Fall just wouldn’t be complete without Jack-O-Lanterns, costumes, haunted houses, and candy. There’s so much to do around Halloween, I make it a month-long celebration. Here’s where I tell you my favorite places for thrills and chills!
Best Haunted Attraction
- Sleepy Hollow Haunted Scream Park - If you only have time to make it to one haunted house this year, Sleepy Hollow is a great choice. For one Do-It-All price, you get entrance into 3 haunted houses, a zombie shootout, a fog maze, and MORE!
- Ultimate Haunted House at White Water University - This haunted house never disappoints. With well-timed, adrenaline-pumping scares, and just enough changes made each year to keep you on your toes you’ll be screaming for more!
- Ames Haunted Forest - The beginning the Haunted Forest is a little cheesy, with Mango, their animatronics skeleton. The haunted walk, however, is worth waiting through Mango’s introduction. Being outdoors adds to the atmosphere of this attraction, making it just a little bit spookier. Going during a new moon makes the walk even more suspenseful due to the added darkness.
Best Party Supply Store
- Halloween Express - Aptly named, this store does nothing but Halloween. The seasonal business opens in an empty retail space each year, and offers one of the biggest costume selections around.
- Nobbies - What Nobbies lacks in the costume department, they make up for in costume accessories, decorations, and party supplies. I haven’t gone a single Halloween without making at least one run to Nobbies.
- Spirit Halloween - Another store that opens only for the season, Spirit Halloween boasts one the most extensive decorations selections. With the addition of an online store as well, there shouldn’t be a need Spirit Halloween can’t fill.
Best Pumpkin Patch
- Center Grove Orchard - There is a whole list of activities at the Center Grove Orchard, and the country store is filled with baked goods and apple cider. I may not make it here every year, but it’s a treat when I do!
- Patch’s Pumpkins & Honey Farm - This Winterset pumpkin patch is a bit of a drive, but well worth it. There is a lot for the whole family to do including mazes, a petting zoo, and hay rack rides. You can also catch Patch’s at the Downtown Farmer’s Market peddling their honey.
- Iowa Orchard - If you can’t make it out for a whole day at a pumpkin patch, at least swing by the Iowa Orchard. This family run business is right in the heart of Urbandale. You’ll get to hand select your pumpkins and support a local business.
Best Costume Contest
- Court Avenue Costume Contest - One of the largest costume contests, Court Avenue gives away huge cash prizes for winners. And being in the middle of Downtown Des Moines puts you in the right spot for TONS of drink specials.
- Ames Pub Crawl - Great for a group, this crawl includes several bars on Main Street in Ames. Going on from 7:00 pm-2:00 am this crawl has all the bases covered, including a costume contest, drink specials and CASH PRIZES.
- Gray’s Lake Grrreat Halloween Dog Carnival - This costume contest is for our four-legged companions. There are obedience, agility, and trick contests too!
Best Tick-or-Treat Candy
- Snickers - Winning by a landslide, Snickers candy bars are the candy Dymin employees look forward to most on Beggar’s Night.
- Nerds - After taking an office poll, it seems only fitting that this geeky candy made it in the top 3!
- Peanut Butter Cups - The marriage of peanut butter and chocolate takes a top spot on any candy list; why should Halloween be any different?
Halloween Party Planning
A Halloween bash is one of my favorite annual events to plan—it’s a graveyard smash! Here are a few of my personal party planning tips.
Food is a huge part of any party, and a Halloween party is no exception. I like to put a spin on regular, boring old food with gruesome decorations and freaky new names. To save time on party day, I also make as much as I can in advance. Here are some of my favorite tricks for my Halloween treats!
Mummy’s Head Pizzas - These super-cute crowd pleasers are just a regular old cheese pizza with a little redesign. Using strips of cheese (I like to use string cheese) and green olive slices you can easily make these treats look like a cloth-wrapped mummy head. I even like to sneak a few pepperoni slices under the cheese! The crust can be made out of a variety of things including biscuits or bagels, but my personal favorite is to use the pre-made pizza dough that comes in a can and use a round cookie cutter to make small pizza crusts.
Jack O’ Grilled Cheese w/Tomato Soup - A little more cute than creepy, this spin on grilled cheese sandwiches was one of my first Halloween traditions. Using a large metal pumpkin cookie cutter, I shape sandwich bread and cheese slices. I bought a cutter set that includes smaller cutters for eyes, noses, and mouths, I use those to let the orange cheese peek through the bread, but only on one piece-you wouldn’t want your cheese to ooze out! The traditional pairing of grilled cheese with tomato soup is great for this application as well. Give it a frightful name like Blood Soup, and you have made an everyday dish into a Halloween favorite!
Bone Breadsticks - It doesn’t get much simpler than making bone breadsticks. You can use your own homemade breadstick recipe, or like me, you can buy the canned breadstick dough for this freaky side. After separating and laying out my breadsticks on a sheet pan, I take a knife and bisect each end by about an inch, then just roll it back to create the perfect bone shape. I add an extra touch to mine with a little melted butter, parmesan and Italian seasoning, which I brush on right as they come out of the oven. Add a little marinara dipping sauce and you’ve got yourself a bone-chilling snack
Deviled Eyeballs - Even though I’m not a fan of deviled eggs personally, it seems almost everyone else in the world is. You can spookify your favorite deviled eggs recipe with almost any decoration. I’ve seen the yokes dyed green, food coloring painted on to make them look blood shot, and anything from olives to hot sauce used for pupils. Call me lazy, but I just sprinkle on a little paprika, and add a green olive slice!
