A great Halloween is not really about the candy, despite the youthful ambitions of an epic sugar haul. Like any holiday, it's about a shared celebration of traditions and rituals, the trappings here being spooky costumes, individually wrapped chocolates and all things pumpkin. In fact, Halloween is arguably more community-oriented than other holidays -- when was the last time you walked around your neighborhood on Thanksgiving, greeting friends and strangers alike, sampling a turkey leg here, some cranberry sauce there?
In that civic-minded spirit, we set out on a quest to find the best neighborhoods for Halloween, the places that go above and beyond in their celebrations. Some were renowned for being trick-or-treating hotspots, with streets lined with DIY decorations and crowded with thousands of pint-sized witches and superheroes. Others took a more adult-oriented approach, with masquerade balls remixed as rowdy street parties. And in some cases, it was all about the pumpkins, the bigger and more numerous the better.
The common thread among all of the celebrations? It turns out -- unsurprisingly, perhaps -- that a neighborhood's Halloween celebration typically fits its everyday character. The hip urban districts have the biggest parties, the Bohemian enclaves have the puppet-filled parades and the small towns have the timelessly wholesome traditions conjured by Norman Rockwell. The many flavors of Halloween showcase the varied identities of the nation.
Best Halloween Neighborhoods in America
Beacon Hill is a trick-or-treater’s paradise, where immaculately preserved brick row houses line narrow cobblestone streets, creating an atmospheric sense of history and a pedestrian-friendly urban density. Halloween here is a point of community pride -- many houses are decorated with spiders and skeletons, and two streets are blocked off to cars. Last year, residents organized a rapid clean-up effort to keep the festivities going after Hurricane Sandy hit on October 30.
It’s no surprise that a place famous for both its carousing nightlife and its history-steeped, otherworldly aura would take Halloween seriously. Come the end of October, enchantments abound: parties, haunted houses and the only-in-New Orleans Krewe of Boo parade, an after-dark extravaganza of elaborate floats and bands. This year’s parade, on October 26, promises a line-up of floats featuring aliens, werewolves and, yes, voodoo.
On the Upper East Side, artfully creepy Halloween decor is an outlet for one-upmanship among the elite. But in Greenwich Village, the celebrations are more egalitarian, highlighted by a massive parade that will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year. Anyone in costume can join in, striding -- or lurching, swooping or moonwalking -- along with some 50,000 other revelers.
In Ybor City’s historic Latin Quarter, Halloween means Guavaween. Established in 1985, the festival was long famous for its raucous parade. Last year, organizers put the parade on hiatus (for now) and revamped the event as a family-oriented street fair. One tradition that remains: a themed costume contest hosted by Mama Guava, the festival’s offbeat mascot. First prize is $1,000.
Little Five Points, east of downtown Atlanta, describes itself as a close cousin to Greenwich Village and the French Quarter—historic, funky, lively. So it’s appropriate that it, too, should have a free-spirited Halloween parade. It’s a community-oriented event, with many groups and floats sponsored by local businesses and organizations, including puppets created by arts groups and contorting zombies from the local yoga studio.
The Halloween Capital of the World is, in fact, a quiet suburb of Minneapolis. The title is self-proclaimed but backed by pedigree: Anoka claims to be the first city in the country to have held a Halloween festival, established in 1920. Today, it’s a 2-week affair with a healthy dose of small-town Americana, featuring not only a parade and a house-decorating contest, but also a Kiwanis pancake breakfast and the Royal Ambassador Coronation.
Sometimes the best parties are the improvised, unofficial ones. Halloween on Hanover Street is a grassroots event, the result of more than 30 years of growing neighborhood participation. As more houses and families got involved and the decor got far more elaborate than the original ad-hoc Styrofoam tombstones, the street’s reputation as a Halloween hotspot spread throughout the city.
The Great Pumpkin has nothing on the legendary orange orbs in this small town. Each year during the Keene Pumpkin Festival, thousands of lit jack-o’-lanterns are placed around the town’s central square, many of them on a scaffolding tower, creating an immense, pointillist ziggurat of carved, flickering pumpkins. Last year’s official tally was 29,381 lit jack-o’-lanterns, outnumbering the town’s human residents by some 6,000.
Imagine a homemade, low-budget but high-creativity theme park, and you’ve got a sense of Halloween on Hillcrest Avenue in Louisville. Along a three-block stretch of the street, some 50 houses compete to outdo each other with outlandish, elaborate decorations. Many have a theme within their yard -- last year’s efforts included Area 51, a ghoulish wedding and a torture chamber.
Halloween on Front Street in Lahaina was long known as “the Mardi Gras of the Pacific” -- a costumed, debaucherous all-night party. In 2011 it got a more family-friendly reboot (though if you stay after dark the mood shifts a bit). That’s not to say it lacks energy or attitude, as evidenced by the thousands who turn in elaborate and often cleverly coordinated get-ups for the Keiki Halloween Costume Parade.