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Alcatraz Island in San Francisco, USA.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The most haunted places in the Bay Area

Embrace the spooky season with the scariest, most hair-raising haunted places in the Bay Area to hit up... if you dare

Clara Hogan
Written by
Sarah Medina
Clara Hogan

Halloween is finally quickly approaching, and things are getting spooky in the Bay Area. After all, SF herself is known for some scary sightings. The legend goes that SF has been home to paranormal activity and ghost sightings since its inception, but to be honest, we also just know how to celebrate. 

So for kid-friendly activities, get yourself to one of the Bay’s spooky corn mazes or pumpkin patches, but for something even more terrifying, why not check out one of its spooky haunted places? From Alcatraz to ghostly theatres, you’ll find everything you need here for a ghostly day or night out. Here are the most haunted places in the Bay Area. 

🌀 The best corn mazes in the Bay Area
🎃 The best pumpkin patches in the Bay Area
👻 The most haunted places in the US
🏘️ The most haunted Airbnbs in the US

Clara Hogan is a California-based Time Out writer and editor. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines. 

Haunted places in the Bay Area

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • San Jose
  • price 1 of 4

The Bay Area’s most famous haunted home, the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, was once the largest private residence in the United States. The bizarro began when the lady of the house, Sarah Winchester, inherited a vast fortune from her father-in-law, Oliver Winchester, manufacturer of the famous rifle, and she moved from New Haven, Connecticut to San Jose. Winchester came to believe her family and fortune were haunted and started to build a house to elude the ghosts of all the people who had fallen victim to the Winchester rifle. From 1886 until she died in 1922, the construction never ceased on the strange new mansion, which at its peak included 200 rooms, 10,000 windows, 47 fireplaces, and 2,000 doors, trap doors, and spy holes. The house is designed to confuse—staircases lead nowhere and end at ceilings; cabinets and doors open onto walls; small rooms are built within big rooms; balconies and windows are inside rather than out; chimneys stop floors short of the ceiling; floors have skylights. The best way to experience the haunted house? With a candlelight tour. There’s safety in numbers.

  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • San Francisco

If you feel icy fingers on your shoulders as you stroll the former penitentiary, it may be more than just the fog creeping in. Once a military prison for war criminals and later converted into a federal prison for some of the worst felons in history (like Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and Whitey Bulger), the island location is now reportedly one of the most haunted spots in the Bay Area—and for good reason. Plagued by deadly riots, tragic escape attempts, murders, and suicides, Alcatraz is said to be rife with restless spirits, especially in solitary confinement Cell Block D, where people were sometimes left for weeks without light, sound, or human contact. Cell 14D is said to be the most spirit-filled. It’s rumored that one night in the 1940s, a man held there was screaming in terror about seeing a creature with glowing eyes; officers later found the prisoner strangled to death. And to this day, many people claim to feel a strange coldness while walking around the area, and some say they catch glimpses of a spirit roaming.

  • Things to do
  • Golden Gate Park

During the day, this Golden Gate Park go-to is a great place to boat, walk your dog, or visit the waterfall at Strawberry Hill. When the sun goes down and the fog rolls in, however, Stow Lake becomes a walking ground for the Lady in White. Who the hell is that? The popular ghost tale, dating back more than a century, has two very different beginnings. Some say the White Lady, caught up in conversation, failed to notice that her stroller had rolled away and her baby had fallen into the lake. She spent a day and a night searching the area and asking passersby, “Have you seen my baby?” before disappearing into the lake. Others claim that an unmarried woman decided to hide a pregnancy from her family; once the baby was born, she disposed of it in the lake before also killing herself. But both tales agree that if you decide to walk around Stow Lake after hours, you might see a woman wearing a white dress and asking for her baby. Be careful: If the lady comes up to you and asks if you’ve seen her baby, say yes, and she will continue to haunt you. But if you say no, she will kill you. Um, legend has it.

Tales of ghosts at the Curran Theatre on Geary Street date back to 1933 when audiences gathered for a hit performance of Show Boat when longtime ticket teller Hewlett Tarr was shot dead in cold blood. Police eventually found the killer, an electrician-turned-bandit called Eddie Anderson, who had held up five different businesses before he was arrested. Anderson was found guilty and sentenced to be hung at San Quenton. Ever since generations of Curran theatre-goers and staff have reported strange noises and even claims of seeing the image of Tarr in the lobby mirrors. But the theater doesn't mind - its staff thinks of him as a friendly ghost watching over them. 

