From kid-friendly celebrations at the zoo to a drag race in high heels, our nation's capital puts on a Halloween you won't forget.

By Amy McKeever
January 24, 2017
Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian's National Zoo

Plenty of cities have haunted houses, hay rides, and pumpkin-carving contests. In our nation's capital, the best Halloween events run a spectrum as wide as the political one—from family-friendly celebrations at the zoo to a vaunted high heel drag race, these are the events not to miss at this festive holiday.

DC Bike Party Halloween Ride

Every month, bicyclists from around the city gather together for a DC Bike Party ride, exploring new neighborhoods and finishing their route together at a bar for a post-ride drink. In celebration of Halloween, they’re putting a twist on that formula. DC Bike Party’s Halloween Ride (October 16) is a special Friday evening ride for which participants are encouraged to dress up as super-villains. The group will meet in Dupont Circle at 7:30 p.m., and wind through the city from there, blasting monster mash-up music along the way, courtesy of Sound Bike DC. Rather than just hang at a bar afterward, this time they’ll host an after-party complete with live music, beer, and plenty of super villainous spandex at a warehouse near Union Market.

Boo at the Zoo

Billing itself as “not-so-spooky,” Boo at the Zoo is the National Zoo’s very kid-friendly Halloween event. It offers more than 40 spots for kids to pick up treats ranging from chocolate to healthier options like apples. There will be magicians, jugglers, a hay maze, a pumpkin decorating competition, and opportunities to chat with zookeepers about the animals. “Ed-zoo-cation” stations will be set up around the grounds to give kids even more hands-on opportunities to learn about animals and the natural world (October 23-25, from $20).

Silver Spring Zombie Walk

In Maryland, the Silver Spring Zombie Walk (October 24) is a cherished annual tradition that, as it name suggests, mostly involves dressing up like the undead and walking through downtown Silver Spring. Zombies are encouraging to gather at 8 p.m. near Jackie’s Restaurant & Sidebar for a 9 p.m. march that leads all the way to the AFI Silver Theatre. At 10 p.m., the theatre will screen George Romero’s Day of the Dead for maximum zombie enjoyment. Along the way, participating restaurants will have cocktail and booze specials.

17th Street High Heel Race

There’s no greater Halloween tradition in DC than the 17th Street High Heel Race (October 27). Since 1986, runners have lined this street in Dupont Circle dressed in their most outrageous drag costumes, from sexy nurses to Sarah Palin impersonators. Washingtonians come out in masses to watch and cheer as these drag queens—clad in stilettos and chunky heeled boots—race about a quarter of a mile down 17th Street, past JR’s Bar between P and Q streets. Though the race itself is short and begins around 9 p.m., the event starts at 7 p.m. with a parade to show off all the costumes. Be sure to arrive early enough to stake out a good spot among the crowds.

Night of the Living Zoo

Unlike Boo at the Zoo, the Night of the Living Zoo is the National Zoo’s annual Halloween party for grown-ups. It’s also your best opportunity all year to dress in costumes while visiting the elephants and the great apes. This adults-only party includes a costume contest, live music, sideshow performances, and people walking around performing magic tricks and twirling fire. They’ll also have popular food trucks, like CapMac and DC Slices, serving food while breweries like Blue Point and Goose Island keeping the drinks flowing.

With an additional registration fee, you can also create your own Day of the Dead or Spooky Halloween scene to be placed on display throughout the Night of the Living Zoo, with winning entrants receiving prizes like behind-the-scenes tours of the grounds (October 30, from $20).

Amy McKeever is on the D.C. beat for Travel + Leisure. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.