People who love Halloween really love Halloween.
A story last year talked about how the spooky holiday seems to be surpassing Christmas in spending, decor and simply obsession. So it’s no surprise that people travel to Halloween hotspot cities like Salem, Mass., and Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., to celebrate.
But here in New Jersey — a state that’s so weird there’s a whole line of books and magazines about it — you don’t need to cross Garden State lines to dress like a zombie, see over-the-top Halloween decorations or learn about real-life ghosts in some of New Jersey’s oldest structures.
All the way from Chester to Cape May, here are our favorite New Jersey towns to celebrate all things spooky:
Asbury Park, more than just zombies
With century-old Victorian homes on every corner and six city buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, Asbury Park has long been a hotspot for ghostly activity, which is detailed in local shop Paranormal Books & Curiosities’ regular ghost tours and investigations.
However, the whimsical, happening city throws all ghastly sheets to the wind during the Halloween season, when it sees a slew of public events, including the annual Zombie Walk, which took place Oct. 2 this year and holds a Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of zombies.
A tradition returns from the dead: 13th annual Asbury Park Zombie Walk is back following COVID break
The Haunting at The Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel, which launched seasonally last Halloween, is also back through Oct. 31. The attraction for those 16-and-over invites visitors to explore “the haunted grand ballrooms.”
Looking for something a little less spooky? The Local Legends Halloween Bash, a concert featuring six performers, will take place Oct. 30 at the Stony Pony. Costumes are encouraged.
Cape May, one of the most haunted towns in America
“The nation’s oldest seaside resort” is a shore paradise in the summer, known for its colorful homes, romantic bed-and-breakfasts, clean beaches and family-friendly fun. That takes a dark turn during the Halloween season, when the circa 18th-century vacation city embraces its status as one of the most haunted towns in America.
That amounts to a long list of Halloween attractions in Cape May, which has seasonal activities for everyone from toddlers to paranormal investigators. Much of it is centered around the Emlen Physick Estate, which is known as Cape May’s original haunted house. Here, there are psychic medium-led tours, trick-or-treating for kids, a theatrical murder mystery, a Halloween craft show, a Halloween exhibit and a scarecrow display.
Want to see all the haunts that the city has to offer? Hop on a trolley ghost tour or a ghost walk, both of which are also led by a psychic medium, and learn about paranormal activity at area homes and the Cape May Lighthouse.
Chester, a pumpkin-picking paradise
Normally, Chester is a sleepy country town, dotted with farms around a historic Main Street. But during the fall, expect long lines of traffic (it’s worth it). These farms, including Ort Farms, Alstede Farms, Riamede Farm and Hacklebarney Farm Cider Mill, might as well be Disney World when it comes to fall family fun.
Autumn itinerary: 12 hours of autumn attractions in Morris County
While Ort Farms and Alstede Farms are big names for pumpkin picking, corn mazes and petting zoos, Riamede Farm is the place to go for apple picking. Find robust farm markets at all three, offering items such as harvest pies and homegrown produce and meat. There’s also a market at Hacklebarney Farm Cider Mill — where it’s worth getting up early to get in line for apple cider doughnuts.
There are not any scream-worthy attractions here, but there are nighttime (non-haunted) hayrides and corn mazes by flashlight at Alstede Farms. Afterward, gather around their campfire and sip apple cider or eat seasonal ice cream – in flavors like pumpkin and apple cider doughnut – from their walk-up window.
Lambertville, where Halloween decorating is a cutthroat competition
Even if you’re a few years too old to trick-or-treat, a stroll down North Union Street in Lambertville is a must to spot some over-the-top spooky decorations. This is especially true at the “Halloween House” at 133 N. Union St., which is annually decked out with handmade paper mache, creepy figures made by a retired art teacher. However, the competition is steep for best Halloween décor throughout the entire city.
The Zombie Apocalypse Bike Ride is also back in the city for the second time, where zombie costumes or makeup is strictly required for the three-mile leisurely trek Oct. 30. After the ride, there will be a zombie parade, award ceremony, races and family activities at Fireman’s Field.
For Halloween activities that require a little less sweat, the Great Pumpkin interactive show will take place through Oct. 30 at the Music Mountain Theatre and the ACME Halloween Film Festival will be Oct. 22 to 24.
Merchantville, also known as ‘Monsterville’
At only a half-mile in size, Merchantville may be small, but its love of Halloween is known in a big way. Each October, it changes its name to “Monsterville,” which is declared in a sign welcoming visitors to town. But that’s only the start of its Halloween efforts.
Looking back: Forget Merchantville, it’s now Monsterville
Spooky borough activities include a jack o’ lantern walk Oct. 22, monthlong doorstep drop-offs through the “BOOED” tradition, a haunted house at the Merchantville Elementary School Oct. 15-16, and kid-friendly Halloween fun every Friday at the Merchantville Market Off Centre.
Monsterville also does its own version of a zombie walk — it will host a Zombie 5K on Oct. 30 where participants are encouraged to dress in costume before hitting the borough streets. Runners can exchange their race bib for a beer at Eclipse Brewing.
Westfield, which celebrates the Addams Family all month long
Westfield may be full of million-dollar homes and upscale downtown shopping, but it has a dark appeal, too. One gothic home inspired cartoonist Charles Addams to create “The Addams Family” house and now, the entire township celebrates him with its annual AddamsFest throughout October.
Festivities include a Halloween house decorating contest, an exhibit featuring Addams’ work, a lecture about Addams Oct. 20, downtown Halloween window displays, a spooky family fun day Oct. 17, a beer garden Oct. 16, drive-in movies Oct. 22, and “Morticia and Gomez’s Mask-erade Ball” which occurred on Oct. 1.
Usually, the township also holds a Halloween parade, but that has been canceled this year due to COVID-19.
Jenna Intersimone has been a staff member at the USA Today Network New Jersey since 2014, after becoming a blogger-turned-reporter following the creation of her award-winning travel blog. To get unlimited access to her stories about food, drink and fun, please subscribe or activate your digital account today. Contact: JIntersimone@Gannett.com or @JIntersimone.