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10 Most Haunted Locations in San Francisco
San Francisco is known for many things: its gorgeous architecture, delectable food, artistically talented community, and… ghosts? Yes. Ghosts. San Francisco is ranked within the top ten most haunted cities in the United States, and understandably so! It’s rich in history and tragedy, seeing the days of the Gold Rush, multiple earthquakes, serial killers, and more! If I wasn’t constrained to a list of ten, this list of haunted locations could easily go into the hundreds. Hotels, restaurants, streets, harbors—you name a type of location, and I guarantee you that San Francisco has one that locals have deemed as haunted.
10 San Francisco City Hall
This historic building is said to be haunted by the ghosts of those buried in the Yerba Buena cemetery, the cemetery where the city hall was built over. Although it’s said that the residents of the cemetery were moved to another burial location, some claim that many spirits were displeased being disturbed from their resting place and now haunt the city hall.
These ghosts are supposedly said to make noises when no one is around. In 1924, a former employee of city hall witnessed the ghosts’ tricks firsthand. Shorty after noon, the employee said they would hear tapping on the walls. This tapping wasn’t sporadic, though—it was rhythmic. They would hear five taps followed by a pause and then another three taps. There was no logical explanation found for these taps, and they occurred daily around the same time.
9 The Presidio Army Base
This former military base is located near the Golden Gate Bridge and is said to be haunted by the ghosts of soldiers, Native Americans, and even pets who died on the property. Although that may sound like a peculiar mix of spirits, it’s true! The Presidio has a rich history, spanning over 200 years. In its earliest days, it was home to many Native Americans as the location in proximity to water and forest was ideal. After that, it was overtaken by Spain and Mexico until it was later reclaimed by the Park Service.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that grave markers for pets began showing up at the Presidio. This graveyard is indicated by a white picket fence on the property, and the pets belonged to the many families who were stationed on the grounds. At night guests supposedly hear sounds from the pet cemetery. They can also see soldiers performing their routine duties on the grounds. Other guests even claim to feel cold spots. If you’d ever like to take an in-depth tour of this haunted spot, check out San Francisco’s Halloween Ghost Tours that take place every October.
8 Stow Lake
This man-made lake is located within the Golden Gate Park. Tales of San Francisco before the 1906 earthquake are sometimes hard to come by, as many records were lost in the aftermath of the devastating event. So the history of this story is truly unknown. However, it made its first appearance in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1908. It involved a car full of young adults fleeing “something” and driving through the park.
One of the stories surrounding this story goes like this. Supposedly, in the early 1900s, a mother accidentally drowned her baby in the lake. She was exhausted and sat down on a bench, where she began to chat with another woman. However, during her chat, she lost sight of her baby’s pram that had rolled into the lake, drowning her baby with it. Some say that you can see the White Lady to this day. She is said to be seen near the exit of the park, desperately pleading with strangers to help her find her baby.
7 Donaldina Cameron House
The Occidental (Presbyterian) Mission Home for Girls was founded in 1878 as a safe haven for female Chinese immigrants—both women and girls—who snuck over to America during a time when only Chinese men were allowed to immigrate for working purposes. In 1897, Danaldina Cameron became the superintendent of mission, spending her time saving vulnerable Chinese girls from indentured servitude and human trafficking.
However, even within the supposed safety of the walls, the girls faced danger. The brothel owners and investors referred to Cameron as the white devil, scaring the young girls in their brothels to fear Cameron by claiming she drank the blood of young girls to stay young. Other threats came from those who wished to keep all “illegal aliens” out of the area.
When the original building was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, a new building was erected that included hidden rooms in the basement where the girls could hide if needed. Unfortunately, a fire started, trapping the girls inside, who suffocated in the smoke. Legend has it that the girls who were in the Cameron House still haunt it to this day.
6 The Queen Anne Hotel
This historic Victorian-style hotel was originally The Mary Lake School for Girls in the 1890s. It is said to be haunted by the ghost of the former headmaster of the school, Miss Mary Lake. The building was one of the few to escape destruction in the 1906 earthquake and has since housed several diverse groups of people over the years, from brothel owners to church caretakers to a supposed secret society.
This hotel is notably San Francisco’s most haunted hotel – yes, most haunted, implying that there are multiple haunted hotels in this city. It can be seen in ghost-hunting shows and plastered on ghost enthusiasts’ websites worldwide. However, this ghost isn’t the spooky kind. More so a Casper-like ghost. Miss Mary Lake is said to be friendly and merely just picks up items and attempts to help guests unpack, especially in room 410: the Mary Lake Suite.
