As gorgeous as San Francisco is, it also beckons with a decidedly spooky side. From its rough-and-tumble history as a Gold Rush town to the eerie layers of fog that shroud the City by the Bay in mystery and melancholy, there’s ample opportunity for eerie exploration.
So for a taste of haunted San Francisco, look no further than these spooky spots, which offer opportunities for adventure in both the physical and paranormal sense—and a great way to get into the spirit of the Halloween season.
1. Moss Beach Distillery
When a restaurant promotes itself as place with ocean view dining, great seafood, and a famous ghost, there’s something to be said for the freaky factor. “The Blue Lady,” as she’s known, is a common presence around the restaurant and is known for her playful pranks: earrings and checkbooks that go missing, mysterious phone calls, doors inexplicably locked.
But there’s a more somber side to her story, too. According to legend, some seven decades ago, the woman, who was married and liked to wear blue, fell in love with a dashing young man who some say played piano in the bar. But she was mysteriously killed while walking on the beach below the restaurant with her lover; her spirit apparently lives on at the restaurant. So, for a perfect Halloween excursion in the South Bay, take a paddle around Half Moon Bay and pop into the restaurant afterward, keeping your eyes open for the famous Blue Lady.
With rows of spooky cell blocks, shadowy hallways, and violent history, Alcatraz is one of America’s most notorious prisons—as well as one of its creepiest. The now site is run by the National Park Service, whose officials generally deny any paranormal activity, but reports abound about spine-tingling action like ghostly voices, footsteps, and ice-cold cell blocks—a UK couple recently snapped what looks like the eerie image of a woman’s profile in period dress through one of the viewing windows.
For an unforgettably creepy experience, book a night tour, which lets visitors tour the on-site hospital, where the old gurneys, wheelchairs, and operating rooms are sure to give you shudders for a long time to come.
3. Stow Lake
Golden Gate Park’s Stow Lake is a popular destination for runners, families, and tourists, many of whom love to rent a boat for a peaceful paddle. But dig a bit deeper into the eerie history there, and you might be running (or rowing) a bit faster. One version of the story goes like this: During the 1800s a woman was with her young toddler at the lake when the child fell into the water. Panicked, the mother jumped into the lake to try to save her toddler, but alas, both drowned. Since then, urban legend has it that a ghostly image of a woman can be seen searching the lake and asking strangers if anyone has seen her baby.
4. Pet Cemetery at the Presidio
An idyllic expanse of nature in the middle of the city, the Presidio is beloved by both locals and visitors for its miles of coastal trails and marvelous views. But tucked under a large underpass, the overgrown jumble of headstones at the Presidio Pet Cemetery offers a spookier appeal. Dating to the 1950s, the cemetery is the final resting place for dozens of pets, including birds and even an iguana, of military families who once lived on the military outpost. Though there aren’t any official ghost stories of this quirky little spot, it’s well worth a quick stop the next time you’re at the Presidio. (The cemetery is currently closed, but you can have a look over the white picket fence that surrounds it.)
5. Sutro Baths
Sutro Baths, the eerie ruins of which harken to circa-1860 San Francisco, when self-made millionaire Adolph Sutro built the baths as a massive public bathhouse, are one of the most popular spots for tourists to SF. Over the years, the ill-fated baths fell into disrepair and eventually suffered a fire; nowadays, as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, they are part of the dramatic landscape of Land’s End hikes and the backdrop of infinite photos.
But, when the fog rolls in, they transform into one of the eeriest spots on the coast. Local lore has it that a few poor souls were sacrificed in a small cave behind the baths, and that lighting a candle invites their restless spirits to come for a visit.
6. Monterey Bay
Take a kayak trip to Monterey Bay, and you’re likely to see plenty of seals, coastal birds, sea otters, and maybe even whales. But if you were in a fishing boat back in the 1920s, you may have spotted a terrifying sight: a large, dinosaur-looking creature peering out of the water. Numerous reports of this mysterious beast, which was eventually dubbed with the decidedly non-scary nickname “Bobo,” circulated among fishermen along the Monterey Bay coastline. And in 1925, the decomposed body of a massive and mysterious marine animal washed ashore just north of Santa Cruz. One nature expert speculated it might be a plesiosaur, a large marine reptile held over from the Jurassic period. However, a trip to the California Academy of Sciences puts that myth to rest, as the monster of Monterey was determined to be a specimen of Berardius bairdi, a type of beaked whale that inhabits parts of the Pacific Rim.
Even so, keep in mind that the marine canyons along the coastline of Monterey Bay are among the deepest in the world. So maybe those sea otters and seals aren’t the only things out there.