Halloween is always fun for a fright fest, but there are haunted places in San Francisco that you can visit any time of year…because ghosts and spirits don’t save their spine-tingling tricks for the end of October. Legend has it that you can hear footsteps of soldiers at the Presidio’s abandoned army hospital or get tucked into bed by a friendly ghost that haunts the Queen Anne Hotel. Whatever kind of spook you fancy, get your chills and thrills on our tour of haunted SF.
The 11 Most Haunted Places in San Francisco
1. Alcatraz, Alcatraz Island
Some of the worst criminals in history—Al Capone, Whitey Bulger, Machine-Gun Kelly—were once locked up at Alcatraz. Three convicts (Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin) even escaped the former federal prison in the 1960s, never to be found, and there are now some clues that at least one of them may still be alive. If that’s not enough to send chills down your spine, then sign up for the night tour at Alcatraz. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, there’s a good chance you’ll feel a strange coldness walking around the prison (and no, we’re not just talking about the usual bone-chilling SF weather). Pay particular attention to cell 14D, which is said to be the most haunted. Legend has it that one night in the 1940s, the prisoner in that cell was terrorized by a creature with glowing eyes. The next day, officers found the prisoner strangled to death in this cell, and his ghost purportedly haunts the area to this day.
2. Presidio Army Hospital, Presidio
The U.S. Army’s Letterman Hospital in the Presidio dates back to 1898 and served hundreds of thousands of soldiers during World War II. With all the sickness and death this landmark building has seen over the decades, it’s no surprise that lingering spirits haunt its halls. Now home to several nonprofits and parts of Lucasfilm offices, people report hearing the footsteps of dead soldiers, shadowy figures in uniforms lingering in rooms and voices calling out from behind closed doors.
3. Donaldina Cameron House, Chinatown
During the 1880s, only men were permitted to come to the U.S. from China to seek employment. Any women who made it into the country to join their families were forced to hide out, and many of them were eventually sold into slavery or forced into prostitution. The Presbyterian Mission House in Chinatown served as a safe house for these women, and the young Donaldina Cameron helped more than 3,000 girls and women escape this brutal fate over the course of her life. The original building was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake but was rebuilt with the same mission in mind, this time with a series of secret passageways to ensure the safety of anyone hiding from brothel owners, slave traders and local police. The most secure area was the building’s basement, which had no entry point from inside the house and could only be accessed through a secret tunnel to the street. Tragedy struck when locals set fire to the building, and the basement hideaways were unable to escape. Today, the building still serves at-risk immigrant youth and families, but the infamous basement has been sealed shut. People claim that ghostly figures of immigrant refugees appear in photographs of the building. And that chill in the air? It’s not A/C but rather the spirit of those who died there that day.
4. Queen Anne Hotel, Lower Pac Heights
From the outside, the Queen Anne Hotel looks like a charming B&B, but inside, expect somewhat spookier circumstances. The elegant Victorian-style mansion was first home to Miss Mary Lake and her School for Girls in the 1890s. She died of heartbreak after the school was closed and her spirit never left the place. If you dare, spend the night in Miss Mary Lake’s old office, now room 410, where the old teacher’s been known to unpack suitcases, tidy up and tuck the covers around guests while they’re sleeping. Friendly though she may be, we’ll stick to staying in one of the non-haunted rooms, thank you very much.
5. Curran Theatre, Union Square
In 1933, electrician-turned-bandit Eddie Anderson decided to pull a stunt to score his girlfriend tickets to a hit performance of ‘Show Boat’. He showed up at the box office, pulled out a gun and demanded tickets from longtime ticket teller Hewlett Tarr. Chaos ensued and Tarr was shot dead. Ever since, generations of theatergoers and staff report hearing strange noises and seeing the image of Tarr in the lobby mirrors. It may sound creepy, but theater staff think of it as a good-luck ghost for successful performances.
6. Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve, Parnassus Heights
By day, it’s an enchanting fairytale forest. But catch yourself alone in Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve at dusk, and it starts to feel a little spooky. Why? Well, it turns out the forest has a dark and sinister past. With its secluded location and deep central ravine, many people came here to take their own lives in the early 1900s. Hikers later discovered multiple decomposing bodies in the woods here. Today, some locals claim to hear moaning or see something unexplained rustling the trees. Wait, was that a branch snapping or…?
7. The Chapel, Mission
It’s all shops and restaurants now, but Valencia Street in the Mission was once home to many of San Francisco’s mortuaries, including the Gantner-Maison-Domergue Funeral Home. Today, it’s the popular music venue and restaurant The Chapel, but some creepy features from the building’s former life remain. A body crank that was used to raise and lower bodies from the basement to the embalming room is still visible inside the adjacent Curio Bar. Employees have reported a variety of paranormal activities over the years—bottles exploding, footsteps echoing through the empty building, faucets that turn on and off and votive candles that fly off the mantel. Several musical guests have even reported strange experiences in the green room while waiting to perform, including the ghostly figure of a little girl who haunts the venue at night.
8. Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park
During the day, Stow Lake is a lovely place for a paddleboat ride, but you won’t catch us wandering around the old reservoir at night after the fog rolls in. As the story goes, a woman may have disposed of her newborn there in the 1920s or 1930s and then drowned herself in the lake. If you walk around the lake after dark and chant, “White lady, white lady, I have your baby” three times, you may encounter the figure of a woman wearing a white dress looking for her child. She’s known as the Lady in White and she’s not a friendly ghost. If you say you’ve seen her baby, she’ll haunt you. Say that you haven’t seen her baby, and legend has it that she may just kill you.
9. Sutro Baths, Lands End
In the early 1900s, the Sutro Baths were the place to be. During their heyday, the indoor swimming pools set atop cliffs at the edge of the Pacific Ocean were a top attraction. But after closing in the 1960s, the baths burned down and have been left as ruins ever since. Today, the remains of the Sutro Baths are eerie enough on their own, but there’s a much scarier story just beyond the terraced pools. Look for the tunnel to the right of the old bathhouses. Rumor has it that this tunnel was once a place for human sacrifices possibly linked to Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan. Go at nightfall, light a candle and see if “someone” or “something” grabs it and throws it into the water that rushes up just beyond the rocks.
10. San Francisco Columbarium, Lone Mountain
This neoclassical funeral home is an architectural landmark that dates back to 1898, but blink and you’ll miss it. The columbarium is tucked away at the end of a quiet court in SF’s Lone Mountain neighborhood. Here you’ll find the ashes of more than 8,000 San Franciscans, including famous families like the Folgers and many men that city streets are named after. If you visit, you may hear footsteps in the rotunda or feel a small hand brush up against you. According to the site’s caretaker, the ghost of a little girl haunts the spot where she’s interred.
11. Mary Ellen Pleasant Memorial Park, Lower Pac Heights
When work with the Underground Railroad in New England became too dangerous, Mary Ellen Pleasant moved to San Francisco to work as a cook for wealthy men during the Gold Rush. She went on to become the first self-made African-American millionaire in SF and built a mansion at 1661 Octavia Street with her business partner Thomas Bell. After his untimely death (he toppled over a banister in the shared house), Bell’s wife threw Mary Ellen out. Despite running multiple businesses and fighting for equality her entire life, Mary Ellen Pleasant died in poverty in 1904. The aforementioned mansion was demolished in the 1920s, but the six eucalyptus trees she planted remain. Today, the tiny green space is known as Mary Ellen Pleasant Memorial Park and many believe her ghost still hangs out here. If your dog seems spooked or you feel chills down your spine, just imagine to yourself that it’s Mary Ellen Pleasant having a little fun in the afterlife.