Haunted San Diego

Everyone loves a good ghost story. San Diego’s claim to creepy fame is home to the “Most Haunted House in America”, but like any historic city, the shivers don’t stop there–a self-guided ghost tour of its creepiest locales is a great way to take in the sights and learn its history. From strange sightings to unexplained noises, here are the spooks and spirits, ghosts and ghouls of haunted San Diego.

Whaley House

Officially listed by the United States Department of Commerce as an authentic haunted house and dubbed as the “Most Haunted House in America” by the Travel Channel, the Whaley House (482 San Diego Ave., 619/297-7511; Memorial Day-Labor Day daily 10am-9:30pm, Labor Day-Memorial Day Sun.-Tues. 10am-5pm, Thurs.-Fri. 10am-4:30pm and 6pm-9:30pm, Sat. 10am-9:30pm; daytime admission $8 adults, $7 military, $6 ages 6-12 and over 64, free under age 6; evening admission $13 adults, $8 ages 6-12 and over 64, under age 6 not recommended) has been the site of spooky happenings since 1857.

Mysterious heavy footsteps, curtains billowing in an unfelt wind, strange lingering smells of perfume and cigars, and the haunting sound of music and laughter are only a handful of the ghostly occurrences felt in this house. Many believe a number of ghosts reside at this tragic property, beginning with the ghost of an outlaw who was hanged on the site when it served as the town gallows, a young girl who perished in the kitchen, even the spirit of Thomas Whaley, forever haunting the place where his infant son Thomas Whaley Jr passed in his bed, and daughter Violet Whaley committed suicide with her father’s gun.

grave markers in a San Diego cemetery
El Campo Santo Cemetery in Old Town. Photo © Ian Anderson.

El Campo Santo Cemetery

Dated at 1849 as one of the earliest recorded graveyards in the city, El Campo Santo Cemetery (2410 San Diego Ave.) is believed to be haunted by the spirits of those whose graves were paved over by the adjacent San Diego Avenue, including the hanged outlaw said to sometimes appear at the Whaley House only a block away. Daytime visitors who have parked in front of the graveyard have reported troubles starting their cars afterward, or their alarms sounding for no reason. Many cite icy feelings in certain parts of the graveyard, and still others claim to have seen what they thought were park employees in period dress until vanishing on the spot. El Campo is a favorite spot for ghost investigators to wave around tape recorders and EMF meters on moonless nights.

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

Perched atop the Point Loma Peninsula at the Cabrillo National Monument, Old Point Loma Lighthouse (1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr., Point Loma, 619/557-5450; daily 9am-5pm; $15 per vehicle, $7 per walk-in) is the site of a controversial haunting—even steadfast paranormal believers quibble over the spirit that supposedly resides here.

Skeptics say that the lighthouse was never the site of any kind of tragedy or trauma that would invite a haunting, but some believers are adamant that the heavy footsteps in the upper rooms and cold spots on the spiral staircase are from the ghost of the final lighthouse keeper, Captain Robert Decatur Israel, still manning his post. Still others claim the moaning, heavy breathing, chilling sensation of someone standing right behind you, and sightings of a forlorn sailor are thanks to the ghost of Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo unable to pass to the other side.

Hotel del Coronado

Great old hotels are prime ghost territory. The Hotel del Coronado‘s (1500 Orange Ave., 619/435-6611) best-known ghost is thought to be that of Kate Morgan, a newly-wedded Iowa girl who waited here for a husband who never came. Found dead in 1892 on the front steps, her passing was officially ruled a suicide. There are reports of cold spots, flickering lights, a general sense of dread, and even indentations in pillows–like someone’s head is resting there–that won’t go away even after fluffing.

star of india ship in San Diego
The Star of India at the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Photo © Lindsay Bullis.

Star of India

Ghostly ships are usually spotted on the high seas, but sitting on the docks of the Embarcadero as a part of the Maritime Museum of San Diego is the Star of India (1492 N. Harbor Dr., 619/234-9153; daily 9am-8pm; $18 adults, $8 ages 3-12, $13 seniors, $13 ages 13-17, $13 military), the world’s oldest active ship built in 1863. Her long history is marked by several hardships: her first trip she suffered a collision and a mutiny, her second she barely made port after being hit by a cyclone, and shortly thereafter, she endured the death of her captain while at sea in 1868. Visitors say they’ve smelled phantom scents and seen apparitions while aboard.

Steam Ferry Berkeley

Speaking of haunted ships, the Steam Ferry Berkeley (1492 N. Harbor Dr., 619/234-9153; daily 9am-8pm; $18 adults, $8 ages 3-12, $13 seniors, $13 ages 13-17, $13 military) has a more triumphant history but seems to be no less haunted for it. Not knowing the fate of their own families, the crew of the Berkeley worked tirelessly to carry thousands of victims to safety during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Now the museum’s offices, those who have worked on the boat say to have sighted an apparition of a man on the decks. Some claim this is the ghost of a man who died tragically in a fiery explosion; others claim its simply a passenger not yet ready to disembark.

corner view of the Horton Grand Hotel in San Diego
Two hundred-year-old buildings combine to form the Horton Grand Hotel. Photo © Lindsay Bullis.

Horton Grand Hotel

Though the current Horton Grand Hotel (311 Island Ave., Gaslamp, 619/544-1886), is a resorted conglomerate of the original Grand Horton Hotel and the Brooklyn Kahle Saddlery Hotel, nearly all of its original rooms and features remain. Room 309 in particular is a paranormal hotspot; guests have reported the bed shaking, unexplained opening and closing of armoire doors, and unearthly movement of objects. The culprit, many believe, is one Robert Whitaker. Legend has it that this cheating gambler of the mid-1800s was caught one night, fled to his room at what was then the Kahle, and hid in the armoire. He was found there and shot. Guests in other rooms have reported hearing the sound of shuffling cards coming from inside room 309 when it was unoccupied.

Haunted San Diego doesn’t stop there. Other ghostly occurrences have been heard, felt, and seen at the Julian Gold Rush Hotel, the William Heath Davis House, Presidio Park, even the El Fandango Restaurant. Visit any of these places for yourself to see if you run into other visitors from the beyond.

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