Our guide to Halloween Time 2023 at Disneyland, California Adventure & Downtown Disney features tips & tricks for the event, throughout September and October. Info includes Oogie Boogie Bash, decorations, food, Haunted Mansion Holiday, and more!
Official dates and details for this year’s Halloween Time at Disneyland and DCA have not yet been released, but we have dates that are about 75% likely to be accurate. Last year, spook season started the first Friday of September, just in time for the Labor Day holiday weekend. Disneyland will likely follow that precedent, meaning Halloween Time at Disneyland will run from September 1, 2023 through October 31, 2023. It’s also likely that some of the festivities will continue beyond that for Día de los Muertos on November 2, 2023.
Additionally, the return of Oogie Boogie Bash, an after-hours special event at DCA, is all but certain. It wouldn’t be surprising to see that event kick off even earlier in 2023, as those Halloween parties sold out almost instantly last year. For more details, dates, and pricing, see our Guide to the 2023 Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disney Halloween Party. Here’s what else you can expect during Halloween Time at Disneyland…
As a quick overview of what to expect at DCA, Buena Vista Street is decked out in Nightmare Before Christmas decor and Cars Land has an amusingly clever Halloween overhaul once again. Back in Paradise Garden’s Plaza de la Familia, there’s an underrated celebration inspired by Pixar’s Coco that features live entertainment, meet & greets, craft making, unique foods, and merchandise.
Inside Disneyland, you’ll find the giant Mickey Mouse pumpkin and other decor on Main Street, Ray Bradbury’s Halloween Tree, and Dia de Los Muertos decorations in Frontierland. At the front of both parks, you’ll also find Mickey and other classic Disney characters meeting for photos in their Halloween costumes. There’s so much more to Halloween Time than just these basics, so let’s cover everything you need to know!
Halloween Crowds at Disneyland
Anyone who has visited Disney California Adventure and Disneyland at Halloween knows it can get pretty busy. In fact, the last several years have featured really heavy crowds, which is a big reason why so much of the event has shifted over to Disney California Adventure.
In large part, the goal of these Halloween attraction overlays and decorations is to draw crowds to Disney California Adventure during the busy Halloween Time season. Additional rumors have suggested that the goal is to phase-in the idea of DCA as the “Halloween Park” and draw crowds away from Disneyland.
Generally speaking, crowds start out slow in early September, which is one of the least busy times of the entire year at Disneyland. Towards the end of the month, attendance starts to pick up, and crowd levels become moderate by early October.
By late October 2023, expect pure chaos. This is especially true on weekends. In fact, it can be so busy during the Halloween season, that all of the parking at Disneyland can close to capacity. (Due to changes to Magic Keys and how they charge for parking, we highly doubt this will be an issue in October 2023…but it has in the past.)
Beyond that, the hard ticket Halloween party has led to a veritable roller coaster of crowd patterns. On dates when Oogie Boogie Bash is held, Disney California Adventure is less busy during the daytime hours and Disneyland is busier. The opposite is true on non-party dates–DCA is busier and Disneyland is less busy.
The reason for this crowd dynamic is pretty simple and straightforward. Since DCA closes early to day guests on dates when Oogie Boogie Bash is held, tourists avoid DCA and do Disneyland instead. After all, who wants to pay full price for a ticket only to get kicked out several hours early?
Accordingly, the best strategy is to purchase Park Hopper tickets and visit DCA during the daytime hours on Oogie Boogie Bash dates before Park Hopping over to Disneyland at around 3 pm. Do the opposite on dates when Oogie Boogie Bash is not scheduled. If you do not purchase Park Hopper tickets, we don’t recommend this strategy–the time you’re losing due to DCA’s earlier closing is not offset by lower crowd levels.
We’ve updated this post with new photos and thoughts about the festivities, so let’s take a look at Halloween Time at Disneyland & Disney California Adventure, sharing some of our tips and reviews for the various offerings. And speaking of that hard ticket event at DCA that disrupts crowd dynamics, here’s what you need to know about it…
Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disney Halloween Party
Oogie Boogie Bash seems like a good place to start this guide as it is the major Halloween offering, which is in its fourth year in 2023. We won’t fixate on this party too much as we have the aforementioned Guide to Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disney Halloween Party that covers it in excruciating detail.
It’s a really well done (if uneven) event with a lot of selling points and more than enough to fill an evening, which is where our strategy guide so you know what to prioritize comes into play. We attended the party for both of its first two years, and had a blast. Read our Photos & Review: Oogie Boogie Bash Party Reportfor more on what we did, photos, etc.
