Most Haunted Places in San Francisco

  • By: Timothy Rose
  • Date: 7 December 2023
  • Time to read: 17 min.

As I walked into Alcatraz, with its chilling history as a notorious federal prison, I couldn’t help but feel the echoes of San Francisco’s haunted past enveloping me. This city, known for its iconic Golden Gate Bridge and vibrant culture, is also a hotspot for ghostly tales and paranormal activities. From the ghostly prisoners still lurking in the cells of Alcatraz Island to the mysterious apparitions at the Queen Anne Hotel, San Francisco’s haunted places are as diverse as they are spine-tingling. The eerie presence felt in the old halls of the USS Hornet, a historic aircraft carrier, adds to the city’s collection of supernatural sites. San Francisco’s Chinatown, one of the oldest in North America, holds its own secrets, with tales of ancient spirits and curses. Exploring the most haunted places in San Francisco is a journey through a fog-shrouded cityscape where history and mystery intertwine, revealing a side of the City by the Bay that is as haunting as it is fascinating.

One of the most famous haunted places in San Francisco is the Alcatraz Island, which was once a notorious prison. Visitors have reported hearing unexplained noises and feeling cold spots while touring the prison. Another popular haunted location is the Queen Anne Hotel, which was once a school for girls. Guests have reported seeing the ghost of the school’s former headmistress and hearing the sounds of children playing in the halls.

Whether you’re a believer in the paranormal or not, San Francisco’s haunted places are sure to intrigue and fascinate you. So, if you’re looking for a spooky adventure, be sure to check out some of the city’s most haunted locations.

History of Hauntings in San Francisco

San Francisco is home to numerous haunted places, each with a unique story of its own. The city’s history is filled with events and incidents that have left a lasting mark on its buildings, streets, and neighborhoods. From the devastating earthquake of 1906 to the anti-slavery movement of the 1930s, there are several events that have contributed to the city’s reputation as a hub for paranormal activity.

Arnold Genthe's Photographs of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Firestorm
Arnold Genthe’s Photographs of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Firestorm

One of the most significant events that have shaped San Francisco’s haunted history is the earthquake of 1906. The earthquake, which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale, devastated the city and resulted in the loss of thousands of lives. Many of the buildings that survived the earthquake were later destroyed in the subsequent fires. Today, several of these buildings are said to be haunted by the ghosts of those who lost their lives in the disaster.

Another event that has contributed to San Francisco’s haunted history is the anti-slavery movement of the 1930s. During this period, many African Americans migrated to San Francisco in search of better opportunities. However, they faced discrimination and racism, which led to the formation of several anti-slavery groups. Today, several of the buildings that were used by these groups are said to be haunted by the spirits of those who fought for their rights.

San Francisco is also home to several Victorian mansions, which are known for their ornate architecture and intricate designs. However, many of these mansions are said to be haunted by the ghosts of their former residents. One such mansion is the Winchester Mystery House, which was built by Sarah Winchester, the widow of the inventor of the Winchester rifle. Today, the mansion is said to be haunted by the ghosts of those who lost their lives in the gun’s crosshairs.

Winchester Mystery House - Credit HarshLight
Winchester Mystery House – Credit HarshLight

Finally, San Francisco Bay Area is home to several haunted locations, including Alcatraz Island, which was once a notorious prison. Today, visitors to the island report hearing strange noises and seeing apparitions of former inmates. Other haunted locations in the Bay Area include Angel Island and the USS Hornet, both of which are said to be haunted by the ghosts of their former occupants.

Overall, San Francisco’s haunted history is a fascinating and complex topic that continues to intrigue locals and visitors alike. From the earthquake of 1906 to the anti-slavery movement of the 1930s, there are several events that have contributed to the city’s reputation as a hub for paranormal activity. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, there is no denying that San Francisco is home to some of the most haunted places in the world.

Famous Haunted Places

San Francisco is known for its rich history and diverse culture, but it is also famous for its haunted places. Here are some of the most popular haunted places in the city.

