Although San Diego is usually known for her beautiful climate, fine dining, must-see attractions, and incredible history, there is a darker, stranger side of the city that many would be surprised to learn. Check out our list of the most bone-chilling spots in the city, and discover why America’s finest city is also one of America’s most haunted!
#13 – The Davis-Horton House
Formally known as the William Heath Davis House, this historic structure, brought and assembled in 1850 by William Heath Davis, is the oldest in what is now downtown San Diego. Davis had decided to buy a shipment of east coast “saltbox” homes and have them shipped to San Diego Bay. Seventeen years later, Mr. and Mrs. Alonzo Horton arrived in San Diego and hoping to pick up the pieces of the failures of Davis. Horton and his wife moved into the house while awaiting the building of their mansion. It is said that all three of them haunt the house today.
The house of this haunted attraction has a very colorful past, but many believe that the abundance of paranormal activity is attributed to the numerous deaths that occurred during the ten years it served as a hospital. One of the home’s most well known spirits is an unknown Victorian woman wandering around the house, and a well-dressed couple near the top of the narrow staircase. Lights have been spotted turning off and on, even when the house was not yet wired for electricity, there has also been apparitions, strange sounds, and the interior lights turn off every evening before the security alarm is set.
Beginning in 1855, this little lighthouse lit the way for ships entering San Diego Bay for almost 40 years. That is, until a better location not obstructed by low-lying clouds was discovered. Today, many believe that the spirit of the famed Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo lives there. Others believe that the lighthouse’s final light keeper Captain Robert Decatur Israel is still there, keeping watch. Maybe it’s both. Whatever the case, there have been many paranormal stories from people who have visited the lighthouse: heavy footsteps coming from the upper rooms, moaning, heavy breathing, that someone-is-right-behind-you sensation, and cold spots at the start of the spiral staircase have all been reported. If you dare, visit and let us know if you see anything strange.
#11 – The Horton Grand Hotel
The Horton Grand Hotel actually started out as two buildings. Moving two different buildings brick by brick from different locations was not an easy task but the result that stands beautifully in downtown San Diego with many of its original features, including the oak grand staircase, is definitely worth it!
Today, many ghosts and apparitions haunt the hotel. The most famous is Roger Whitaker. Some say he died of a gunshot wound in room 309, others say he died on the property long before either building was built. Whatever the case, he is often seen in the hallways and in room 309, and many people have testified to many mysterious incidents in that area of the hotel, including incredibly warm temperatures happening even when the air conditioning is on, lights turning off and on in that room, misty glows in the room, the bed being shaken, the armoire doors opening and closing on its own.
Witnesses say that they’ve also seen the ghost of a former madame of where the brothel used to stand in the hotel, the four of spades was found in the bathroom of one of the rooms after a couple had been up playing poker, and inexplicable sensations throughout the entire hotel. We say, the Grand Horton is definitely one of the creepiest places to stay in San Diego.
#10 – El Campo Santo Cemetery
The El Campo Santo Cemetery was opened in 1849 by the local Catholic community. Early settlers of San Diego needed a large place with plenty of plots to construct a place to bury the dead, thus the famous cemetery was born. Over the years, as the city expanded, many bodies were unearthed, moved, or simply discarded. Tombstones were moved, and buildings were constructed right on top of graves. In 1889, one area of the cemetery became the location of a horse-drawn streetcar, and the line went directly over 18 graves! Spirits tend to hate that sort of thing!
Though it has reduced dramatically, there used to be a considerable amount of paranormal activity at the cemetery and El Campo Santo is still one of the most spooky spots in California. People have experienced extreme cold spots in the area, cars refusing to start when parked in the cemetery parking lot, spiritual manifestations in the vicinity of the cemetery, the restless ghost of a former gravedigger, and a young boy who appears to be trapped and confused. People say that the restless ghosts of Campo Santo are downright angry, with good reason, and that the paranormal entities involved are fearless and eager to interact with the living. To experience the phenomena yourself, join us on our Tequila, Tacos, and Tombstones tour through Old Town San Diego!
This 1898 steam ferryboat operated for 60 years on San Francisco Bay (before the bridge was built) and during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, she carried thousands of survivors to safety. Today, she houses the Maritime Museum offices, a major maritime research library, a model shop, a huge workshop, a gift store, and the original hardwood seating on the upper deck is now a wedding and special events venue.