Additionally, there are a few things you need to know about Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disney Halloween Party…
In a normal year, tickets to the Halloween party would take about a month to sell out. Regardless, if you’re planning ahead for 2023, you should probably be prepared to purchase Oogie Boogie Bash tickets as soon as they go on sale. (If you need regular park tickets, check out our Guide to Buying Discount Disneyland Tickets to save money.)
Second, on nights when Oogie Boogie Bash is occurring, DCA closes at 6 pm. This is significant because it results in Disneyland being more crowded on party days and DCA being less crowded until around 4 pm, as tourists don’t want to use their tickets for what amounts to a little over a half day at DCA.
As such, we highly recommend Park Hoppers during the Halloween season. If you’re not attending Oogie Boogie Bash, start in DCA on the mornings of the event, and then head over to Disneyland in the evenings. The latter will absolutely be busier than on a normal night, but it’s still your best option from a crowds perspective.
DCA Halloween Decorations
On Buena Vista Street, there’s Halloween decor inspired by Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Oogie Boogie has risen from the shadows to take over Disney California Adventure, and his oversized silhouette rises above the main entrance turnstiles, and a bat motif is present throughout the area.
At night, Buena Vista Street looks even better, as the special lighting and audio take prominence. This lighting is pretty well done, and even the simple touches like purple lights in the trees really enhance the area. The whole area has a wonderfully spooky vibe and is really enjoyable.
However, it doesn’t hold a candle to the best area of Disney California Adventure at Halloween…
The “Haul-O-Ween” decor in Cars Land takes the crown there, and is an absolute hoot. Cars Land has received an extensive Halloween overlay, as the citizens of Radiator Springs don their Halloween costumes and decorate their homes to celebrate “Haul-O-Ween.”
From Fillmore’s Jack-Oil Lanterns and Flo’s Spider-Car to Witchy Miss Lizzie’s shop, Radiator Springs has become Radiator Screams. This overlay nails the vibe of Cars Land, which always has had a ton of cool ‘wink and nod’ type details that are meant to elicit a chuckle out of astute guests.
I’m surprised at the level of detail in the Haul-O-Ween overlay, and there’s really a ton to see, especially if you take the time to really explore the land. Some of it is totally cheesy, but in way that really works for Cars Land, and that’ll put a grin on your face.
We highly recommend visiting Cars Land for Haul-O-Ween just before sunset, and sticking around for the unique lighting moment (it’s different from the normal one).
Although they are not “decorations” per se, the Super Hero Lightning McQueen and Vampire Mater meet & greets are incredibly popular (and the costumes are HILARIOUS!). There’s also the glorious Clown Red costume, which I can only assume is synergy for the upcoming cross-over film, Pennywise the Car.
We’d recommend asking a Cast Member when the sets for each character start, and jumping into line 5 minutes before one of their sets. Once the vehicle actually appears, the lines tend to balloon.
DCA Halloween Attractions
Every night once the sun goes down, Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT! transforms into Guardians of the Galaxy — Monsters After Dark. This means you can experience two versions of this attraction in the same day.
Monsters After Dark has a different plot, starting immediately after the conclusion of Mission: BREAKOUT when (spoiler alert!), the Guardians have successfully escaped the Collector’s Fortress. Unfortunately, Groot was accidentally left behind. So now you’re helping Rocket distract the creatures while he saves Groot. There’s also an oddball song, “Monsters After Dark,” created especially for this attraction.
Whether you love it or loathe it will likely depend upon your opinion of Mission: BREAKOUT. I do appreciate that there’s an entirely unique storyline, and enough to differentiate this attraction from the regular Mission: BREAKOUT, but I can’t say it does a ton for me. There are a few clever, tongue-in-cheek moments, and it’s fun enough.
Ultimately, my biggest issue with Monsters After Dark is that it replaces the iconic classic rock songs that play a huge role in the regular attraction with an incredibly grating “song” that attempts to sound like death metal and, as best I can tell, has lyrics consisting of only three words: MONSTERS AFTER DARK!
Nevertheless, Monsters After Dark is incredibly popular. We’d recommend doing it as early as you can. Failing that, save it until the end of the night, and jump in line at the last minute.
For the Haul-O-Ween overlay in Cars Land, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree becomes Mater’s Graveyard JamBOOree and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters transforms into Luigi’s Honkin’ Haul-O-Ween.
We did both of these attractions, and found them to be quite cute and fun. Ultimately, nothing has changed aside from the soundtracks, but those are well-done. This is particularly the case with Mater’s Graveyard JamBOOree, which is every bit as goofy as you’d expect for this attraction. As with the normal version of the attraction, Mater’s Graveyard JamBOOree is a hoot that we highly recommend.
Haul-O-Ween in Cars Land is a smash hit with guests, and for good reason. It’s clear a lot of work and effort was put into the decorations and attraction overlays, and the results bear that out with something that’s detailed and just plain fun. I’m optimistic this is just the start of what will become a huge Halloween draw at DCA, and hope it expands even further.