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island, off the coast of San Francisco, was once home to a military fortification and later became a notorious federal prison. Housing infamous criminals like Al Capone, the prison’s isolated location and rigid discipline made escape nearly impossible. Despite its dark past, Alcatraz also became a symbol of Native American activism in the 1960s.

Alcatraz Island – Credit David Yu

Ghostly encounters have been reported by both guards and inmates during its time as a penitentiary. Mysterious sounds, cold spots, and apparitions are commonly associated with Cell Block D, also known as “The Hole.” Some claim to hear chains rattling, doors slamming, and voices whispering, leading to countless paranormal investigations and stories that circulate today.

Since its closure as a prison in 1963, Alcatraz has become a tourist destination and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The island’s dark history and alleged hauntings continue to fascinate visitors, drawing ghost hunters and the curious alike. Even without tangible proof of the paranormal, the lore surrounding Alcatraz Island adds an eerie allure to this significant historical site.

Queen Anne Hotel

San Francisco’s Queen Anne Hotel, originally built in 1890, was first a finishing school for young women run by a headmistress named Miss Mary Lake. The building itself, adorned with Victorian architecture, witnessed the transition from a school to various other uses before becoming a beloved hotel.

Guests and staff at the Queen Anne Hotel have reported numerous inexplicable occurrences. The most famous tales center around Room 410, once Miss Lake’s office. Visitors have described feeling a gentle tucking-in sensation at night, hearing phantom footsteps, and even seeing the apparition of Miss Lake herself. Her friendly spirit is said to linger, continuing to care for those within the building’s walls.

Today, the Queen Anne Hotel stands as a popular spot both for travelers and paranormal enthusiasts. The stories of Miss Lake’s ghostly presence have turned the hotel into a unique destination, infusing a sense of mystery and wonder that enhances its historical charm. Whether seeking a luxurious stay or a brush with the unknown, the Queen Anne Hotel offers an unforgettable experience.


The Presidio of San Francisco, a former U.S. Army military fort on the southern tip of the Golden Gate Strait, has a rich history dating back to its establishment by the Spanish in 1776. It has seen changes in governance, having been under Spanish, Mexican, and American control, reflecting California’s complex past. The military presence continued until 1994, after which it became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Presidio – Credit ArchiTexty

Paranormal activity in the Presidio has fascinated locals and visitors alike. Whispers of ghostly soldiers, unexplained noises, and ethereal figures have been reported in various parts of the complex. Buildings like Fort Point and the Letterman Army Hospital are hotspots for mysterious sightings, where shadows and voices are claimed to linger from a time long gone.

In the aftermath of its military era, the Presidio has transformed into a unique blend of public parkland, commercial space, and historical site. The lingering legends of ghostly soldiers and paranormal phenomena only deepen the allure of this storied place, inviting history buffs, adventure seekers, and ghost enthusiasts to explore and perhaps encounter the unknown.

Curran Theatre

San Francisco’s Curran Theatre opened its doors in 1922, becoming a dazzling venue for countless plays, musicals, and performances. Named after its first owner, Homer Curran, this theater stands as a testament to the city’s vibrant cultural scene. It has hosted numerous Broadway hits and has been refurbished to maintain its ornate charm.

Over the years, visitors and employees of the Curran Theatre have whispered about ghostly happenings. The most famous tale revolves around the apparition of a ticket-taker who died during an accident in the building. People have reported seeing her ghostly figure, hearing phantom applause, and even smelling mysterious floral perfumes. These encounters have both unnerved and fascinated those who have experienced them.

Today, the Curran Theatre continues to draw audiences with its captivating performances and historic splendor. The ghostly tales add a layer of intrigue to the theater, creating a mystical atmosphere that enchants guests. Whether coming for world-class entertainment or the chance to glimpse the unexplained, the Curran Theatre offers an extraordinary experience steeped in artistry and legend.