Many of the people who have and still work on the boat say they’ve witnessed several paranormal instances. One of the most famous encounters is with an apparition who appears to be a man wearing a fedora who many believe to be the spirit of John O Norborn who died in 1911 in a fiery explosion onboard. Others suspect it’s a guest who wishes to ride the boat over and over (although the boat is now docked). Many guests attest to the bathroom doors slamming, locking, and “strange feelings” in the bathrooms in broad daylight.
If you ask the gift store workers, overnight instructors, security guards, and crew members, they’ll tell you that they see something strange just about every day. One woman in the gift shop says that once she saw a little girl with long black hair run behind a bookcase. When she went to approach her to see if she was lost, there was no girl in sight. One security guard says that every night he sees the man in the fedora walk down the gangway. He’s worked there for years and has gotten so used to him now, he just waves hello. These ghosts don’t seem to have an agenda, but seem to be ferry riders who mostly “play” or wander around the boat.
#8 – Pioneer Park
This now urban park in Mission Hills is one of the least talked about haunted spots in San Diego but is overloaded with paranormal activity and has had some of the most interesting happenings. The park was once the site of Calvary Cemetery where approximately 4,000 people were buried during the span of almost a century. The land was given to the city in 1968 and some of the graves were moved by families. Unfortunately, most of the graves remained as the city built the park and elementary school over them. As we previously discussed, spirits don’t usually take kindly to this sort of thing.
A row of tombstones was placed in one of the park’s corners but the ghost and apparition sightings aren’t always limited to just that area. There have been many misty and glowing lights reported, ghosts, and apparitions including a lady seen rising from the grave. Some people even believe that the buried reverends have tried to lure the elementary students away from school and into the park. If we’ve learned one lesson today, it’s probably don’t build structures, especially ones involving children, over graveyards!
#7 – Robinson Rose House
Today, the Robinson-Rose house is the visitor information center. However, in 1853, the building was home to Judge James W. Robinson and also served as an office for a newspaper and railroad over the years until it was completely destroyed. To preserve history, it was rebuilt in 1987 using old photos and records.
The house not only welcomes visitors but is home to a host of ghostly paranormal activity. People have heard footsteps while no one was around, seen apparitions and cloudy mists, witnessed the elevator operating by itself, lights doing the typical paranormal thing and switching on and off randomly, and some female visitors have reported that they’ve felt their hair being pulled by someone or something or feeling as though someone was touching or trying to grope them. Lots of people walking by say they’ve seen a strange man in one of the windows.
#6 – USS Midway
David Hanson, the USS Midway Museum curator, and also the leader of San Diego’s largest paranormal group, says that he prefers to use the term “paranormally active” rather than haunted, as the latter term has negative implications for some people. According to Dave, most of the hauntings are not negative. The Midway has had many reports of encounters with ghosts and spirits of past Midway crewmen. There are even two reports of ghosts being onboard while she was still in service. One occupied a food cold storage locker in the bow of the fourth deck. The other was reportedly in the Career Guidance Counselor’s office near the stern and may still be there.
Hanson, who is also the keeper of the log that records all strange incidents reported by staff volunteers, and guests of the museum says that he doesn’t fear the former crewmen of the Midway. Those that are on the ship today aren’t usually ghosts who died on the ship, but are mainly those who’ve passed away later in life and have decided to return to the ship they love out of duty and camaraderie with their shipmates. He says “If that is their choice to be here, we welcome them. We love and honor the Midway just like they do.
Many of the paranormal encounters on the Midway isn’t with spirits, but residual energy and is said to take the form of a vision (still or moving pictures), sounds, smells (mainly old blood), weird sensations, and very heavy air. When spirits are seen, they aren’t sailors or Marines, but usually civilians, including female spirits, many of whom don’t reside on the ship, but pass through and are not encountered again. People think it’s fascinating that the Midway seems to be just as much of a draw for those on the other side, as it is with visitors who are more…alive.
#5 – Del Mar Racetrack
Many San Diegans visit the County Fair and Del Mar Races every year and don’t realize that the Del Mar Racetrack is said to be haunted. The racetrack has a long history that dates back to the 1930s. Consequently, many of the most common activities attributed to the paranormal have been reported here: lights flickering on and off, voices, cold spots, and shadowy figures on photographs.
The fifth floor is believed by employees to be the location of most hauntings and unusual events. It’s said that the elevator will sometimes refuse to stop on the fifth floor, and sometimes the hallways will grow cold and people will see ghostly figures of people from all walks of life who have visited the racetrack: the Hollywood elite, businessmen, children, people who love horses, and even some of the abused or mistreated horses themselves. It’s no wonder why so many different voices are said to be heard here at night.
