.
5. The Queen Mary
Long Beach, California
Once a cutting-edge cruise liner that first set sail in 1936, the Queen Mary carried celebrities like Bob Hope and Clark Gable and was even converted into a troopship nicknamed the “Grey Ghost” during World War II. With such a colorful past, it’s easy to see why spirits are rumored to still call the Queen Mary home.
Now located in Long Beach, California, the supposedly haunted cruise ship offers a haunted encounters tour where you can learn about the ship’s paranormal hotspots and which apparitions may or may not be haunting them. (Regular historical tours are also available.) For an authentic experience complete with operable portholes and original 1930s artwork, stay on the Queen Mary itself, which doubles as a hotel.
6. Old Tonopah Cemetery
A visit to the tiny mining town of Tonopah, Nevada, is the quintessential family road trip activity with a spine-tingling twist. Mosey through the Old Tonopah Cemetery, whose weathered wooden crosses and rock-lined graves help keep the Wild West alive, figuratively if not literally. Download a walking tour map of the most notable graves before you go, like William “Big Bill” Murphy, who lost his life rescuing miners during the Belmont Mine Fire in 1911. Alternatively, let the kids explore the 300 graves on their own, some of which list the cause of death right on the tombstone.
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Since you’re already in the area, don’t miss the Clown Motel, which is luckily (or unluckily, depending on your creepy clown tolerance level) right next door. Stay the night in one of the clown-themed rooms, or just check out the lobby, which contains thousands—yes, thousands—of clown dolls, paintings, and figurines. Hard pass on the clown slumber party? Book a stay at the historic Mizpah Hotel, which has no clowns in sight but is rumored to be haunted in its own right.
7. Alcatraz Island
San Francisco, California
Some of the world’s most notorious criminals were once imprisoned at Alcatraz, including Al Capone (yep, him again), George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Robert Stroud, a.k.a. the Birdman of Alcatraz. But if that isn’t enough to make Alcatraz the perfect October outing, it’s said to be haunted, too. Walk the eerie cell blocks with your family during a day tour to learn the fascinating history of the former maximum-security federal prison, or lean into the spooky season with haunted history tours at night.
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Older children might enjoy the audio tour featuring sound effects like foghorns, clanging cell doors, and hollering inmates to bring the experience to life. Once you’ve made it off “The Rock,” stay the night at the nearby Hotel Zoe for easy access to some of San Francisco’s top landmarks like Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, and Ghirardelli Square.
8. Goldfield Ghost Town
Apache Junction, Arizona
Another Wild West town, another side dish of spooky fun: Plan a trip to Goldfield Ghost Town in Apache Junction, Arizona, to experience the Wild West, supernatural-style. Established in 1893, the once-booming mining town was abandoned just five years later when mine operations ceased being profitable. The ghost town is now a tourist attraction that transports you to Goldfield in its heyday and features both original and reconstructed buildings, including a blacksmith shop, schoolhouse, general store, and saloons.
For local legends and lore, take the Goldfield Ghost Tour, a haunted history tour where you’ll learn about the town’s alleged spirits, including a trench-coat-wearing cowboy that’s said to still roam Main Street. You can also learn about Goldfield’s non-haunted history on a mine tour, or let the kids try their hand at gold panning at Prospector’s Place. Next, marvel at the Mystery Shack, where you’ll walk at 45-degree angles, and catch a Goldfield Gunfighters show before you go.
Stay the night at the budget-friendly Best Western Apache Junction Inn less than five miles away, or for a location more central to the Phoenix Metropolitan area, drive 40 minutes west to the Scottsdale Plaza Resort and Villas.