As Halloween (All Hallows' Eve: the first day of Hallowmas), and Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) make their annual appearance, the spirited side of the San Francisco Bay Area is on full display. From raucous costume parties and haunted houses, to honoring loved ones past at the marigold-rich Dia de los Muertos festivals around the Bay, this is a time of year when the mysterious, the macabre, and the soulful are underscored.
However, there's no reason that this short window of time should be the only occasion to explore the spooky, eerie, and allegedly haunted places in the Bay Area. Check out our list of destinations that will raise the hairs on the nape of your neck anytime of the year!
As if being the site of one of the most notorious prisons in U.S. history wasn't chilling enough, Alcatraz is also a hotspot for alleged hauntings and paranormal activity. In its 29 years as a maximum-security prison no one ever escaped, and some are convinced that the tortured spirits of past inmates are still imprisoned here. There are eyewitness accounts of isolated cold-spots, orbs, cell doors slamming, and voices, whistling, and moaning in the former mess hall and cell blocks heard when no one else is around. The most active locations are the purportedly the isolation cells, known as the "hole" by former inmates.
Alcatraz is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Bay Area, and the islands' multi-layered history draws plenty of locals as well. Most days, the island is filled with people, but at night, the crowds thin and an eerie atmosphere emerges. If you want to get spooked, the Alcatraz night tours are the way to go. The tours sell out quickly, so plan ahead and purchase tickets in advance.
On the San Francisco mainland south of Alcatraz, Fort Mason -- part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) -- served as a U.S. Army post for over 100 years. Many original army buildings remain and have been converted into spaces for the National Park Service and other non-profit organizations. Our own San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf Hostel is housed in the former army hospital which was built in 1863, and another historic building -- now used as a group facility -- used to be the morgue section of the army hospital. It doesn't get much creepier than that!
At the end of Franklin Street in Fort Mason, a two-story, white frame house has its own morbid past -- it was here that U.S. Senator David Broderick died after his duel with State Supreme Court Justice David Terry in 1859. The Haskell House was later confiscated by the Union Army and remains military quarters to this day. Officers who lived there have reported weird occurences, and some claim the likeness of Senator Broderick paces the house halls in his tophat.
Like Fort Mason, the Marin Headlands are part of the GGNRA, and the site of a number of historic military settlements fortifications, including Fort Cronkhite, Fort Barry, a large number of bunkers and batteries, and the SF-88 Nike Missile site. Some WWII-era military fortifications are still intact today and if you can find one, a walk through an abandoned bunker is sure to deliver some quality spine-chills. After WWII, the Headlands closed to civilians and became a top-secret location for Cold War initiatives and rumored CIA operatives. Today, two Fort Barry buildings constructed in 1907 -- an infirmary and a mansion -- make up the Marin Headlands Hostel, but the feeling of uncanny secrets exists to this day -- a feeling which some hostel staff and guests know all too well:
"One day I was headed downstairs [in the hostel] when I heard a little girl laugh, and out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw her run up the stairs to my house. The rope that sections off my stairs was swinging as I turned around to tell her it was a private area, but there was no little girl. This spooked me a lot as one of the first stories I was told [when I moved here] was about a little girl who happily haunts the [Fort Barry] parade ground. An old staffer used to say that she would interrupt her reading in the field and try to get her to play." – Current Marin Headlands Hostel staff person
"There was one time when a daughter and mother were staying in the women's dorm. They were really excited to come and explore the Headlands so I was surprised when they wanted to check out early. The mother looked really tired and I asked her if anything was wrong. She said she couldn't sleep at night because she had a terrible dream of a man walking around the house crying and complaining about his neck. She said he seemed so real, and his suffering so intense, she couldn't sleep. Unbeknownst to the guest, our building's annex used to house military officers [and] I was told that one of them hung himself in the attic of the annex. I was thoroughly freaked out the rest of the day!" – Another Marin Headlands staff person
The Blue Lady of Moss Beach is one of the more famous legends on our list, and on average, her ghost has been reportedly sighted once or twice every year for the last 50 years. As the story goes, the Blue Lady is the spirit of a young woman murdered over 70 years ago by her jealous seaman husband after her illicit affair with the Distillery's handsome piano player was discovered. Since her death, Distillery staff and customers have reported phenomena such as levitating objects, voices, and the phantom of the Blue Lady herself, often seen near the piano or appearing to children.
The Blue Lady is said to be a friendly and mischievous spirit, and in Sightings, former Distillery owners Pat and Dave Andrews, claim to have experienced the spirit's playful side when they found themselves unable to open the wine cellar one morning. When they looked through the tiny window, they saw why: every single wine bottle had been removed from the shelves and stacked, unbroken, against the door. There had been no earthquake, and if anyone had entered the cellar, the wine would have blocked the doorm, and the window was too small to crawl through.
Want to check out the Blue Lady's stomping grounds for yourself? Stay the night at the Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel, located just a mile north of the Distillery.
A recognized historic site, the Sacramento Hostel resides in the Llewellyn Williams Mansion, a majestic private residence built from redwood in 1885. The mansion has been through multiple incarnations since then, including two stints as a funeral home, and it has legends to go with its peculiar past:
"I was told this story by one of Mory Holmes' sons [Mory Holmes ran his funeral home out of the mansion until 1967]. Back when the hostel was a funeral parlor, Holmes would let his son's fraternity come in to party on the weekends. They spent much of their time on the second floor, in the casket show room. One night, one of the frat boys got drunk and laid down in one of the caskets. Someone snapped a picture of him and the night's frivolities continued. Two weeks later, the guy who had lain in the casket was killed in a car accident. Legend has it that the family picked out the same casket that he laid in [that night] -- without having seen the picture!" – Current Sacramento Hostel staff person
In Old Sacramento, take a Sacramento Underground Tour and explore the network of walkways and spaces created when the city streets were raised to prevent flooding in the 1860s. Many of the business owners in the area abandoned the first floors of their buildings and moved operations up to the second story -- the new street level. Over the years, the tunnels have been used for many illicit purposes and some say they're home to enigmatic spirits.
The Historic City Cemetery Walking Tours are another great bet for thrill seekers and ghost hunters. Established in 1849, Sacramento's City Cemetery is an outdoor museum recording California history from the Gold Rush era through today, and is the final resting place for many notable Californians, including the original owner of the Sacramento Hostel mansion, Llewellyn Williams. You can also take a self-guided tour of the cemetery, if that's more your style.
By day, Golden Gate Park's Stow Lake is a serene man-made lake, best known for its pedal boat and row boat rentals. But out of the gloaming, the Lady of Stow Lake -- a ghostly woman in white -- is said to appear, searching along the water’s edge for the toddler she lost in the lake. According to legend, over a century ago, a woman was pushing her young child around the lake when the stroller slipped from her hands and rolled into the murky water. The frantic mother went in after her child but neither ever emerged from the lake.
It's said that nighttime visitors to the lake sometimes encounter the lady's ghostly apparition pleading with them to help find her missing baby. If you don't see any signs of the Lady, maybe you'll encounter the Ghost Cop or the Ghost Rider, two other fables in the canon of Golden Gate Park lore.
All of these places are easily accessible from one or more of our unique Northern California Hostels, making it easy to experience the unknown any time of the year. Happy haunting!