October 27, 2018, Saturday

11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

The region’s largest free Halloween carnival celebrates its 10th year of providing families a fun, safe, and culturally inspired kickoff to their Halloween activities. Presented by the City of San Diego Parks and Recreation and the Balboa Park Conservancy, Balboa Park Halloween Family Day features dozens of free craft projects for kids, Day of the Dead-themed displays and activities, costume contests and parades, carnival games with prizes, live entertainment, and food trucks. Participating museums also offer free admission to children 12 and under with paying adult.

More than two dozen participating museums, cultural attractions, and community partners will present free hands-on activities for kids in the Plaza de Panama and El Prado walkway, while select museums offer additional Halloween-themed activities inside their buildings.

Among the day’s highlights are a free performance by the San Diego Children’s Choir (all in costume); a Day of the Dead altar, face-painting, and crafts presented by the Mexican Consulate; mini-carnival games for prizes courtesy of the City of San Diego Parks and Recreation Department; a doggie costume contest in the Spanish Village Art Center; a rooftop pumpkin drop experiment at the San Diego Air & Space Museum; “Thriller” flash mob dance in the Plaza de Panama; and the Fab Trailers photo booth.

Getting There & Parking

Visitors arriving by car should park in the Inspiration Point parking lot at the corner of Park Blvd. and President’s Way and ride the free tram, which runs 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., into the park. Families can also take advantage of MTS Family Weekends, which allows two children 12 and under per each paying adult to ride the bus and trolley for free on Saturdays and Sundays. To plan your trip, visit sdmts.com.  

Day of the dead/Día de los Muertos 

The Day of the Dead is a popular Mexican tradition that celebrates the life and memory of friends and family members who are no longer with us. It incorporates symbolism dating back to the pre-Hispanic cultures of Mexico with elements of the Catholic tradition. An important part of Day of the Dead is the creation of an altar that pays homage to our departed with flowers, food, candles, decorations, and personal items that were closely associated with the deceased. In this way, year after year, we continue to honor the memory of our dearly departed with color, lights, smells, colors, and expressions of endearment. Part fiesta and part solemn celebration, Day of the Dead is the unique way that Mexicans show their love, remembrance, and respect for absent friends and family members.

Schedule of events 

Balboa Park Visitors Center

9:30 AM – 4:30 PM FREE gift to every child in costume, when accompanied by an adult. While supplies last.

Plaza de Panama 

12 PM – 12:40 PM: “Thriller” Flash Mob Dance (San Diego Civic Dance Arts)

1 PM, 1:40 PM, 2:40 PM, 3:20 PM: Flavor Company Dance Entertainment (20-minute Halloween-themed performances)

2 – 2:15 PM, 3 – 3:15 PM San Diego Children’s Choir –  performing on the steps of The San Diego Museum of Art

11 AM – 3PM Game Booths – Test your skills and opportunity to win prizes with mini-carnival games.

El Prado Walkway

11 AM – 4PM FREE Hands-on activities & crafts with more than 25 organizations

Village Place

 11 AM – 4PM Food Trucks 

Spanish Village

12:45 PM Doggie Costume Contest – Register to enter contest that begins at 1 PM

Note: All programs, participants, and activities are subject to change.


Costume Contest Judging Times

First, second and third place prizes awarded for best costumes in each category. Located at the City of San Diego Parks and Recreation booth.

Time Category/Ages
11:30 AM 3 years & under
12:00 PM 4–7 years
12:30 PM 8–11 years
1:00 PM 12–14 years
1:30 PM Homemade Category – All ages

Family activities

Balboa Park Visitors Center: Free gift to kids in costume who are accompanied by an adult (while supplies last). Enter a drawing to win:

  • Old Town Trolley/Seal Tour tickets
  • Live in Concert CD and 4 free tickets to a San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory concert in 2018–19
  • San Diego Junior Theatre Family 4-Pack of tickets to a 2019 show
  • 4 tickets to San Diego Civic Youth Ballet’s The Nutcracker 

Fleet Science Center: Utilize string, wood, and other tools and fun materials to create your own Halloween-themed string art—scary or not! Price per project is $5. All ages are welcome, 11:30am–3:30pm in Studio X. Two kids, 12 and under, receive free admission per paid adult for regular exhibit galleries only. MythBusters exhibition can be added on for $5 per adult or kid, and an IMAX film can be added on for $9.95 per adult or kid. 

