For many Bay Area residents Halloween ranks as the most popular holiday of the year, yet even die-hard fans may not realize some scary spots are open all year long. Here’s a few local places covered in the new book, Secret California: a guide to the weird, wonderful and obscure that let you have a never-ending Halloween.
Featured Photo: Circus Showfolks of America Memorial
A Visit to the Afterlife
The headquarters of a clandestine society is located right here in the Bay Area. The Rosicrucian Society in San Jose believes you can teach your mind to move objects and convince others to do your bidding. Their extensive grounds include a planetarium, labyrinth, research library with a book by Isaac Newton, and an Egyptian museum.
The museum, which claims to have the largest number of original Egyptian relics in North America, invites sixth grade students enrolled in an archeology program to an annual slumber party, called a Night in the Afterlife. The budding scientists sleep next to a mummy and walk through an underground tomb. How much they actually sleep is another story.
More info: egyptianmuseum.org
What’s creepier than a clown? A cemetery full of clowns. The Showmen’s Rest area in The Olivet Gardens of Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma is the last resting place for circus performers, carnival barkers, ringmasters and tightrope walkers.
It’s easy to locate the section by the colorful Showfolks of America memorial decorated with the “clown of eternal jest” surrounded by amusement park rides under the Big Top, for eternity. The inscription reads, “That they may rest among their own.”
Colma has the feel of a ghost town with more dead residents than alive. In the early 1900s a booming San Francisco needed land, so they moved most of the cemeteries to nearby Colma. Some of the notable graves include Wyatt Earp and Emperor Norton, which are promoted on the site cemeterytravel.com. Apparently, some people plan their vacations around interesting grave sites.
More info: roadsideamerica.com
Ghosts, ghoulish taxidermy, and creepy Victorian phantasmagoria can all be found in Port Costa. This tiny town, population 200, specializes in in the outlandish.
A former granary has been converted into the Warehouse Cafe and as your eyes adjust to the dimly light cavernous space, you’ll be startled by a huge white polar bear standing over a dead sea lion. It’s just one of the creepy curiosities, a moose head, and stuffed buffalo among them. With 250 beers on tap served in canning jars, this popular biker bar brings in the crowds with live music on their patio overlooking the Carquinez Strait.
Those who are over-served can stumble across the street to the Burlington Hotel (currently closed due to Covid). Built in 1883 it reportedly began as a brothel and rumor has it ladies of the evening have been replaced by ghosts.
The early residents of Port Costa, formed in 1879, would have felt right at home at the Theater of Dreams. Artist Wendy Addison uses an 1890 letterpress to print her paper goods. In October she opens a Halloween section when you can pick up seasonal items like Hand from the Grave ornaments and domes filled with eyeballs.
More info: kalw.org
House of Horrors
Imagine Alice in Wonderland teaming up with Salvador Dali and Cirque du Soleil and you’ll have an inkling of the Gregangelo museum experience.
The whirling dervish, aka Gregangelo Herrera, turned his suburban home in San Francisco over to artists who are continually creating an overwhelming immersive experience. It’s a cosmic kaleidoscope with hidden doors and crawl spaces leading to themed rooms covered in mosaics, stars, or shoes.
During Covid, Greglangleo created the Riddle of the Sphinx and Metamorphosis, two musical, acrobatic, interactive performances held in his backyard.
In October this Salvador Dali dream house becomes the House of Weird, promising thrills and chills inspired by retro horror films.
More info: gregangelomuseum.com
Playing cards, ashtrays, posters, a wristwatch, soft drink bottles… scary? Yes, when evil masterminds use them to control the population.
The Museum of International Propaganda in downtown San Rafael reveals how dictators have utilized advertising techniques to manipulate the masses. Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Communist China, and North Korea are among the 25 countries represented.
Tom Areton, who grew up behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia, and his wife Lilka, traveled the world for their student exchange business and collected propaganda items along the way. Sometimes artifacts are mysteriously left outside their door, like the standing ashtray with a swastika base.
More info: museumofpropaganda.org