Witch’s Finger Cookies - These little almond cookies are a Halloween staple. I even found a pan on sale one year after the holiday, so making up a couple dozen of these goodies is about the easiest task of all. I put a whole raw almond in the tip of the pan, and then just press in my dough, after cooling, these guys can store for up to a week in a zip top bag… if you can refrain from eating them for that long!
Brain Cupcakes - You can never have too many desserts, and who can turn down a cupcake! I spruce up a Plain Jane cupcake with a little flesh colored frosting-a mix of pink, purple, and a little grey works for me-for added gross-factor. Using a large round decorating tip, I simply run a few squiggled lines down the tops of my cooled cupcakes. You’ll never feel smarter than when your guests eww and aww at these creations!
Dirty Bath Water Punch - This slimy punch is super easy to make and it’s tasty too! All that’s in it is a carton of softened sherbet and a 2-liter bottle of lemon-lime soda. Rainbow sherbet will automatically turn the punch a dingy bath water color, or add food coloring to your favorite sherbet flavor—mine’s raspberry! For a fun and freaky twist, freeze fruit juice in a powder-free rubber glove or in a frightening Jell-O mold and float in the punch. Not only is it a scary addition, but it keeps your punch nice and cold.
Dracula’s Kiss - This drink is so easy to make, and tastes great! A shot of black cherry vodka, a splash of grenadine topped off with Coke, and that’s all you need for this drink. I make up a bunch of it and serve it over ice.
Apple Pie - Not so much a Halloween-themed drink as it is a tasty drink with fall flavors, I always make up this libation. Recipe variations can be found online, but made a few days in advance, this drink contains an entire bottle of everclear—you certainly can’t taste it— so be careful when consuming. FYI, Most drink recipes make 2+ gallons, so I usually bottle some up for guests to take home… talk about a parting gift!
Jell-O “Shots” - These shots are all about presentation. Loading up your favorite Jell-O shots in plastic syringes makes for a creative serving option.
Atmosphere is what party goers are looking for. No matter how good your food or company is, unless you’re putting your guests in the right scene for a Halloween party, it won’t be one worth remembering. For me, the biggest hurdles to overcome when decorating are cost, and storage. I can’t spend my life savings buying decorations for one day each year, even though it’s possible! And where do I store all these items I’ve recently purchased? I’ve got a few party props which are inexpensive and easy to store.
Music - Not really a decoration, but no party is complete without music. Adding Halloween and scary themed songs to your play list is a great way to set the scene. My playlist isn’t complete without Thriller by Michael Jackson, Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and Oingo Boingo’s Dead Man’s Party, just to name a few. And the best part is the only space music takes up is hard drive space!
Eyes in the Bushes - This simple trick I found while browsing Pinterest uses toilet paper rolls to make creepy glowing eyes to stash in your landscaping. Take toilet paper rolls, and cut spooky eye shapes out of them, then put a glow stick in the inside, and hide in your bushes. For no more than the cost of a glow stick, you’ve made a super freaky outside decoration. They’re watching you!
Coffin on the Table - I saw this idea on the cover of a magazine years ago while waiting in line at the grocery store. The article writer made a coffin out of plywood, lined it in satin and painted the outside black, it made for one of the best food table displays I have seen yet! Not only did I not want to go through the expense and time of making a coffin, but where on earth do you store one? I don’t know about you, but my house doesn’t have a dedicated coffin storage area. It wasn’t until a few years ago I found the next best thing-a folding cardboard coffin! Taking up no more room that the narrow space behind my deep freeze, this coffin folds up when I’m done with it. Using some scrap wood, 1 x 2s, I had left over from a landscaping project, I even made a couple of braces for the inside of it, then, rather than putting my serving dishes inside of it, I serve them on top of the “closed” coffin.
Serve ware - Since food is such a huge part of a successful party, so is how you serve it. Some of my favorite serving pieces includes old, tarnished silver platters, some even have dents, but it just adds to their spooky character. I purchased a skull cookie jar on sale after Halloween years ago, which I now use as a soup tureen. A small jelly roll pan is almost identical to a surgical tray, that’s what I serve my Jello “shots” on, and my Witch’s Finger Cookies get presented in cauldron-shaped coffee mugs. Serving drinks in an equally creepy manner I make a smoking cauldron by nesting a punch bowl inside of a plastic cauldron and filling the cauldron with dry ice. My Dracula’s Kiss drink which has a deep blood red hue get served in my faux IV bottle, and the “Shots” speak for themselves, it’s a festive way to serve Jell-O shots around Halloween. Since most of these items are strictly seasonal, I try to pick them up on after-holiday-sales.
Food Signs - Using a script font and weathered looking paper, you can make signs for your food dishes with the gruesome names you’ve given them. If you did a lot of body part foods-brains, bones, etc.-it can be fun to make the labels look like old specimen labels. Remind guests that they aren’t eating deviled eggs, but eyeballs, it’s a fun way to keep with the Halloween theme.
To keep guests entertained, you should always plan at least one activity for the night. These adult activities don’t necessarily have a Halloween theme, but are still a lot of fun for everyone involved.
Pumpkin Carving - This activity is fun for people of all ages. Depending on when you host your party the carving can be done during the festivities, or a week or two before so you can display your guest’s creations during the party.
Drinking/Ice Breaking Games - Most drinking and ice breaking games can be played at your Halloween party. You can even put a spin on games like “Who Am I?” using Halloween pop culture icons, or make your own Halloween themed charades set.
Clue - Be a detective and solve a murder mystery for Halloween. Just make sure you hide all of your candlesticks before playing or maybe you’ll be next!
Hand Out Candy - Plan your party for the same night as Beggar’s Night, and during the festivities, have your guests help hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters.
Take these awesome tips and go have yourself a WICKED GOOD TIME!