Friends of Balboa Park — Balboa Park Carousel: Free carousel rides for children 12 and under who are in full costume. The carousel will be open from 11am to 5:30pm. 

House of Pacific Relations International Cottages: Trick-or-treating at International Cottages from noon to 5pm. Learn how different cultures celebrate Halloween!

Metropolitan Transit System (MTS): Two kids (12 & under) ride free with each paying adult on Saturday and Sunday.

San Diego Air & Space Museum: Create spider parachutes out of paper and participate in and witness a rooftop pumpkin drop experiment at 2:30pm.

San Diego Automotive Museum: Make your own Day of the Dead mask.

San Diego Model Railroad Museum: Help decorate the museum’s “Haunted Trolley Car” and snap a selfie; also play Monster Bash Beanbag Toss, Witches Hat Magic Ring Toss, and other games, and take part in coloring crafts.

San Diego Museum of Man: Enjoy spooky-themed programs throughout the day, including listening to animal-themed stories, creating your own animal masks, and viewing rarely-seen masks from the museum’s Cultural Resources.

San Diego Natural History Museum: Celebrate bats and other creatures that lurk in the night at The Nat. Meet some crepuscular critters and make a bat craft. Children 12 and under receive free general admission* with a paid adult. To redeem this offer, download the coupon from the San Diego Museum Council and present in person at the admissions desk. *Free general admission does not include 3D films. Coupon must be presented at time of visit.

San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory: Free, open orchestra rehearsals (classical melodies) on the second floor of the Casa del Prado building, rooms 207 & 205, 8:30am–7:15pm.

San Diego Zoo: Free admission to all children through 11 years of age, regardless of adult ticket purchase. Part of “Kids Free Month” (October) promotion.

Spanish Village Art Center: Dress up your pup and take part in the annual Doggie Costume Contest (register by 12:45pm), or stop by to enjoy the show at 1pm; decorate your own trick-or-treat bag (all day) and then go on a studio trick-or-treating run (with accompanying adult).

The San Diego Museum of Art: “Masks, Skulls, and Costumes” Search and Find handout to guide families on a hunt for artworks in the galleries that feature masks, skulls, and costumes. 17 and under FREE.

UNA International Gift Shop: Free Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF box to take along while trick-or-treating to benefit children around the world who need clean water, food, school supplies, etc.; free UN pen and free UN mug on request (while supplies last).

Activities along the Prado and in the Plaza de Panama

Fab Trailers Photo Booth: Capture the moment with a fun photo of friends and family in their Halloween costumes to share. 

Flavor Company Dance Entertainment: Do the Monster Mash and dance to all your other favorite Halloween tunes with the Flavor Company Dance Entertainment. Energetic and interactive performances at 1pm–1:20pm, 1:40pm–2pm, 2:40pm–3pm, and 3:20pm–3:40pm. 

Fleet Science Center: Enjoy Halloween-themed activities for kids. 

Food Trucks (Village Place): Enjoy special selections from 15 popular local food trucks, including Tacos la Mezcla, Sicilian Breeze, Super Q, Yo Yo Bento, and many more.

FROM: Craft thoughtful and creative postcards for loved ones using recycled materials from the back of a 40-year-young bright green postal Jeep named Al Green.

Health Net: Take part in activities and games for kids and giveaways for the whole family, and learn how individuals and families can qualify for low-cost or no-cost health insurance.

House of Pacific Relations International Cottages: Meet the HPR Queens attired in their traditional costumes and learn about HPR, the national cultures it represents, youth programs, and year-round events.

