San Diego is best known for being “America’s Finest City”, but like most locations, it also has a stranger, darker side, built on speculation, myths, rumors, and legends. With Halloween just around the corner, along with the shorter days and cooler nights of fall, now is a great time to explore these thirteen locations to search for monsters, ghosts, aliens, and whatever else may be out there. I’ve compiled this list from my experience and from what “evidence” is present in the public domain about these spots. I’ve subjectively ranked the spots from “most active” to “least active”, or for the skeptical readers out there, from “most credible” to “least credible”. Irrespective of how you feel about the supernatural, this is a great list of San Diego locations that add historic flavor to a fine city that are worth a visit.
1) The Whaley House, Old Town. Unlike many locations on this list, the Whaley House is not just a local well-known supernatural location, but is well-known nationally (and internationally) as a spot that spirits congregate at. Completed in 1857, the Whaley House was many things to San Diego, including San Diego’s first courthouse, and first theater. On a less positive note, the Whaley House was also a location where a convicted criminal – Yankee Jim was hung; and was a tragic spot for the Whaley family itself, with Violet Whaley committing suicide on the property. The house is rumored to contain the spirits of Yankee Jim, Thomas Whaley, and Anna Whaley, among others, and has a number of fantastic stories about such ghosts. Tours of the historic structure are offered year round, and are quite popular, especially during the month of October. (Interested readers can learn more about a tour I just took of the house here).
2) El Campo Santo, Old Town. Located three blocks to the South of the Whaley House, this cemetery was founded in 1849. Unfortunately for the parties buried there, part of the cemetery was bisected in 1889 when a street car line was laid across it (none of the graves were moved); and another part was paved over in 1942 when San Diego Avenue was created. As with the streetcar line, none of the graves were moved for the road, and visitors to this day can see brass markers in San Diego Avenue (with caution) where the graves are location. Because of the odd past treatment of the cemetery, rumors persist of shadowy figures in and around it, including the aforementioned Yankee Jim, and Antonio Garra. Along these lines, numerous reports of strange happenings and “cold spots” in around it are common, including random car alarms. The cemetery is free to visit at all hours of the day, year round.
3) Villa Montezuma, Sherman Heights. Some houses just look “haunted”, and the Villa Montezuma is no exception. Constructed in 1887 for Jesse Shepard, a world-famous pianist and author, this Victorian mansion was his home for two turbulent years, during which he held séances, and hosted “otherworldly” performances, where Chopin would purportedly control his left hand, and Mozart would purportedly control his right hand. The house is rumored to be haunted by Shepard, and the ghost of a man who later hung himself in the observatory tower. While the Villa was closed for years, it was re-opened in 2015, and provides quarterly tours, with the next such tour occurring on October 15, 2016.
4) The Hotel Del Coronado, Coronado. The Hotel Del is known world-wide as premier destination, with charming architecture and pristine beaches. It is also well-known for its resident ghost, Kate Morgan. What is known about Ms. Morgan is that in 1892, she checked into the hotel with the hope of meeting her lover. After five days at the hotel alone, she ended up committing suicide; and from that point on, visitors have reported seeing her, or experiencing her presence through flickering lights and other unexplained phenomena. Long standing rumors hold that most of these phenomena are concentrated in two hotel rooms, 3327 and 3519, which are booked years in advance by parties hoping to experience something phantasmagorical in person.
5) Pioneer Park, Mission Hills. Founded in 1870, Calvary Cemetery was one of San Diego’s first cemeteries, and from 1876 – 1960, over 4,000 bodies were laid to rest at its location. However, after 1960, the area fell into disrepair, and in 1968, the land was given to the city of San Diego. Like El Campo Santo, the city extended Washington Avenue over the existing graves, without moving the inhabitants, and removed the tombstones of the parties there. In its place, the city constructed Pioneer Park, and opened the remainder of the area for development. The only reminders of Calvary Cemetery are some 150 relocated tombstones in the far corner of the park. While the park looks like a normal park today, and is quite pleasant during the day, it is worth noting that none of the bodies under the park were ever moved! Correspondingly, the park is reputed to be home to numerous “cold spots”, numerous nighttime apparitions, and numerous strange electrical phenomena during the day and night. As a public park, it is open year-round, but visitors should be warned of what they may find at night!
6) USS Midway, San Diego. Before it was a fixture in San Diego’s harbor, the USS Midway was an active duty aircraft carrier for forty-seven years with a distinguished service record. After becoming a floating museum in the harbor, parties have reported hearing – and seeing strange things in the ship, including documented sightings of over thirty distinct “entities” remaining on board. People who wish to ghost hunt, however, will have to visit the museum during its normal business hours.
