Get Spooked at the Most Haunted Places in San Diego

Who you gonna call?

Old Point Loma Lighthouse | Flickr/slworking2
Old Point Loma Lighthouse | Flickr/slworking2

It’s the time of year when we see San Diegans dressed in spooky attire, but did you know that San Diego is a hotbed of paranormal activity? We’re known to have some of the most haunted places in the United States, and ghost hunters come from all over the world to explore our ghoulish Victorian homes, haunted hotels, ghostly graveyards, and lonely lighthouses. In the spirit of the season, we’ve gathered nine of San Diego’s most terrifying haunted spots—visit them if you dare!

Old Town
Founded in 1849, El Campo Santo Cemetery once housed 477 souls, but as San Diego boomed, parts of the cemetery were unceremoniously paved over, beginning in 1889 with a streetcar track. As any horror film fan knows, such desecration is often a catalyst for paranormal activity, and El Campo Santo Ceremony has its share of reported sightings. Pockets of cold air, a common signal of a ghostly presence, are often accompanied by luminous orbs and flashes of light, spectres of floating torsos, and a woman, clad in white Victorian clothing, has been sighted near the south wall of the cemetery. Car alarms often pierce the air for no apparent reason, perhaps activated by those still buried underneath the pavement, and local businesses and homeowners report flickering lights and machinery that randomly turns off and on. After you visit the main part of the cemetery, walk along San Diego Avenue and look for small brass “Grave Site” medallions on the sidewalk and even in the street.
How to visit: A quick internet search will provide several groups and businesses that conduct tours of El Campo Santo Cemetery, but it’s equally interesting to visit on your own.

Old Town
Just a few blocks from El Campo Santo Cemetery is the notorious Whaley House, reputed to be one of the most haunted houses in the United States, according to the Travel Channel. Built on the site of the public execution of Yankee Jim Robinson, a thief who was hanged for stealing a row boat, the gorgeous two-story Greek Revival home was almost immediately the site of tragedy. Shortly after his family moved into the home, 17-month old Thomas Whaley died; years later his sister Violet, depressed and humiliated over an adulterous husband, died by suicide in the home as well. Even the Whaley family themselves reported paranormal activity in the home, particularly the sound of heavy boots stomping throughout, attributed to the restless spirit of Yankee Jim. Visitors have reported cold pockets of air, the distinct odor of cigar smoke, the sound of a laughing or crying child, and the impressions of sleeping bodies on the beds.
How to visit: Daytime or evening tours can be booked through Old Town Trolley Tours.

pioneer cemetery
Flickr/Bisayan lady

During the San Diego Gold Rush of 1870, hundreds of ore miners flocked to the newly established town of Julian in search of their fortunes. Unfortunately, along with the influx of pioneers, many of whom were ill-equipped to deal with the primitive living conditions, came disease, violence, alcoholism, greed, malnutrition, and hazardous working environments that necessitated the establishment of a cemetery to bury the dead. The first recorded burials were of two teenage boys in late 1875. The cemetery soon became the resting place of many, from families who purchased large plots to the destitute, whose final marker is often only a crudely scratched stone. Now in a state of disrepair, visitors to the area report ghostly apparitions that glide effortlessly through the tombs, possibly including the spirit of Drury Bailey, one of the founders of Julian.
How to visit: The cemetery has no stated hours of operation and can be visited without reservations.

San Diego’s most iconic hotel, a favorite of celebrities, politicians, and royalty from all over the world, has an equally iconic history of haunting. On Thanksgiving Day in 1892, a young housekeeper from Los Angeles, Kate Morgan, checked into Room 302 (now Room 3327) at the Del under the name of Mrs. Lottie A. Bernard from Detroit, although she was actually married to Thomas Edwin Morgan and from Iowa. Described as attractive and refined, she arrived without luggage and was occasionally seen wandering through the hotel for the next five days. She was discovered by an electrician the morning of November 28 on the outside stairs leading to the beach, dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. Was Kate Morgan waiting for a lover who never showed up? Or was she depressed about a serious medical condition, as one of the housekeepers claimed? The answers to those questions remain with Kate Morgan, who wanders the halls of the Del to this day, flicking lights and televisions on and off at random, and appearing in sea-facing windows at night.
How to visit: Stay in the room where Kate Morgan spent her final days, or book a Haunted Happenings Tour, now through November.

A plaque near the restaurant tells the story—”Dedicated to the memories of those who were buried at Buena Vista Cemetery”. It’s believed that at least forty early settlers of the Oceanside area were interred at Buena Vista Cemetery from its inception in 1888 until it fell from use in 1906 when a newer, larger cemetery was established nearby. Over the years, it declined into disrepair and while some of the souls buried there were moved to other locations, a good number remained. The property was purchased by a private citizen in the late 1950s before being sold to developers in the 1970s. Another feeble attempt was made to relocate the remaining bodies prior to the development of a commercial project, but witness accounts of the early construction process revealed that several remains were unearthed and unceremoniously dumped into or near the Buena Vista Lagoon. All this, of course, lays the groundwork for the abused and neglected souls to restlessly inhabit the Hunter Steakhouse, which is widely recognized as one of Oceanside’s most haunted locations. Customers of the restaurant report seeing the floating apparition of a woman near the bar stairs, and employees report chilly spots, disembodied voices that call their names, random power surges and unexplained flashing lights.
How to visit: Reservations can be made online or by calling 760-433-2633.