San Francisco Art Institute

The San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), founded in 1871, was a hub of creativity and innovation, educating countless artists and thinkers until its unfortunate closure last year. Its campus, marked by iconic architecture, had been a breeding ground for artistic movements and hosted influential artists like Ansel Adams and Diego Rivera.

However, beyond its artistic legacy, SFAI had a spooky reputation. The tower of the institute was particularly notorious for alleged paranormal activity. Ghostly figures, mysterious footsteps, and chilling whispers were reported. The legend said that a construction worker fell to his death while building the tower, and his restless spirit lingered, haunting the halls and stairways, adding a spectral layer to the institute’s storied past.

In recent years, the San Francisco Art Institute continues to foster creativity and critical thinking while embracing its eerie lore. The tales of ghostly encounters add a mystique that enthralls students, faculty, and visitors alike. A blend of artistic brilliance and spectral mystery, SFAI stands as a unique institution where creativity meets the unexplained, making it a captivating part of San Francisco’s cultural fabric.

City Hall

San Francisco’s City Hall, a stunning Beaux-Arts building, has been the seat of the city’s government since its completion in 1915. After the original structure was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, the current City Hall rose as a symbol of resilience and elegance. Its magnificent dome, one of the largest in the world, adds to its grandeur.

Franco Folini
City Hall – Credit Franco Folini

But there’s more to City Hall than politics and architecture. Some say the building is home to mysterious occurrences. Security guards and staff have reported ghostly apparitions, unexplained noises, and eerie sensations, especially late at night. The ghosts of politicians and public figures from the city’s tumultuous past are said to wander the hallways, engaged in never-ending debates.

Today, San Francisco’s City Hall stands as both a functional government building and a place of historical and architectural significance. The whispers of the paranormal that echo through its marble halls add an intriguing layer to its already rich story. Whether you’re drawn by political history or the allure of the unknown, City Hall invites you to explore its grandeur and perhaps even encounter a ghostly presence.

Fort Mason

Fort Mason, sitting on the northern edge of San Francisco, has worn many hats throughout its history. Initially established as a military post in 1850, it later served as a vital port of embarkation during World War II. Thousands of troops and tons of supplies passed through here, making it a bustling and essential part of wartime operations.

Yet, Fort Mason has its own collection of ghostly tales. People have reported spectral soldiers, haunting sounds of wartime activity, and mysterious lights within the old barracks and piers. Some claim to hear disembodied voices and footsteps, eerie reminders of the soldiers who once passed through on their way to distant battlefields.

In the present day, Fort Mason has transformed into a vibrant cultural and recreational hub, known as Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture. While it hosts theaters, galleries, and eateries, the shadows of its military past and rumored spectral residents lend an air of mystique. Visitors can engage in art and community events while connecting with a piece of history that still whispers from the other side.

Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California – so not in San Francisco but close enough – is an architectural enigma that has captured the imagination of many. Built by Sarah Winchester, widow of the firearms magnate, the house is a sprawling maze of 160 rooms, complete with winding hallways, dead-end staircases, and doors opening to blank walls. Construction began in 1884 and continued without a master plan until Sarah’s death in 1922, driven by her obsession to appease spirits.

Winchester Mystery House – Credit HarshLight

Paranormal enthusiasts are drawn to the house by countless tales of ghostly encounters. Sarah Winchester’s obsession with the spiritual realm led her to conduct nightly séances, and it’s believed that ghosts influenced the home’s chaotic design. Visitors have reported seeing apparitions, hearing mysterious footsteps, and feeling unexplained chills, particularly in the rooms that were most significant to Sarah.

Today, the Winchester Mystery House serves as a peculiar tourist attraction, inviting guests to explore its baffling architecture and sense the lingering spirits. Guided tours lead visitors through the haunting beauty of the mansion, allowing them to experience the mystical presence that guided Sarah’s construction frenzy. A visit to this legendary house offers a thrilling adventure into the unexplained, merging history, architecture, and the supernatural into an unforgettable experience.

