Rise of the Jack O'Lanterns: Halloween at Santa Anita Racetrack and Descanso Gardens

10/16/15 - By Roberta B

This post is from 2015. For current info see our 2016 post.

There are many levels of pumpkin carving. There's picking up a pumpkin at the grocery store and jabbing it with a knife until is makes a crooked smile. There's downloading a stencil and spending an afternoon with a $5 carving kit turning your pumpkin patch purchase into Jack Skellington. And then there's taking 5,000 fresh pumpkins per week and carving them into multi-gourd masterpieces never before conceived out of fruit. That last thing is what you'd call Rise of the Jack O'Lanterns.

The Rise, as those in the know call it, has been a popular Halloween event near NYC, on Long Island, for years; SoCal got its first peek at the hard-to-describe pumpkin phenomenon last year, when it moved into Descanso Gardens. This year The Rise is at two LA locations (adding the Santa Anita Race Track), as well as the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. And it is pretty darn different from any other Halloween event I've seen.


A Chinese jack o'lantern dragon 

Because Rise of the Jack O'Lanterns is such a visual phenomenon, photos do it better justice than words, though honestly photos don't do it justice either. One thing worth putting into words, though is that the greatest strength of this event is that it is a large scale Halloween event that truly appeals to all ages. It's stroller-friendly, teen-friendly, grandma-friendly, visiting foreign exchange student-friendly—you name it, anyone is likely to enjoy this display. The only consderation might be very timid children frightened of the dark. Aside from that, there is something for everone, with pumpkins carved to honor pop culture icons, political figures, sports stars, popular films, and anything else you can think of. The display at Santa Anita even honors triple crown winning race horses with effigies in carved pumpkin.
Orange is his color...

Entrance to The Rise is timed, and tickets are not sold on site, so be sure to buy tickets in advance; discounts are available both on the event website and, sometimes, on Goldstar. Once inside, plan on spending an hour or so to take it all in, but not much more. This is a nighttime outing that doesn't have to cause a late bedtime, which is refreshing.

Who knew you could make a dinosaur out of carved pumpkins?

The course at Santa Anita is paved and fairly wide open, with atmospheric music playing and a wide loop past all of the displays. Larger crowds gather at certain creations, of course. (I was particularly tickled to notice that the line at the Inside Out display was all about Joy.) The displays are Santa Anita and Descanso are basically the same; the primary difference between the two would be the trees at Descanso versus the stoller-friendly paved expanse at Santa Anita.
Joy is a jack o'lantern.

We found that giving cameras (or phones or iPads) to our kids was a great way to enhance their enjoyment of The Rise; these works of art definitely beg photos, as you can see. But with or without snapping photos, the spectacle is a feast for the eyes.

Even spooky is beautiful.

A few practical points worth knowing: There is food available at the event, and there are portapotties. There are also oodles of light-up souvenirs for sale. Speaking of light, it's a good idea to put something glowing on your kids to assist in keeping track of them in the dark and the crowds; it can be very difficult staying together as everyone pauses at favorite sculptures. That said, it's better to avoid flashing lightd, which can overpower the glow of the jack o'lanterns. And finally, while late arrivals will be accommodated, arriving early won't get you in early; the time on your ticket is when you will be admitted.
A Brangelina Lantern

The Rise of the Jack O'Lanterns is open Thursdays through Sundays, through November 1, 2015. Tickets cost $24 for children and $28 for adults. These prices may seem a bit high for what ends up being about an hour's entertainment, but we recommend checking out the various discount options available on the website. Goldstar has some half-price tickets as well.

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