San Francisco is home to quite a few characters here in the realm of the living, but are you prepared to delve into the spiritual world? Whether or not you believe in ghosts, these haunted places in San Francisco are undeniably creepy and we can’t stop reading about their accompanying ghost stories. Over the years, many have reported cold chills, voices, shadowy figures, and unexplained noises… are you brave enough to see for yourself?
We’re getting the heebie jeebies already…
Alcatraz has long been considered one of the most haunted places in the country. Over the years, the rocky island has served as a fort, a military prison, a federal penitentiary, and now a museum. The prison was truly designed for inmates to suffer, as it housed the worst criminals of the time including Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly.
It’s said that the brutal conditions caused many spirits to be unable to move on, and they remain haunting the cell blocks to this day. Cell 14D is perhaps the most haunted part of the prison, as an inmate died there after screaming about a creature coming to attack him. People now report a bizarre coldness when they walk in.
2. Stow Lake
Golden Gate Park’s Stow Lake is a peaceful refuge for many people, but it’s also one of the most haunted places into the city thanks to the White Lady, who’s been spotted there for nearly a century. According to Golden Gate Park, a lady was once walking her baby in a stroller by the lake. She got distracted talking to another lady on a bench, and the stroller rolled away unnoticed. The lady then walked everywhere asking passersby, “Have you seen my baby?” before finally going into the lake to search.
She never came out, and to this day visitors report a lady in white emerging from the lake to ask, “Have you seen my baby?” There’s even a rumor that you can summon her by saying “White Lady, White Lady, I have your baby.” She’ll ask you the famous question, and if you say yes, she’ll haunt you. If you say no, she’ll kill you.
3. Sutro Baths
The Sutro Baths, once a famous public bathhouse from the 1890s, are rumored to be haunted as a result of the historical relics that were once on display there. Adolph Sutro reportedly collected sculptures, paintings, and other artifacts from around the world – most notably, mummies with their original sarcophagi. Both the nearby Cliff House and the Baths suffered several fires, which some believe to be a result of this collection. Generations of visitors have reported some of the old patrons walking around in old-fashioned swimming attire, as well as disembodied laughter and faint voices.
The tunnel underneath the Sutro Baths, built to pump seawater into the pools, has rumors of both a fearsome creature and human sacrifices by Satanists. Claw marks have appeared on the walls of the tunnel over the years, and rumor has it that if you light a candle at the end of the tunnel, someone will come and toss it into the water.
4. Queen Anne Hotel
This Victorian hotel in San Francisco is said to be haunted by the kind ghost of Mary Lake, who once ran an all-girls boarding school there. Her presence has especially been felt in Room 410, which was her old office. Many guests have seen her as a white figure, or felt a cold presence in the room with them. It’s said that she will even tuck their feet in at night. Even if you don’t stay in that room, be on the alert for cold chills in the hallways and mysterious reflections in the hotel’s mirrors.
5. SF Art Institute
Update: SFAI closed permanently in July 2022.
The SF Art Institute is one of the nation’s oldest art schools, dating back to 1871. It’s rumored to be constructed on the site of a Gold Rush cemetery, and the remaining spirits are said to be a restless bunch. Construction workers have reported tools being moved or misplaced while they were renovating the tower; and students and faculty have heard voices, footsteps, screams, and even seen visions of ghostly figures walking around at odd hours.
6. Curran Theatre
The Curran Theatre is said to be haunted by the ghost of Hewlett Tarr, who worked at the theater’s box office. In 1933, just a few weeks before he was due to be married, Tarr was shot and killed by a bandit named Eddie Anderson, who was holding up businesses around the city. He claimed to have pulled the trigger on accident, but a jury found him guilty in less than 7 hours (the quickest on record in SF) and he was sentenced to hang at San Quentin.
The ghost of Tarr is said to still “work” at the Curran, and visitors have reported hearing bizarre sounds and seeing his reflection in the lobby mirrors. The Curran reports that he is a friendly ghost who only gets worked up when people forget to turn off their cell phones during performances.