Music of Coco at Plaza de la Familia
As with Viva Navidad during the holiday season in November and December, the entertainment at Plaza de la Familia is the sleeper hit of the September and October entertainment at Disney California Adventure. This celebration of Latino holiday culture takes place in the Paradise Garden area at the back of the park, and is easy to miss as a result.
Plaza de la Familia’s daily festivities include dancing and live music, crafts and face-painting for children, special Mexican foods at Paradise Garden Grill and BoardWalk Pizza & Pasta (and nearby carts), Mariachi music, a special photo opportunity with Miguel from Coco, and an iconic Tree of Life experience.
The highlight of this all is the Musical Celebration of Coco street party. This brings to life songs from Pixar’s Coco via enchanting performances by the Storytellers of Plaza de la Familia, singer/storyteller Mateo, a folklÃ³rico dance ensemble, and the Grammy-winning Mariachi Divas. Miguel even makes a cameo in an appearance inspired by Mexican folk art!
This is the sleeper hit of Halloween at Disneyland Resort, and is something every guest should see. Find time to fit it into your schedule, because it’s full of fun cultural offerings. It’s a rich cultural experience with touches of Disney whimsy–the kind of thing you’d expect the old EPCOT Center to deliver!
Disneyland Halloween Decorations
The bulk of the Halloween decorations at Disneyland Resort are in Disneyland. This is apparent as soon as you approach Disneyland from the Esplanade, as the Fab Five are all above the turnstiles in pumpkin form. These just might be our favorite decorations, as they are clever and really set the tone from the beginning.
The decorations continue in front of the Main Street Train Station, and then throughout Main Street once you’re into the park. While other areas of Disneyland are decorated, Main Street definitely has the most decorations. Our favorite of these decorations is the large Mickey Mouse pumpkin photo op at the near end of the street.
This is a popular photo op early in the day, but is less popular during the middle of the day (grab your first photo of it in mid-afternoon when the Southern California skies are most likely to be blue–after the coastal haze has burned off). It’s again popular on the way out of the park at the end of the night, unless you wait until the very end, which is when we recommend grabbing a second photo of it.
Much like Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Disneyland normally has pumpkins adorning the ledges and windows on the second story of Main Street buildings. Many of these are decorated to reflect the adjacent shops, and there are a ton of clever hidden gags and references in these, so keep your eyes peeled.
Although not technically decorations in the traditional sense of the term, Main Street is also where you can typically find Mickey Mouse and other characters decked out in their Halloween costumes.
Throughout the day, these characters meet guests around Town Square at Disneyland. Although there are appearance times listed in the app, we’ve found these to be largely inaccurate–and the characters switch up locations so crowds don’t congregate and wait for specific spots.
In addition to the Halloween meet & greets, there’s also a Halloween Cavalcade that rolls through Disneyland during the day. This has seen some updates including the addition of Mirabel from Encanto and all of the aforementioned new homemade character costumes.
Main Street normally has a lot of decorations, but Frontierland is the show-stealer when it comes to Halloween. Perhaps the coolest “decoration” of all is one that’s frequently overlooked, and that’s the Ray Bradbury Halloween Tree in Frontierland. This tree is modeled after Bradbury’s 1972 novel, titled The Halloween Tree.
As a Disney history fan, I really appreciate this tree. Ray Bradbury was a huge proponent of EPCOT Center. There’s a good chance EPCOT Center wouldn’t have been the theme park it was at opening without Ray Bradbury so strongly advocating for it among other scholarly minds.
His writings on the significance of Disney theme parks have given them an air of legitimacy to otherwise dismissive critics, too. Ray Bradbury is definitely deserving of this tribute, and I hope it continues on for decades to come. If you want to read and see more, read our The Halloween Tree at Disneyland post.
Also in Frontierland, there is plenty of Dia de los Muertos decor near Rancho del Zocalo. These vibrant and authentic decorations are really well done, and a great change of pace from the normal pumpkins elsewhere.
Some traditionalist Disneyland fans don’t care for it, and if you’ve never seen regular Haunted Mansion, you might be disappointed by seeing the overlay instead of that, but for everyone else, this is great fun. In the last few years, an Audio Animatronics Sally figure was added to Haunted Mansion Holiday’s graveyard scene. Also, there’s a new cake in the ballroom every year.
In terms of when we recommend doing Haunted Mansion Holiday, early morning is your best bet. Normally, Haunted Mansion is a low-wait attraction, but since the overlay is a big draw for locals, the line for Haunted Mansion Holiday gets longer and longer as the day goes on.
