Where the Spooky Things Are: A Tour of Mysterious Places in the Bay Area

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Photo: Julie Markee, via Flickr

While the Bay Area has always had a reputation for being counter-cultural, it’s a lesser known fact that the region is also home to many supernatural and metaphysical anomalies sure to make even the bravest Ghostbuster nervously clutch a proton pack. Here are a few locations to help you begin a tour of the Bay Area’s spooky side:

Photo: San Jose Library, via Flickr
Photo: San Jose Library, via Flickr

Winchester Mystery House - San Jose, CA:

160 rooms; 100,000 windows; stairs and doors that lead to nowhere; an overabundance of the number 13 (especially in the remaining 13 bathrooms); and a Séance Room – that’s the Winchester Mystery House.  Sarah Winchester, the widow who inherited the vast Winchester rifle fortune, believed she was haunted by the spirits of those who had been killed by the family weapon.  After a particularly powerful session with a medium, Mrs. Winchester decided to leave her home on the East Coast, move out West, and continuously build a mansion for the rest of her life to keep the ghosts at bay, starting in 1884.

For nearly 38 years, the intricate Winchester Mystery House was continuously built and added to – often in a very haphazard fashion, bolstered by the whims of the quirky owner, who daily announced new plans (all without architectural drawings) to her patient foreman, John Hansen, based on her séance from the night before.

After extensive damage in the 1906 earthquake, the ongoing restoration work has proven to be intensive because everything must be specially tailored to a house built without any square corners.  Of course, while the late Victorian mansion and grounds are spectacular from a design standpoint -- her ballroom alone cost more than $9,000 -- the “spirit house,” visited by such luminaries as Harry Houdini, still isn’t free from ghosts.  While many investigators (including the Mythbusters) have recorded their findings, the public is asked to make up their own minds …especially during the particularly spooky Friday the 13th flashlight tours!

Photo: Wiki Commons
Photo: Wiki Commons

Mystery Spot – Santa Cruz, CA:


This tiny spot in Santa Cruz would surely leave even the brilliant Sir Isaac Newton, famous for his gravitational equations, scratching his head.  Since 1940, the Mystery Spot, a gravitational anomaly located just 10 minutes away from the beautiful beaches and redwood forests of Santa Cruz, has puzzled millions of visitors from around the world. While the area itself is not large (150 feet in diameter), the way the spot defies the laws of physics and gravity certainly is!

There are various theories as to why balls and water roll upwards on a level plane, why people can stand comfortably on the walls, and why height seems to be relative here. Some believe that carbon dioxide is permeating from the earth, that there’s an undiscovered hole in the ozone layer or a magma vortex or the highest dielectric biocosmic radiation known anywhere in the world.

Of course, there are more mysterious explanations like radiesthesia (the power of connecting to your subconscious to see new knowledge) or the belief of some visitors who posit that metal cones were buried here as guidance systems for a mysterious spacecraft – or that the spacecraft itself is already buried deep below the surface. No matter what you believe, the 45 minute tour of the area will have visitors question everything they once knew about the way the world works.

Photo: Michael Morgan, via Flickr
Photo: Michael Morgan, via Flickr

Sam’s Castle – Pacifica, CA:

There’s probably never been a dull day in Sam’s Castle.  Originally built in 1908 by the grandfather of former Congressman Pete McCloskey, the large four-story, 24 room Gothic manse (based on a similar castle in Scotland) has been home to an abortion clinic, speakeasy, brothel, party palace, an elegant old San Francisco family, Coast Guard outpost, and -- if legend is correct -- legions of ghostly visitors from the Castle’s past.

Unlike Sarah Winchester’s home to the South, Sam’s Castle was not built to appease ghosts.  Instead, the original owner, Henry Harrison McCloskey was reportedly deeply spooked by the 1906 earthquake.  He wanted a house that could withstand any natural disaster and so the castle was built based on the highest building standards at the time: concrete blocks, extra-strong foundation and steel reinforcements in all corners.

After McCloskey’s death in 1916, the adventurous years began.  First, identity thief and amateur doctor Galen Hickok and his son Max used the castle to perform illegal abortions until they were both sent separately to San Quentin.  In the 1920s, a Montana miner named M.L. Hewitt stowed away Canadian whiskey -- and ladies of ill repute -- in the home now called “Chateau LaFayette” during Prohibition.  World War II saw a church-going couple – the Eakins – lease the house to the Coast Guard who trashed it. (After the war and the death of her husband, Annie Eakin returned to the castle where she reportedly lived with at least 20 cats).

After years of disrepair, the final private owner, Sam Mazza (the castle’s namesake) bought the property in 1959 for just $29,000.  Mazza, a San Francisco painting contractor with a flair for collecting theatrical souvenirs from his gigs, never lived in the castle but threw elaborate parties there for almost 50 years until his death in 2002. Now run by a private foundation, the Pacifica Historical Society hosts several events at the castle, at which visitors might meet more than a few spirits of former Castle residents.