7. Neptune Society Columbarium
This stunning columbarium is one of San Francisco’s few remnants of the 19th century, and one of the few places where San Franciscans remain interred within city limits. At the beginning of the 1900s, the city relocated nearly all of its cemeteries to nearby Colma, in order to free up real estate. This historic building was one of the few relics left behind, and it existed for decades abandoned and vandalized until it was cleaned up by the current caretaker Emmitt Watson.
Of course, it’s wildly rumored to be haunted. One woman a who felt an icy touch on her back later discovered a white handprint on her shirt. The caretaker himself and several security guards have witnessed the ghost of a little girl in 19th-century clothing wandering the circular walkways. Visitors sometimes report a child giggling or the touch of a small hand.
8. City Hall
City Hall is no stranger to paranormal activity, which is no surprise if you look at its history. The original building was established on land of the Yerba Buena Cemetery, and then destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire. One of the city’s most tragic events occurred in 1978, when conservative former supervisor Dan White assassinated Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, who was the city’s first gay supervisor.
Since then, people have reported seeing the ghosts of these men at City Hall. There was also rumored to be an unexplained knocking sound in 1924. Employees heard five knocks, followed by three knocks, coming from the walls at exactly the same hour every day. The source of the tapping was never explained.
The Presidio is one of San Francisco’s famous parks, located on a former military post. The city of San Francisco began from this point in 1776 when Spain established a military fort there on Ohlone land. Many parts of the Presidio are reported to be haunted, including the old army hospital, the pet cemetery, and the visitor center.
Visitors have seen the ghosts of Native Americans, army men in their uniforms, hospital patients, military guards on duty, and more. The site of the army hospital is now the Letterman Digital Arts Center, and employees have reported mysterious cold spots around the building. A Muni bus driver once reported picking up a fully uniformed army man on a late-night shift, who seemed to disappear into thin air when he looked in the rearview mirror.
10. Haskell House
The historic Haskell House at Fort Mason has housed many military captains since it was first built in the 1850s. Arguably its most famous story is that of “the last duel in California,” wherein abolitionist Senator David C. Broderick dueled pro-slavery California politician David S. Terry.
Terry had recently lost the reelection for CA Supreme Court Justice and blamed Broderick for orchestrating the defeat. Their subsequent fight led to a duel on Lake Merced, where Broderick’s pistol went off too soon, leaving Terry to take easy aim. Terry fatally wounded Broderick with a shot to the lung, and Broderick was taken back to the home of his friend Leonidas Haskell where he eventually died 3 days later. Broderick was hailed as a martyr of the anti-slavery movement.
Over the subsequent decades, the Haskell House has been the sight of multiple reported hauntings. Colonel Cecil Puckett said that he felt like someone was following or watching him while he lived there in the 1970s, and Capt. Everett Jones reported pictures falling off of the walls. You can learn more in this article by FoundSF.
11. Mission Dolores Cemetery
The old Mission San Francisco de Asís, AKA Mission Dolores, was founded in 1776 around when Spain established a military fort on Ohlone land. The Mission’s accompanying cemetery is the resting place of around 5,000 Ohlone and Miwok people who built Mission Dolores, and are commemorated with a replica Ohlone hut in the cemetery.
The cemetery originally extended all the way to Church Street but was cut down to its current size due to city infrastructure development including road construction. Much of the burial area was turned into today’s park and playground space and thousands of graves were relocated to nearby Colma. According to Only In Your State, the desecration of these burial sites is responsible for high levels of paranormal activity in the area.
Bonus: Winchester Mystery House
Yes, yes, we know this is in San Jose and not San Francisco, but we couldn’t help including one of the country’s most famous haunted mansions! Heiress Sarah Winchester was said to be haunted by the victims killed with Winchester rifles. She renovated the house for decades, turning it into a 24,000 square-foot maze with countless rooms, staircases, and dead ends. The house has been investigated by many paranormal experts over the years, including Harry Houdini, Sylvia Brown, Unsolved Mysteries, Ghost Adventures, and more. Visitors and employees often report strange occurrences including unexplained footsteps and disembodied voices, especially in the third-floor servants’ quarters.