5 The Fairmont Hotel
The Fairmount Hotel was the brainchild of two sisters— Theresa Fair Oelrichs and Virginia Fair Vanderbilt—who wanted to open a boutique hotel in the upscale Nob Hill neighborhood. However, just weeks after the hotel opened, it was heavily damaged in the earthquake. Undeterred, the Fair sisters had the hotel rebuilt, opening just one year after the earthquake. This luxury hotel is said to be haunted by multiple ghosts, two of them being the Fair sisters. In fact, the sisters are said to take care of their guests, even caressing them while they sleep.
Another common ghostly pal at The Fairmont Hotel is a woman known as “the friendly prostitute.” This woman was murdered in her room and is seen roaming throughout the hotel and talking happily to guests. Others claim that the spirits of World War II soldiers walk the halls.
4 Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary
This infamous former prison is said to be haunted by the ghosts of former prisoners and guards who died on the property. The U.S. Army first used the sandstone rock island as a prison in 1859, eventually building a large concrete-reinforced structure. It was completed in 1912 and immediately housed its first inmates—the very hands that were charged with actually building the structure.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons took over the island in 1933, making it the place to house the worst criminals. The many residents of “The Rock” included the likes of Machine Gun Kelly, Birdman Stroud, and Al Capone. With its complete isolation and violent prisoners, it saw plenty of violence. So it’s not a far stretch for being a haunted location since during its operation, eight people were killed by inmates in Alcatraz, five men committed suicide, and fifteen died of natural causes.
Several times during tours, guests have heard sobbing and screaming as well as felt distinct cold spots within old prisoner cells. The most haunted cell is Cell 14-D which includes “The Hole,” where the worst-behaved prisoners were sent for punishment.
3 The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic symbol of San Francisco, California, known for its beautiful red color and impressive span across the Golden Gate Strait. However, despite its beauty and popularity, the Golden Gate Bridge is also rumored to be haunted.
There have been many accounts of strange and paranormal activity on the bridge, from the ghostly apparitions of people who have jumped to their deaths from the bridge to the sounds of unexplained footsteps and voices. Some even claim to have seen the ghost of a woman in a white dress, believed to be the spirit of a bride who was killed in a car accident on the bridge.
One of the most well-known hauntings on the Golden Gate Bridge is that of a construction worker named Larry. Larry was working on the bridge during its construction in the 1930s and tragically fell to his death from one of the high steel towers. Since then, many people have reported seeing his ghostly figure on the bridge, often near the spot where he fell.
Another haunting on the Golden Gate Bridge is that of a sailor named George. George served in World War II and was said to have been deeply in love with his wife. However, his ship was sunk, and he was never seen again. It is said that his ghostly figure can be seen on the bridge, wearing his sailor’s uniform and looking out to the water, still searching for his lost love.
Despite these haunting tales, the Golden Gate Bridge remains a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. Some may choose to avoid the bridge at night when the ghosts are said to be most active. Still, others are drawn to the bridge’s eerie past and the possibility of encountering the ghosts of those who have died there. Whether or not the hauntings of the Golden Gate Bridge are true remains a mystery, but they continue to add to the bridge’s fascinating history.
2 The Sutro Baths
The Sutro baths were built in the 1890s by Adolph Sutro, a millionaire who also designed several other properties, including the second Cliff House. Sutro built an ocean-pool aquarium first, then added on a three-acre public bathhouse. He wanted a healthy, recreational, inexpensive place for San Franciscans to swim. In addition, he also used the location as a quasi-museum, bringing in natural history exhibits, galleries of sculptures, paintings, tapestries, and artifacts from Mexico, China, Asia, and the Middle East, including the popular Egyptian mummies.
The Sutro Baths are said to be haunted by multiple ghosts. One of the spirits is a 16-year-old boy named Frank Denvin, who had fallen head-first from the ladder of a water slide into an empty cement tank and died in 1896. However, he’s not the only one. Rumor has it that if you go into the tunnel at Sutro Baths with a lit candle, a woman will be summoned and throw your candle into the sea.
1 The Whittier Mansion
William Franklin Whittier built this 30-room mansion in 1894 for his wife as a gift. However, she died in a carriage accident before the home was completed. As if that wasn’t tragic enough, William passed away in the mansion only a year later, and their son sold the home to the German Reich, where it supposedly housed German spies during World War II. It is said to be haunted by William, who is said to be seen sitting in a chair, waiting for his wife to come home, as well as by the aforementioned German spies.