By nighttime, it’s often one of the longer lines in the park. Although it’s not specific to Halloween Time, read our Ideal 1-Day Disneyland Park Itinerary to get an idea of more strategy for the park, but move Haunted Mansion Holiday up to an earlier time due to its increased Halloween popularity.
Definitely don’t wait until night to experience it. The ambiance at night in the queue is better, but that can be seen without getting in line for the attraction. Since the entire ride is indoors, there’s no benefit to actually waiting in line and doing Haunted Mansion Holiday at night.
Halloween Entertainment at Disneyland
Each night through October 31, you can see “Halloween Screams” presented high in the sky over Disneyland.
Halloween Screams is hosted Jack Skellington and his ghost dog Zero, with the nighttime spectacular featuring soaring flames, projections of rising ghosts and classic Disney villains like Maleficent and Ursula the Sea Witch, lasers, spotlights, and other effects set to a medley of Halloween-inspired songs.
Note that there are two versions of Halloween Screams. On weeknights, it’s presented as a not-so-frightful projection and special effects show in Disneyland…without pyro. On weekend nights, Halloween Screams is enhanced with fireworks. You can view Halloween Screams from several different locations throughout the park, including Main Street, U.S.A., Sleeping Beauty Castle and the façade of “it’s a small world.”
We’re big fans of Halloween Screams, and highly recommend viewing it no matter what–but especially on a weekend, when there’s actually pyro (well, if the Santa Ana winds cooperate!).
If you’re looking to meet unique characters or familiar Disney friends in their Halloween costumes, you’re in luck. The two most popular characters are Jack Skellington and Sally, who “materialize” near Haunted Mansion. Aside from them, our favorites are Mickey Mouse and friends, who meet in Town Square throughout the day wearing their Halloween costumes.
In addition to the above, free-roaming characters are common at Disneyland, and those are great for spontaneous interactions and random moments. As for the others, we highly recommend consulting the “characters” drop-down in the Disneyland app, which gives set times for each character.
For Town Square in particular, arrive slightly before the time of the character you want to meet, and inquire with a character attendant where the character you’d like to see will be meeting. This is our approach, and it saves us a good deal of time waiting in line!
Halloween Food at Disneyland
Disneyland’s Halloween snack game is strong. This is because these seasonal snacks can be marketed to Disneyland locals, many of whom actually might make a special trip to the parks to try some of them. This is great for guests, especially pumpkin fanatics like us.
Seriously, we love pumpkin foods. Our fridge is currently stocked with pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin macaroons, and pumpkin cheesecake. We have pumpkin coffee and pumpkin candles. Disneyland Resort Halloween snacks are heavily skewed toward pumpkin lovers like us. If you don’t love pumpkin foods, you’re far less inclined to be as smitten over Disneyland’s Halloween snacks as we are, but there’s still plenty for you.
To us, this is one of the biggest draws of visiting during the Halloween season, and we enjoy these snacks so much that we usually spend multiple days following the “Food Guide” pamphlet and grazing around the parks. You can see some of our favorites in our Best Halloween Foods & Desserts at Disneyland post.
Disney’s Happiest Haunts Tour
We have not done the Happiest Haunts Tour at Disneyland(temporarily unavailable). Consensus on it seems to be that it’s less informative than the Holiday Time at Disneyland Tour, and more about adventure and the charisma of the tour guide. Everyone seems to gush over the Christmas tour and we really didn’t think it was all that great, so we opted not to do this tour (which still generally gets positive reviews, but slightly less positive reviews than the Holiday Time at Disneyland Tour).
This tour is generally a scavenger hunt/adventure through Disneyland and Disney California Adventure that takes guests on a number of “spooky” attractions (roughly 6) with front of the line access. The scavenger hunt is tied together as a story that the tour guide tells along the way and supposedly has a surprise ending. You’ll probably know based upon the description whether this tour will appeal to you. It doesn’t really appeal to us, but your mileage may vary.
Overall, Halloween Time at Disneyland is a ton of fun, and a great time to visit both in terms of offerings and park atmosphere. September and October are great times of year to visit Disneyland, generally, so it’s unlikely that you’ll be disappointed with a fall trip to Disneyland, even if you aren’t a Halloween fan.
While Halloween doesn’t top Christmas in terms of best times of year to visit, it does have a lot to offer that’s different from the “normal” Disneyland entertainment, and the Halloween offerings are far more than some light decorations, even if you opt not to attend the Halloween Party.
Do you enjoy Halloween Time at Disneyland? Which seasonal event at Disneyland is your favorite? Have you attended Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disney Halloween Party? Have a favorite attraction overlay and entertainment during the Halloween season at Disneyland and DCA? Any questions? Hearing from you is half the fun, so if you have additional Halloween tips or questions, please share them in the comments!