Gaslamp Quarter
Old hotels seem to be prone to paranormal activity and restless spirits, and the Horton Grand is no exception. Built in the late 1880s, the Horton Grand is a restoration of two original properties, The Grand Horton Hotel and the Brooklyn-Kahle Saddlery Hotel. The most famous ghost in the Horton Grand is Roger Whitaker, a permanent guest at the hotel and a notorious drinker, gambler and card cheat. After racking up a sizable debt, Whitaker was gunned down, supposedly by creditors, in Room 309. Visitors to that room report that the bed shakes and rattles, objects move around the bathroom without explanation, the armoire closet doors open by themselves at night, and the lights go on and off randomly. Another poltergeist, brothel owner Ida Bailey, whose establishment once stood on the spot where the Horton Grand now sits, appears throughout the property as a wraithlike form, and sometimes as a white mist.
How to visit: Book Room 309 online if you dare.

Point Loma
Dark, secluded and lonely, lighthouses are prime targets for spooky haunted happenings. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse, guardian of the mouth of the San Diego Bay, was completed in October 1855 and first lit on November 15 of the same year. It was, at an impressive 462 feet above sea level, the highest elevation of any lighthouse in the United States at the time. The location proved to be its undoing, though, as low clouds and fog often obscured the light from incoming and outgoing ships, forcing the lighthouse operator to fire a shotgun in warning. A new lighthouse was constructed at a lower elevation and Old Point Loma Lighthouse’s beam was permanently extinguished on March 23, 1891. The lighthouse remains as a tourist attraction, giving visitors a glimpse of how the keepers and their families lived in the mid-1800s. And while no untoward incidents have been recorded at the site, guests report heavy footsteps and breathing, moaning sounds, flickering lights, and cold spots in the winding staircase, which have been attributed to the ghostly return of former keepers, ready to stand on eternal watch.
How to visit: The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is in the Cabrillo National Monument Park, which is open from 9 am–5 pm daily, except for certain holidays.

Gaslamp Quarter
Built in 1850 and formerly named the William Heath Davis House, the Davis-Horton House is the oldest standing building in what is now known as the Gaslamp Quarter. The original house was a saltbox-style structure that was shipped from Portland, Maine, and became part of a settlement at State and Market Streets known as “New Town” (as opposed to San Diego’s original settlement in Old Town). After the home was moved to Eleventh and K Streets, it was purchased by Anna Scheper in 1873. Anna ran the home as a county hospital, in contract with San Diego County, for which she charged each patient $1 per day. Throughout the years, the home was purchased and cherished by numerous owners, and was eventually donated to the city by the Lanzua family. A years-long restoration project, led largely by former museum curator Mary Joralmon, returned the house to its current location and state. Each room has been furnished in the style of different periods of the home’s history, from its incarnations as a pre-Civil War officers barracks, a hospital, and a private residence. Visitors to the museum report seeing the regal-looking apparition of Anna Scheper at the top of the home’s staircase, as well as various soldiers, hospital patients and even a German WWII spy is rumored to lurk around the property.
How to visit: Self-guided, audio, and guided tours can be booked online six days a week. Walk-ins are welcome. Closed Mondays.

cara knott memorial
Flickr/Hidden San Diego

Scripps Ranch
On December 27, 1986, on duty CHP Officer Craig Peyer pulled over, then bludgeoned and strangled 20-year old SDSU student Cara Knott, before throwing her body off an abandoned bridge and continuing his shift as if nothing had happened. He was convicted of her murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. In 1996, after nearly a decade of lobbying by Cara’s father, Sam Knott, the area where her body was found was designated the Cara Knott Memorial Garden. Three years later, Sam Knott transplanted several dozen oak trees, which the Knott family had grown from acorns, to the area, and it was rededicated as the San Diego Crime Victims Memorial Garden. Sadly, Sam Knott died of a heart attack in 2000, while tending his daughter’s memorial garden and just feet from where her body was found. Today, the garden contains a gazebo and table, and scores of memorials, painted stones, small statues and other remembrances of San Diego’s victims of crime and violent death, and has become a place of refuge and healing for the families and friends of those remembered there. Visitors report overwhelming feelings of grief and sadness, pockets of chilly air, crying or screaming voices, and sometimes an air of foreboding.
How to visit: Exit Interstate 15 at the Mercy Road/Scripps Poway Parkway exit, go east and make a U-turn at Scripps Highland. Drive 300 yards from the freeway, take the first right into Cara Way and proceed north to the park.

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Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting stuff, reading cookbooks and drinking fabulous gin. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.