The cosmopolitan has watched San Diego unfold around it for nearly 200 years. Once an adobe home built in 1827 by a young revolutionary Don Juan Bandini, to a modern two-story hotel and stagecoach office in 1869, to an olive cannery, to a popular Mexican restaurant in the latter half of the 20th century, if only the Cosmopolitan walls could talk…or maybe, they can!
Bandini’s three daughters (Josefa, Arcadia, and Ysidora) were fabled to be the most beautiful women in California. Legend says that the youngest, Ysidora, fell from the roof of their home into the arms of Lieutenant Cave Courts while he was on horseback. Ysidora’s ghostly figure is thought to visit Room 11 often, turning lights on and off and engaging in other spritely mischiefs. She likes to open curtains, move the mirror, put the bathroom robe on the floor, and sometimes guests hear a cat purring late at night.
When paranormal activity experts examined the rooms, they didn’t get anything. Then, they realized that Ysadora spoke Spanish when she was alive. They started to ask questions in Spanish, and they say that at that moment, she told them her name. The manager of the hotel himself says that he does not go into the room alone because of the many experiences he’s had!
#3 – The Whaley House
No discussion about haunted San Diego would be complete without mentioning the Whaley House. In fact, it’s known as America’s #1 Haunted House. Once the city’s courthouse, San Diego’s first commercial theater, a general store, and more, the gorgeous mansion, located in Old Town, San Diego, has had a very dark path of death, suicide, and mystery.
Several spirits are regularly seen here, including one who is thought to be Violet Whaley, the 22-year-old daughter of Thomas Whaley, who after being ostracized by society for her divorce, became depressed and humiliated and committed suicide by shooting herself in the chest with her father’s gun. Other ghosts include Yankee Jim Robinson, who was hanged on the property where the house now stands, and both Thomas Whaley and his wife Anna. Unexplained sounds, mists, shadows, and unusual events are not uncommon in this mansion, and draws in thousands of curious San Diegans and San Diego visitors a year.
#2 – Hotel Del Coronado
Kate Morgan, a young woman who checked into Hotel del Coronado in 1892, never checked out. Instead, her lovely likeness and gentle spirit remain as the resort’s resident ghost. The 24-year-old arrived on Thanksgiving Day, alone and unhappy, and is said to have been waiting for a gentleman to join her. After five lonely days, Kate took her own life. At the time of her death, police could find nothing to identify her, so she was known by the newspapers as the “beautiful stranger.” Later, it was confirmed that she had been married but estranged from her husband, and it was surmised that she had arrived at The Del hoping to rendezvous with her lover.
Since her death, guests and employees have attested to hauntings. Most have to do with Kate’s original third-floor room, where visitors have experienced flickering lights, a television that turns itself on and off, breezes from nowhere, inexplicable sounds and scents, moving items, opening and closing doors, changes in room temperature, and unexplained footsteps and voices. Paranormal researchers have documented supernatural activity in the room with radiation sensors, googles, and infrared cameras. As if that weren’t enough, there have also been Kate sightings in hotel hallways and along the seashore!
#1 – Star of India
The San Diego Maritime Museum houses a fleet of maritime vessels, including a 1914 Pilot Boat, a 120-year-old Ferryboat, and a Russian Submarine from the Cold War. Some say that all of the ships are haunted. However, there are at least three ghosts rumored to haunt the ships in the museum’s collection, and two of them can be found on one of the first iron ships, and oldest active sailing ship, Star of India.
Star of India, once called the Euterpe, has circumnavigated the globe many times, and has sailed several emigrants to New Zealand, Australia, California, and Chile. So, it’s not surprising that she would house ghosts and spirits roaming its floors. The first ghost was the teenage stowaway John Campbell, who fell from the main mast, broke both his legs, went unconscious, and passed away three years later. The young man can be found playing around the main mast on all the decks. Visitors have reported feeling a cold hand touch them when they stand near the mast.
The entire atmosphere of the ship seems to be charged with ghostly phenomenons, and crew members say that something is reported by guests and overnight school groups just about every day. Outlines have been seen on beds, pots and pans seem to move on its own, and when Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures visited the ship for one of their most famed episodes, they experienced doorknobs turning, Zac from the show began to feel vertigo, overcome with sadness, and sick. Aaron began to feel extreme chest pain, and a light anomaly started to shoot at him. Strange noises of voices are heard saying “akasha”, “devil”, “slave”, “contrition”, “grace”, “funeral”, “justice”, among other words. The camera picks up a small figure, the compass begins moving with no explanation, and a light anomaly is picked up on one of the cameras. The guys from the show say that it was one of their most stressful experiences!0