From virtual Halloween carnivals to neighborhood costume parades to a candy chute to deliver treats hands-free, cities and residents throughout the Midpeninsula are gearing up for the holiday in creative and safer ways amid the COVID-19 pandemic — while still maintaining a festive spirit.
Gone this year will be the pilgrimage of thousands to Palo Alto's Waverley and Ramona streets for elaborate Halloween carnivals and decorations put on by business and tech executives Laurene Powell Jobs, Larry Page and Marissa Mayer. The city isn't issuing event permits and no police resources have been assigned to any Halloween events, city spokesperson Meghan Horrigan-Taylor said.
Police have also contacted previous Halloween permit event holders regarding the Santa Clara County Public Health Department's guidelines and the city's advice about safer forms of celebration, which include small, home-based gatherings, she said.
Some cities and organizations are encouraging people to trade their traditional trick-or-treat activities and parties for scaled-back events. (We've compiled a full list of local events here.) Up to and on Halloween, residents can partake in socially distanced events: Palo Alto will host a Jack-O-Jaunt pumpkin-carving contest and exhibition on California and University avenues on Oct. 30, 5:30-8 p.m.; Filoli Historic House and Garden's sold-out Howl at the Moon event features a Halloween scavenger hunt, garden stroll and howl; Menlo Park will have a virtual Halloween Hoopla event; and Mountain View will hold a Plaza Haunt with festive decorations at Pioneer Park and Civic Center Plaza.
But most municipal leaders — and residents — expect to celebrate the spooky holiday closer to home. A recent nationwide Nextdoor poll found that 73% of neighbors say they’re looking for an alternative to trick-or-treating this year. Nextdoor has altered its annual Treat Map with icons for COVID-19-safe Halloween activities, promoting more socially distanced activities, such as "haunted decor," "pumpkin projects" and a "costume wave parade."
Throughout the Midpeninsula, here's how residents are rethinking their usual approach to Halloween:
Palo Alto: Candy chutes, a costume 'parade,' a scary swim and werewolves
College Terrace resident Laura Forrest is taking an innovative approach to candy deliveries at her Yale Street residence, where she'll be inside her home waiting for trick-or-treaters who will be guided by a one-way sign to a candy chute. On Halloween, "scary" yellow caution tape and plastic sheeting will cordon off her front steps and door, she said. When she sees visitors arrive, she'll send candy down the chute, which she constructed from a leaf-blower bag and heavy, spray-painted cardstock. Trick-or-treaters can use a hand-sanitizer station before retrieving the sweets from a witch's cauldron. A sign guides them to the exit, she said.
The chute "is angled so it is gravity-assisted. My sister came a week ago and we tested it out," Forrest said. When a candy bar arrived, her sister quickly snapped up the coveted chocolate treasure and refused to give it back, she said.
Forrest set up the chute on Oct. 1 and her ingenuity inspired one neighbor who planned to create her own version to promote social distancing, she said.
She has promoted the candy chute on social media and Nextdoor but isn't sure whether anyone will show up this year.
"If not, my daughter and I will have some candy to eat," she said.
Jesse Bingham, who with his brother, Josh, has set up an elaborate display every year at their Rinconada Avenue home in Old Palo Alto, said he's cutting back — just a bit. Last year's theme revolved around scary monster movies, and people in costumes were able to sit and watch films on various screens, but this year he's taking a socially distanced approach. He's focusing on werewolves in the front yard and a scarecrow-farmer and pumpkin theme on the side.
He's considering having people remove their cars from in front of his house so that anyone who wants to drive by can see the display unimpeded, he said.
To maintain social distancing, Bingham said he hasn't decorated his small backyard as in years past. The side yard has a large, long driveway where people can maintain appropriate distance from each other.
"I still wanted to do something that people could enjoy. I'll still get to connect with those who are out," he said.
Julia Murphy-Chutorian, of Southgate, said she has invited her neighbors on Mariposa Avenue to put out tables with candy between 6-7 p.m. on Halloween.
"The neighbors can sit outside and see the kids come by and still be socially distanced. The nice thing is having an hour of fun for the neighbors to see the children. The fun part of Halloween is opening the door and seeing the costumes," she said.
She has also reached out to other streets in her neighborhood through Nextdoor to see if they want to join in, she said.
Few trick-or-treaters have come to her neighborhood in the past, Murphy-Chutorian noted. This year, she said she isn't sure what will happen as people choose to stay closer to home because of the pandemic.
"Hopefully that's what will come out of this: People will stay in the community and get to know their neighbors rather than going out to the hottest thing," she said.
Greenmeadow Community Association will host a "Spooky Time Trials" swim meet in the association's heated pool on Saturday morning, Oct. 24.
The neighborhood held a Halloween Scary Distance Meet during the evening for years, which took a hiatus from 2016 to 2018 but was revived in 2019, Donna Hill, chair of the association's swim team committee, said in an email.
