It doesn’t take much to realise that Halloween in a Californian school with a reputation for its party scene is going to be pretty wild, and Isla Vista does not disappoint. Type any related search into Google and you’re bound to find plenty of Californians doing it their style: kegs, costumes and the like.
However, rumours had been circulating even before my arrival in Isla Vista (IV for short) that there was nothing ordinary about an IV Halloween – dubbed the “one night you just can’t miss”. Well, sunny October came to an end, Halloween grew near and I realised that my information had been wrong. It was not one night not to miss, but instead, an entire week.
What was once a street party exclusively for locals in the surrounding areas grew through whispers on the grapevine into an extravagantly large street party that had people flocking from almost all California’s surrounding states. Reports from Halloween in 1993 said that there were party goers from Arizona, Texas, Washington, Oregon, Wisconsin and Nevada coming just to experience an “IV Halloween”, and it still remains much the same today.
Isla Vista is home to an international community of students who join with visitors to take part in the celebrations. Whilst the police try to clamp down on the number of tourists causing havoc and being arrested, this doesn’t bother the majority of the partygoers who are still keen to celebrate old school fashion.
Meanwhile, a week before the Halloween weekend a buzz began to grow amongst students at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the main university just minutes away from where the magic takes place. Cycling through university on Monday morning meant one would catch glimpses of conversations of costume making and props, along with tales from previous years being discussed. One early bird was already wearing his Mickey Mouse costume.
Be warned – only a tourist leaves their costume preparation until the night before, as all the pop-up costume stores on October 31st will be empty. And I mean, empty. It is an acknowledged fact that people mustn’t wear the same costume two nights in a row, and suddenly I found myself scrounging around for make-shift Charlie Chaplin attire for Friday, a Caribbean Pirate outfit for Saturday, the main two nights of the self-indulgent elation. It’s an international party in a tiny corner of America.
So what does all this amount to? Well, honestly, one hell of a time. Isla Vista is a meagre 2.1 miles in circumference and with records of up to 40,000 people crowding onto Del Playa and Sabado Tarde, which overlook IV’s beautiful own beach, the streets are alive with DJ sets, dance, live music performances and wonderfully original costume. You can wander into a garden to the sound of Caribou, or cross the street if you want something slightly more Reggaeton and a view of the sea from a balcony.
In between? A maze of people. It’s a mission to walk without having a camera flash in your face, or be recorded by an interviewer asking how your night is going, or perhaps even receive a blessing from a religious fraternity called ‘Jesus Burger’ (a religious organisation who kindly feed party goers burgers free of charge – no vegetarian option but still very successful).
However, to survive the week without being arrested or losing everyone you know, you have to stay on your toes. Be careful not to drink alcohol on the streets, or else Foot Patrol (made up of County Sherriff Deputies, campus police and the Californian Highway Patrol) will be at your heels and you’ll find yourself sweet-talking yourself out of handcuffs. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can get away with it as many inevitably do each year (even if you have a large hat under which to hide your open beverage- you will get caught)!
Watch out for the infamous IV fires, it’s not an uncommon sight to see a mob cheering watching a lighted sofa or mattress go up in flames. A word of warning to those who decide to drink and go near the sea, each year to the dismay of many, there is always one accident highlighting the danger of the balcony apartments overlooking a cliff edge. Every year charity groups look out for those in danger but it’s better to be cautious and prevent anything from happening by watching your alcohol intake first hand.
So as long as you steer clear from any obvious trouble, there is a lot of fun to be had. You’re bound to meet someone you know from your course or if not make new friends you never thought you’d meet. It’s a great opportunity for students to kick back from study and exams, go wild and enjoy all the brilliance Isla Vista has to offer. If you’re ever in the area during October, I strongly suggest you head down and experience the infamous Halloween nights in Isla Vista. As the Americans say, there ain’t no party like an IV party.