The Show Boat

The Show Boat was a popular nightclub in San Francisco in the 1920s and 1930s. Legend has it that the club was cursed after a fight broke out between two patrons and one of them was killed. After that, strange things started happening at the club, including objects moving on their own and strange noises. Some people claim to have seen the ghost of Hewlett Tarr, the man who was killed in the fight.

Donaldina Cameron House

The Donaldina Cameron House, located in San Francisco’s Chinatown, stands as a beacon of hope and a symbol of courage. Founded by Presbyterian missionaries in the late 1800s, it was later taken over by Donaldina Cameron, a fearless advocate for Chinese immigrant women and girls. Under her guidance, the house became a refuge for those escaping human trafficking and forced labor, providing safety, education, and empowerment.

Cameron House - Credit Wayne Hsieh
Cameron House – Credit Wayne Hsieh

Stories of the paranormal have also become a part of the Cameron House’s rich tapestry. The spirit of Donaldina herself is said to wander the building, still watching over the place she devoted her life to. Unexplained noises, phantom footsteps, and a feeling of an unseen presence have been reported, especially in the basement where many were hidden during their time of need.

Today, the Donaldina Cameron House continues its mission as a community service organization, working to uplift and support the diverse population of Chinatown. The ghostly legends do not overshadow the house’s real impact but add a mystical dimension to its profound history. A place where compassion meets the unexplained, the Cameron House reminds us of the enduring human spirit and our connection to the past, both tangible and spectral.

The Castro Theatre

San Francisco’s iconic Castro Theatre is more than just a movie palace; it’s a testament to the cultural vibrancy of the city’s Castro District. Opened in 1922, this historic venue has been entertaining audiences for generations, hosting everything from film festivals to sing-alongs. Its Spanish Colonial Baroque facade and grand interior stand as symbols of an era rich in architectural creativity.

While renowned for its cinematic offerings, the Castro Theatre also harbors whispers of the paranormal. Staff and patrons alike have recounted strange experiences, such as ghostly figures in the ornate balconies, unexplained cold breezes, and flickering lights. Some even claim to have heard ethereal music playing from the mighty Wurlitzer organ, fueling tales of phantom musicians who never left the stage.

The Castro Theatre continues to be a lively cultural hotspot, and the rumors of spectral visitors only add to its allure. The blend of historical grandeur, cinematic legacy, and ghostly folklore make it a unique destination in San Francisco. Whether enjoying a classic film or seeking a connection to the otherworldly, the Castro Theatre offers a rich and captivating experience. Its doors are open to movie lovers and ghost hunters alike, providing a touch of magic in the heart of the city.

USS Hornet

The USS Hornet, an Essex-class aircraft carrier, holds a distinguished place in naval history. Commissioned in 1943, she played a vital role in World War II, the Vietnam War, and the recovery of Apollo astronauts. However, her glory came at a price, with the loss of over 300 crew members during her years of service.

USS Hornet - Credit Michelle Cipriano
USS Hornet – Credit Michelle Cipriano

The USS Hornet is as famous for its paranormal activity as its military achievements. Many visitors and crew have reported mysterious occurrences. Ghostly sailors are said to wander the decks, tools and objects move inexplicably, and unaccounted footsteps and voices have been heard. The ship’s numerous battle scars seem to have left spiritual imprints, contributing to its reputation as one of the most haunted warships.

Now docked in Alameda, California, the USS Hornet serves as a museum and a living testimony to naval warfare and heroism. The ghostly tales don’t deter visitors but rather add to the allure, making it a destination for history enthusiasts and paranormal investigators alike. Exploring the USS Hornet offers a unique opportunity to connect with a piece of American history and perhaps encounter a spectral sailor still on duty.

Haas-Lilienthal House

San Francisco’s Haas-Lilienthal House is a preserved piece of Victorian architecture, and a beautiful snapshot of the city’s 19th-century heritage. Built in 1886 for merchant William Haas, this Queen Anne-style home remained in the family until it was opened to the public in the 1970s.