As in years past, attendees will be greeted with pool decorations, spooky music and coaches and volunteers in costume. Event organizers will also reward all swimmers with a commemorative swim cap, mini pumpkin and candy, according to Hill. Children can win large pumpkins through a raffle drawing that will take place throughout the meet.
"When all returns to normal, we will revert to evenings and go back to serving dinner and having a bigger raffle," she said.
The swim events for most children are about twice as long as their normal swim meets to make it a little "scary," but it's all in good fun and the children won't be disqualified if they can't go the full distance, Hill said. "We just want to encourage them to try new things in a festive environment."
The association will also use its adjacent park as a socially distanced waiting area for swimmers to control the number of people congregating, she said.
The neighborhood is also planning to have trick-or-treating with guidelines that are somewhat more restrictive than the city's, according to a flyer. Residents who agree to abide by the guidelines will be added to a map of houses for trick-or-treating.
The guidelines include limiting the number of people trick-or-treating to members of one household, having no more than six people in a group and wearing masks. Hosts should give out candy in front of their house, not at the door, and serve the sweets from a table where they can be spread out rather than bunched in a common bowl. They could also deliver treats through a chute or a launcher.
Menlo Park and Atherton: Halloween Hoopla and drive-thru trick-or-treating
Menlo Park's biggest Halloween event, Halloween Hoopla, will be going virtual this year. Free storytelling, a juggler, a costume contest and crafts will still take place on Oct. 30 from 4 to 6 p.m. Children can also receive a free goody bag in advance of the event, according to the city's website. Information and registration is available at MenloPark.org.
Menlo Church is turning its large parking lot at 950 Santa Cruz Ave. into a trick or treat drive-thru with decorated cars and people dressed in costume, all of which will involve social distancing, according to Taylor Tompane Koerten, the church's connections director.
The drive-thru will also be a canned food drive for the Ecumenical Hunger Program in East Palo Alto to provide assistance to people in need amid the pandemic. The event will be mirrored across all five of the church's sites across the Peninsula on Oct. 31. Information is available at menlo.church.
Also taking on the drive-thru format is the Menlo-Atherton High School's Leadership program, which is hosting "Trick or Treat Street." From behind the wheel, families will make stops through the school campus, where Leadership students will distribute candy to children, the group stated in an announcement. The school will be sanitized, and visitors will be required to wear a mask.
The event takes place Oct. 28 from 5 to 8 p.m., at 555 Middlefield Road. Trick-or-treaters can RSVP at tinyurl.com/rsvptots.
Enterprising Hillview Middle School student Charlotte Anthony is selling "autumn pandemic awareness" stickers to encourage children to keep wearing a mask while celebrating the holidays.
The stickers include images of a pumpkin, candy corn and black cats wearing light-blue surgical masks and a colorful circle that reads "6 ft."
"These cute seasonal stickers are meant to remind kids to wear a mask during Halloween and the holiday season," Anthony, a seventh grader at the Menlo Park school, wrote in an email. "I have also created (the) 6-feet sticker in a choice of autumn or holiday colors for people to use in businesses, classrooms, and public spaces to help remember to keep your distance."
Anthony has shipped stickers to individuals, teachers and small business owners in 17 states, she said.
Mountain View: Candy slide, a dog-costume parade and home-decorating contest
In Mountain View, Christopher Chiang and his daughter, Mary, will be building a Rube Goldberg machine-style slide to pass out candy from a distance, he said in an email.
The Cuesta Park Neighborhood Association's Connections Committee is organizing some fun activities around Halloween, including a socially distanced Dogs in Costume parade on Oct. 30 at 5 p.m. at Bubb Park, 680 Barbara Ave., and a Halloween Home Decorating Contest on Oct. 31, according to the committee.
They will also distribute a digital Halloween map to the Cuesta Park neighborhood's participating homes, indicating which houses will be offering treats.
The committee also created an extensive set of guidelines, which was sent out to the community through email. Its suggestions include holding small, street-by-street celebrations, including a socially distanced costume parade, or designating a home to set up individually wrapped goody bags on their driveway for the entire street.
Nicole O'Daniels, who lives on Tyrella Avenue in the North Whisman neighborhood, said she's switching from a planned haunted house to decorated stations on her front yard.
"I decided to go bigger. I started decorating in September and decided to make it a monthlong thing," she said.
Each station has a different theme, including a witch with a cauldron and a big spider, so visitors can pick whichever area they want to explore. Halloween-themed cellophane baggies filled with treats will be out on a folding table to limit physical contact.
"It's hard to have any kind of sense of normalcy," she said of the pandemic. The decorations "brings happiness to my heart. I'm out there puttering every day. Everybody's looking for some kind of distraction. It's fun. This year has brought everything you can imagine (but) all hope is not lost. This is the perfect holiday for social distancing," she said.