Year-Round Scary Sights for Kids

by  Paul Eisenberg | Oct 25, 2011
Savannah, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia / Sean Pavone/iStock

The other day my daughter and I were in a neighborhood toy store that had aggressively beefed up its selection of costumes and scary accessories for Halloween. And for some reason I felt the need to point out that beyond late October, we could walk into that store the rest of year and still find good, spooky stuff.

The same holds true for some great destinations. If what’s clogging my inbox is any indication, attractions and hotels nationwide are preparing to roll out over-the-top ghoulish events and shows and candy-laden amenities (if I see “spooktacular” in an e-mail subject line one more time I will simply freak). But the simple truth is, many of us families won’t be traveling on Halloween and will miss all of the seasonal, scary fun in those places. Which is why if you have a hankering for the spooktacular the rest of the year, it helps to know about a few year-round scary sights for kids.

My fellow blogger Donna Heiderstadt did a nice report last week on the haunted sides of Charleston and Savannah, both of which have year-round ghost-themed tours. Most of these tour operators will indicate a recommended minimum age but as with all things scary, you’re the best judge of whether your child will be unfazed or traumatized by make-believe horror. That said, seeing historic Savannah by way of a 90-minute Hearse Ghost Tours ride ($15 per person) is a fairly benign  and efficient way to take in some scary tales and local cemeteries. And you’ll no doubt hear your guide say that your tour will be the only other time you’ll have the opportunity to ride in the back of a hearse.

Another iconic spooky town, Salem, Massachusetts, made it into a Shermans round-up of ten spooky Halloween locales, and if you do happen to be in town next week as well as Fridays and Saturdays in November, you should check out what tales are on tap with Salem Historical Tours. However, in keeping with the theme of this post, you can have a hauntingly good time in Salem year-round by visiting the Salem Wax Museum ($8 adults, $6 children 6-13, kids 5 and under free) and the Salem Witch Museum ($9 adults, $6 kids 6-13). The latter may pack more appeal for tweens and teens, especially given the recently opened exhibit "Witches: Evolving Perceptions," which not only takes up the Salem pastime of witch hunting but also looks at the state of witchcraft today.

Off the grid but certainly no slouch in terms of name recognition is Tombstone, which deserves to be known as more than a namesake for the 1993 Kurt Russell-Val Kilmer vehicle and microwavable frozen pizza. Like Savannah and Salem, Tombstone vies to be counted as one of the most haunted places in America, and while it’s more laid-back than scary, a walk through Tombstone’s Boothill Graveyard (N. Hwy 80, free admission) is a PG-rated primer on the violent '80s – the 1880s, that is. Several OK Corral casualties, including Billy Clanton and Frank and Tom McLaury, are among the 250 whose graves are marked here, and you and your family would no doubt be equal parts fascinated and bemused by some of the tombstone sayings, such as the one for George Johnson, “hanged by mistake” in 1882 when he inadvertently bought a stolen horse: “He was right, we was wrong, but we strung him up and now he's gone."

Las Vegas can be unintentionally scary, of course, but frightful family fun for the older set can be found by way of the thrill rides on the roof of the Stratosphere (best deal, $34 for tower admission plus all-day unlimited rides) whose extreme amusements include X-Scream, a see-saw of sorts that dangles you and your loved ones above the Strip, and the well-named Insanity, a mechanical arm that permits riders to spin through the air at speeds of up to 3Gs. YouTube does not do justice to the sickening lurch (in a good way!) of these rides.

I’m certain you and your brood will never look at cold, gray cement quite the same way again after hopping aboard the ferry at San Francisco’s Pier 33 and disembarking for the 3.5-hour Alcatraz night tour, actually three tours in one – narration during the boat ride, storytelling by National Park Service staffers and volunteers on the grounds, and an audio-guided tour once in the cell house. Apart from all that, the biggest thrill of the evening tour is embracing the gloom of the vacant cells, hearing the haunting echo of your own footsteps, and reclaiming your freedom as you step outside the cell house to see the gleaming lights of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. This experience is so good, it really is scary.

See our Charleston, Savannah, Massachusetts, Arizona, Las Vegas, and San Francisco travel guides for more trip-planning information, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, packages, and more travel deals.

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