  • Nightlife
  • Mission
  • price 2 of 4

It’s hard to tell now, but Valencia Street in the Mission District was once home to most of San Francisco’s mortuaries. Until 1949, a streetcar ran directly from Mission Street to Colma, the Bay Area cemetery town where the dead outnumbered the living by more than a thousand to one. Bodies were prepared near the Mission Street station, then put straight in a car to the cemetery. The Gantner-Maison-Domergue Funeral Home (which would later become the Chapel) would store bodies in the basement, where the incinerator was,  below the embalming room. Workers then used a body crank (still visible in the adjacent restaurant) to raise and lower bodies from one room to the other. Employees have reported numerous paranormal activities over the years—bottles exploding, footsteps echoing through the empty building, faucets that turn on and off, votive candles that fly off the mantel—and several musical guests have reported strange experiences in the green room while waiting to perform. Creepiest is the ghostly figure of a little girl who is said to be seen haunting the venue at night.

Given that the Presidio is home to cemeteries with the graves of Native Americans, U.S. army soldiers, and even pets — it's no wonder people believe it's home to ghosts. The land was home to Native Americans long before Spain and Mexico claimed it, and then for well over 200 years, the area served as a military installation. This included a U.S. Army Hospital serving hundreds of thousands of soldiers suffering from physical and mental trauma. The Park Service has run the land since 1994, and people continue to claim to hear shuffling steps of patients, voices calling out from behind closed doors, lights randomly flashing, sightings of men in Army uniforms, and strange happenings in the Pet Cemetery.


  • Hotels
  • Pacific Heights
  • price 2 of 4

This well-preserved 1890s Victorian may look like a typical San Francisco boutique hotel, but the Queen Anne began as a girls’ boarding school (and boarding schools are pretty much always haunted). The institution was run by Mary Lake, the mistress of San Francisco silver baron and Nob Hill denizen James Fair. But when the academy closed in 1896, Mary mysteriously disappeared. Modern-day hotel guests swear that her spirit is still present to welcome visitors—particularly on the fourth floor, which was the site of Mary’s office. Hotel clients have claimed to feel cold chills and even see a white figure in Room 410. Even stranger? Mary is known to tuck in lodgers’ feet during the night.

  • Hotels
  • Union Square

No stranger to scandal, some of early Hollywood’s most notable names haunt Union Square’s St. Francis Hotel. It was where actor and notorious lush John Barrymore found himself sleeping it off when the 1906 earthquake struck. Darker forces were at work in 1921 when a party thrown by silent-movie comedian Fatty Arbuckle in suites 1219–1221 got out of hand, resulting in the rape and murder of starlet Virginia Rappe. Arbuckle was acquitted, but the scandal ruined his career. In a creepy turn of events, entertainer Al Jolson collapsed and died in the same suite during a poker game in 1950. Staffers and ghost hunters swear that Barrymore, Arbuckle, and Jolson haunt the hallways to this day.


9. The Whittier Mansion

The Whittier Mansion (1896) is from the earliest days of San Francisco’s inception and was built for William Franklin Whittier, one of the richest people in the country at the time, who amassed his wealth in the railroad and shipping businesses. The massive 30-room residence has seen several residents over the decades, with many accounts of ghosts and shadowy figures lurking about that they suspect to be Whittier himself, one of his staffers, or his son, Billy. The home has seen many lives since the Whittiers, including — most interestingly — serving as the German consulate during the Nazi regime, later housing the California Historical Society, and then was eventually purchased by private residents in 1991. 

Tucked into an easy-to-miss courtyard, the 1898 neoclassical funeral home houses the ashes of more than 8,000 San Franciscans, including the Folgers family (yes, of coffee fame) and many others whose names emboss street signs throughout the city. Tour the architectural landmark, and you’ll see some quirky urns made out of martini shakers, tree stumps, Johnny Walker bottles, and teapots, as well as memorabilia such as baseball caps, reading glasses, and theater tickets. If you stick around until the place is empty, you may hear footsteps in the rotunda. According to the site’s longtime caretaker, the ghost of a little girl who died in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake supposedly haunts the niche where she’s interred.


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