With its rich history, the house also bears whispers of the paranormal. Visitors and staff have reported strange occurrences like cold spots, unexplained sounds, and sightings of ghostly figures. Some believe that members of the Haas and Lilienthal families continue to watch over the home, their presences felt in the gentle creaking of the floorboards or glimpsed in shadowy corners.

Today, the Haas-Lilienthal House is a beloved museum and event space, welcoming those interested in architecture, history, and perhaps a touch of the supernatural. Guided tours allow visitors to step back in time, enjoying the ornate interiors and perhaps experiencing something beyond the ordinary. This elegant home’s blend of historical charm and spectral legends makes it an intriguing stop in the heart of San Francisco.

Overall, San Francisco is a city with a rich supernatural history. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, there is no denying that the city is full of stories that will make your hair stand on end.


San Francisco is a city with a rich history, and with that history comes a plethora of ghost stories and haunted places. From the infamous Alcatraz Island to the luxurious St. Francis Hotel, there are plenty of places in San Francisco that are said to be haunted. But it’s not just San Francisco that has its share of haunted locations. The surrounding Bay Area, including San Jose and Colma, also have their fair share of ghostly tales.

Union Square is a popular tourist destination in San Francisco, but it’s also home to several haunted locations. The St. Francis Hotel, for example, is said to be haunted by the ghost of a former guest who passed away in the hotel. Pacific Heights is another neighborhood in San Francisco that is known for its haunted locations. The German Consulate, a beautiful mansion built in the 19th century, is said to be haunted by the ghost of a former owner.

Strawberry Hill is a popular spot in Golden Gate Park, but it’s also said to be haunted by the ghost of a young girl who drowned in the nearby Stow Lake. Colma, a small town just south of San Francisco, is known for its many cemeteries and is said to be one of the most haunted places in the Bay Area.

One of the most infamous duels in California history took place in San Francisco, and the location of that duel, the Haskell House, is said to be haunted by the ghost of David Broderick, the former U.S. Senator who lost his life in the duel. The historic Hotel Union in San Francisco is also said to be haunted by several ghosts, including a young girl who reportedly drowned in the hotel’s swimming pool.

Overall, San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area have no shortage of haunted places and ghostly tales. Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, these locations are sure to send a chill down your spine.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some famous haunted places in San Francisco?

San Francisco is known for its haunted places, and some of the most famous ones include the Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park, the Winchester Mystery House, and the Queen Anne Hotel. These places have been the center of many ghost stories and paranormal activities, attracting visitors from all over the world.

Are there any ghost tours in San Francisco?

Yes, there are several ghost tours in San Francisco that take visitors to some of the most haunted places in the city. These tours are led by knowledgeable guides who share the history and stories behind each location. Some popular ghost tours include the San Francisco Ghost Hunt Walking Tour, the Haunted Haight Walking Tour, and the Alcatraz Night Tour.

What are the most haunted hotels in San Francisco?

San Francisco is home to several haunted hotels, and some of the most famous ones include the Queen Anne Hotel, the Westin St. Francis, and the Fairmont San Francisco. These hotels have been the site of many paranormal activities, including ghost sightings, unexplained noises, and strange occurrences.

Have there been any reported ghost sightings in Alcatraz?

Yes, there have been many reported ghost sightings in Alcatraz, the infamous former prison located on an island in San Francisco Bay. Visitors and staff have reported seeing apparitions, hearing unexplained noises, and feeling cold spots throughout the prison. Some of the most famous ghosts of Alcatraz include the “Birdman” and the “Man in the Hole.”

Are there any haunted cemeteries in San Francisco?

San Francisco does not have any cemeteries within its city limits, but there are several nearby that are said to be haunted. The most famous one is the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, which is home to the grave of Elizabeth Short, also known as the “Black Dahlia.” Other haunted cemeteries in the area include the Pioneer Cemetery in Colma and the Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma.

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