Everything changed for Bob and Chris Quinlan when they organized a successful pub crawl for their local Rotary club in 2005. The positive reception to their event led the pair to found AppeteasersUSA in 2011, which has since expanded from its initial tour in Folsom to include outings in Northern and Southern California, Washington, and Florida. Across the country, AppeteasersUSA’s savvy guides can be found leading patrons from culinary hot spot to hot spot.
Throughout the four-hour tours, herds of at least 25 tour goers stop at restaurants and bars unique to the area—eschewing chains and large franchises—for 30-minute stints, nibbling on appetizers and noting which kitchen appliances might come to life after the restaurant closes. To wash down savory flavors, patrons can swig discounted drinks at each establishment.
Grapes hang heavy from the vines on trellises scattered across 20 acres of the rolling Lincoln Hills. The fruit, tended by Wise Villa Winery's oenophiles, yield awards, including a prestigious honor from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Owner and winemaker Dr. Grover Lee draws on viticulture training while producing single-variety and blended wines or doing the crossword in the Grapes Aficionado Quarterly. Within the winery, the tasting room fills with the sound of clinking glasses as patrons sample various award winners, such as the Pinot Noir Rose. The winery also arranges frequent events, including live music on Fridays, grape-stomping parties, and reservation-only pairing dinners at its bistro.
A little bit of the Wild West still survives in Heartstoppers Haunted House, except that "survives" implies that its inhabitants are living. Visitors first find themselves in the heart of the Deadlands, a town once and still terrorized by the murderous gunslinger, Cyrus Lynch. His zombified victims, freed from their shallow graves, now inhabit the saloons and general stores, seeking revenge on their killer and someone who can figure out how to make the player piano play anything other than "Old Susanna."
Interlopers duck into Dr. Lash's Sideshow for relief, only to to find themselves surrounded by grotesque oddities and threatened by the mad doctor's unstable son, Billy. In their haste to leave town, the visitors stumble through the Tomb of Shadows—a dark, winding maze with a gauntlet of surprises—and into Steamghást Asylum, the abandoned rehabilitation center for the area's criminals. Overrun by insane doctors and bloodthirsty killers, the medical monstrosity of steam and electricity still reverberates with the screams of unwilling test subjects.
Fright Planet Haunted Theme Park's outdoor theme park acts as a library of the world's most potent phobias. Every year, cast members reimagine its catalog of haunted environs, crafting new sets, props, and characters to prey on guests. Its dedication to genuine scares calls for only the best actors and the most grisly scenery, which is constructed with the help of a former Disneyland artist and a bulldozer possessed by the soul of a 1700s architect.
The 2013 lineup has expanded to include 10 attractions, including the ScreamMax 3-D movie theater. Though the houses all have distinct themes and decor, they share two factors: a richly painted backstory and a population of live, ghoulish denizens. Staring toys line the shelves at Höbart's Doll Factory, tight passageways put the squeeze on those brave enough to enter Jatinga: The Forbidden Temple, and cornstalks bear bloodstains on Podunk Farms. Other experiences play on claustrophobic fears—for example, Buried Alive: The Ride shuts patrons into a coffin where they endure a simulated hearse ride, burial, and the chilling sound of worms calling dibs on their body parts.