Japanese Friendship Garden: Make chochin-obake (haunted Japanese lanterns) out of toilet paper rolls, strips of toilet paper, and googly eyes! 

Mexican Consulate: Visit the special Day of the Dead altar and have your kid’s face painted with colorful Day of the Dead-themed designs. Participants are invited to bring a non-returnable photo of a departed loved one to have honored at the altar following Mexican traditions. Also, dress up a paper Catrina doll with Tijuana’s Municipal Institute for Arts and Culture; wearing traditional Huichol costumes, Nayarit artisans from Sierra Madre Occidental display artworks made in beadwork and yarn and teach kids how to make yarn bracelets they can take home.

Metropolitan Transit System (MTS): Pick up punch-out cardboard Rapid and Trolley banks, coloring books, and other fun items for kids, in addition to MTS Rapid, Bus, and Trolley route and schedule information. Plus, sign up to be a Rider Insider for a chance to win annual San Diego Zoo passes for the family (two adults and two children)!

Museum of Photographic Arts: Stop by MOPA’s photo booth to create spooky images with your family using otherworldly photographic techniques!

RSVP Police Fingerprinting for Kids: Have your kids fingerprinted for free by the SDPD’s Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol Unit. A child’s fingerprint identification card can be used to assist law enforcement in locating a child in the event the child is reported lost or missing.

San Diego Children’s Choir: Hear the Harry Potter song and other Halloween-themed favorites sung by talented youngsters costumed for the occasion at 2:00–2:15pm and 3:00–3:15pm.

San Diego Civic Dance Arts: At 12:00-12:40pm, witness dance hocus pocus, learn the “Thriller” moves, and join Civic Dance Arts dancers in bringing the Plaza de Panama to ghoulish life with a “Thriller” flash mob, featuring a Viva Calaca dance intro.

San Diego Civic Youth Ballet: Create your own crown or tiara and have your photo taken with costumed ballet dancers while learning about SDCYB’s upcoming performances and programs for kids.

San Diego Junior Theatre: Grab some free candy (while supplies last) and learn about upcoming performances and how to become involved in San Diego Junior Theatre.

San Diego Model Railroad Museum: Pick up some free Halloween-themed swag for kids.

San Diego Natural History Museum: Celebrate both Halloween and Day of the Dead with a bat-making craft and a skull mask-making activity to take home.

San Diego Park and Recreation (Plaza de Panama): Test your skills at various mini-carnival games to win prizes (11am-3pm). Halloween costume contests in multiple age categories from 11:30am to 1pm; prizes for first, second, and third place. A special all-ages homemade contest category will be judged at 1:30pm.

San Diego Youth Symphony: Check out real symphony instruments and learn about SDYS programs, including ChIMES (Childhood Introduction to Musical Education, with Smiles), and enter to win a free ChIMES music class for you and your child.

Save Starlight: Learn the latest about the Save Starlight campaign to restore, revive, and revitalize Starlight Bowl; coloring sheets for kids.

Spanish Village Art Center: Pick up a free bag to take back to Spanish Village to decorate for trick-or-treating at participating Spanish Village studios.

Star 94.1: Play the spooky ring toss game and enter to win some wickedly good prizes.

Timken Museum of Art: Create your very own ghost lollipop as part of a special art-making activity.

Univision Radio: Celebrate the traditions and culture of Mexico by visiting a special Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) altar.

Worldview Project: Free exotic snacks from faraway places (while they last), culture quiz to see how much you know about world cultures; and a “Been There, Want to Go There Next” activity for the whole family.

XEWT Channel 12: Join XEWT TV for a fun Day of the Dead crafting experience.

Food Trucks on Village Place

Aunty Lynne’s
Bosnian Grill
Cousins Maine Lobster
Dang Brother Pizza
Marcel Belgium Waffle
Monster Crafts
Pierogi Truck
Sicilian Breeze
Seoul Man
Super Q
Sushi Uno
Tacos La Mezcla
Two for the Road
Yo Yo Bento