7) Elfin Forest, Escondido. With a name like “Elfin Forest”, one would think that this area in Escondido is home to something magical. But, the name is actually recent, and was named by a dentist – Harvey Tooth in 1959, who named the land such because his friends were calling it “Tooth Acres”. While the area is home to some great hiking trails, and some steep ascents, there are also a plethora of stories about the area that are completely inaccurate. First and foremost is the myth of the “Insane Asylum” or “Questhaven Asylum”. While there is a “Questhaven”, it is – and has been a non-denominational religious retreat for years, and never was an insane asylum. The second myth is that of “the white witch” which purportedly resides in the woods of the Elfin Forest; but all such stories are uncorroborated, and of such a generic nature, they could be applied to any location. Finally, other rumors of gypsy spirits, Native American ghosts, and orbs persist about the area. While the area’s forested nature does lead one’s imagination to roam, it is a spot that has more groaning hikers than ghosts.
8) Mount Helix, La Mesa. For most people, Mount Helix is known as a great spot to view all of East County, and perhaps enjoy a sunrise service or live performance. Yet, since 1968, people have reported hearing – and seeing a woman dressed in white Victorian clothes. While such rumors are rare, enough people have mentioned seeing, hearing, or feeling something that there is a slight possibility something might be occurring on this small mountain. Mount Helix is open from sunrise to sunset year round, as a public park.
9) Goat Canyon Trestle, Anza-Borrego Desert. The Goat Canyon Trestle was built in 1932 after an earthquake destroyed one of the seventeen tunnels that were constructed along the track between 1907 and 1919. Rather than proceed through the same mountain that had the remnants of the previous collapsed tunnel, the railroad engineers elected to bridge Goat Canyon; and the results are the trestle that remains to this day as the largest free standing wooden railroad trestle in North America. During construction of the trestle, workers who lived on site regularly reported strange glowing orbs floating in or around the construction area at night and other strange lights flying and floating around the nearby desert. In 1977, an engineer on the track thought he saw a bright light ahead of his train near the trestle– meaning that another train was headed toward his train, so he pulled the brake, and his train derailed. While the derailment was unfortunate in itself, and its remains can be seen today, the most interesting thing about this incident is that there never was another train approaching on the track. Hikers can visit the Goat Canyon Trestle today, but such hike is a strenuous all day affair that should not be attempted during the summer.
10) San Pasqual Battlefield, San Pasqual Valley. During the Mexican-American War, the United States suffered what was considered its worst defeat in the conflict over a period of days in the San Pasqual Valley, even though the outcome of the battle is still debatable to the present day. What is not debatable to some is the number of “apparitions” that still lurk in and around the San Pasqual Battlefield State Park, and the surrounding area of fallen soldiers from both sides of the conflict. While ghost sightings have occurred both in the State Park and outside the state park, due to the enormous amount of terrain that the battle occupied, many sightings have been reported around Mule Hill. San Pasqual Battlefield State Park is open every weekend, and does not charge visitors a fee to enter.
11) Borrego Sandmen, Borrego Springs. Starting in 1939, prospectors in and around the Borrego Sink, a geologic feature near Borrego Springs, reported both seeing – and in some cases being attacked by “ape-like” or “Bigfoot-like” creatures which were almost seven feet in height and were completely covered in white fur. While none of these “sandmen” were ever captured, visitors can look for them in and around the Arroyo Tapiado, or any of the Anza-Borrego Desert’s slot canyons. For the less adventurous, the legend of the Sandmen is well represented by a large statute in the nearby town of Ranchita.
12) Haven Bakery, Jamul. What is certain is that the Haven Bakery was a popular spot just outside of Jamul on Highway 94 for a period of time. Where things go off the rails about the Haven Bakery are the rumors about why the bakery closed. According to the internet, supposedly the daughter of the owner hung herself in the basement; and when the owner found her in the basement, he killed himself (or according to more salacious sources, a number of other people and then himself). Despite a dearth of reputable sources about this purported incident (no sources), a number of stories insist that “ghosts” “creatures” and “demons” lurked in the abandoned bakery after it was closed. What is clear is that the Bakery was torn down in 2008, leaving only a historic outbuilding behind, along with a much overgrown sign for the bakery. The outbuilding is fenced off by a ten foot high metal fence, and appears to be locked down securely. But, even though the building is long gone, the rumors of activity persist around what remains. The outbuilding is off of Highway 94 and Vista Sage Road, and is secured behind two fences.
13) Hodgee, Lake Hodges, Escondido. Lake Hodges is a man-made dam and lake that was created in 1918. Despite the clear historic record about when the lake and dam were made, in the mid-twentieth century, locals around the lake began to talk about a “lake monster” (mostly in jest). As of 2016, the lake monster has a name – Hodgee – a website, a Facebook page, and various activities that involve looking for him. While no one has seen him – it – her – perhaps ever, it is one of the more lighthearted supernatural items on this list. Anyone who wants to “look” for Hodgee can head along one of the many trails surrounding the lake, or visit one of the many launching points around the lake for water traffic.
All of this is to say nothing about San Diego’s strangest ghost – a white deer of Mission Hills; the Proctor Valley Blue People; the Lake Morena campground ghost; whether the old lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument is haunted, and the Vallecito Stage ghosts in the Anza-Borrego Deserts. Do you have anything to add to this list? Any experiences at any of these locations? Some locations of your own? Let me know in the comments below, and have fun safely exploring San Diego’s front and backcountry in search of supernatural things!