13 frightening things to do around San Francisco for Halloween

So where can a Halloween-loving, fright-seeker find places and events to whet their appetite, and perhaps even their pants?  Follow this ghoulish top 13 list for the very best of the Bay Area’s frights. Photo: Winchester Mystery House, Fright Nights.

SAN FRANCISCO, October 23, 2012 – Halloween is nearly upon us; the frightfully fun holiday that allows people to tap into their inner freak and put it on display for everyone to witness without judgment. 

San Francisco is full of rich history and tragedy.  These gems add up to some downright creepy places that are rumored to be haunted and open for business. 

So where can a Halloween-loving, fright-seeker find places and events to whet their appetite, and perhaps even their pants?  Follow this ghoulish top 13 list for the very best of the Bay Area’s frights.

Winchester Mystery House, San Jose. Image: Winchester

1. Winchester Mystery House

Be prepared to be scared stiff at the Winchester Mystery House this Halloween. Begin with a flashlight self-guided tour through the mysterious house that Sarah built.  This bizarre 160-room house is the product of crazed Sarah Winchester, who built the house to appease the ghosts of those that her late husband William Winchester’s gun company’s weapons killed over the years. 

This house holds such unexplained architectural oddities as a staircase that descends seven steps and then rises eleven. There are miles of twisting hallways, secret passageways and doors that go nowhere.  Sarah herself died in this house in her bed on September 5, 1922, and is still rumored to walk the halls of her unfinished maze of a house. Zombies, ghosts and other assorted spirits of the night are in the house to surprise you as you tip-toe through the house, unsure of what awaits you around the next corner.

Once you finish the house tour, head to the haunted maze, where portions of the house, graveyard and garden have been transformed into a gateway between this world and hell.  Actors expertly portray ghastly scenes of the undead, and frighten you out of your skin as you wind through this maze of horror, pushing you to want to run for your life.  Fright Nights are available nightly through November 3rd. 

San Francisco - Alcatraz Island at Sunset

2. Alcatraz

This historic prison and San Francisco icon is well known to be haunted by spirits of past prisoners and would-be escapees.  Ghostly hotspots include the solitary confinement cells (supposedly the most haunted) and the utility passageway of Cell Block C, where a bloody uprising took place in 1946. 

On your tour, be sure to step inside one of the solitary cells and close the door to be alone. Try taking the night tour to elevate the spooky feeling, as well as the hair on the back of your neck.  Book well in advance, these tours “cell” out.

3. Blind Scream – Santa Rosa

At this house of horrors, their theme is “scream if you can.”  This fright fest is sure to get the blood pumping as you wander through your worst waking nightmares in the House of Zombies.  Blind Scream also features a claustrophobic nightmare called The Last Ride, where you lie down in a casket and get “buried alive.”  Neither is recommended for young children.  Want a sneak peak? Check out this video, sure to get a few goose bumps started.

4. California’s Great America – Halloween Haunt

Every October this theme park gets overrun by spirits of the night as your worst dreams become reality.  This haunt features more than 500 ghouls, seven spine-tingling mazes, three official scare zones, lives stages, and of course the rides.  This is not recommended for anyone under 13 years old. Open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night through October 28.

Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley. Image: Jim Sullivan

5. Castillo di Amorosa Winery, Napa – Pagan Ball

Visit “The Castle” in Napa Valley that is 20-years in the making, and you will be transported back to medieval Italy.  The castle hosts an event called The Pagan Ball housed in the 121,000 square foot, 107 room, 5-level castle, and even has its own underground torture chamber with an authentic “iron maiden” torture device.  October 27, 8pm – midnight.

6.  Cameron House

Located in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Cameron House was once owned by Lady Cameron who used the basement as refuge for Chinese immigrants from prostitution and slavery.  She sealed the doors of the basement to hide and protect the immigrants.  Rumors spread throughout the city of her actions and the house was mysteriously burned down, killing everyone inside. 

Keep a look-out for old photo albums in the house.  It is said that in a few of them, white figures are seen in the background and are mixed in with the regular photos.  Tours take place on Fridays from 11am – 12 noon.

7.  Dr. Evil’s House of Horrors – Guerneville, Sonoma

Dr. Evil’s is a throwback to what haunted houses were like in the 1970s and 1980s: a little rough around the edges, with a feeling like you just might get hurt a little bit while being scared stiff.  

No need to worry about being hurt, but you will be absolutely frightened as you creep through their maze of horror.  Read for yourself in this review on Haunted Bay. Every Friday and Saturday in October, sundown to 11pm, 12 and older.

Golden Gate Park, Stow Lake, San Francisco. Image: S. Perkovich

8.  Golden Gate Park – San Francisco

On a casual stroll through Golden Gate Park, one wouldn’t have any reason to believe that it is haunted.  But upon closer inspection, you will discover there are a few spirits lingering about. 

First up: Strawberry Hill atop Stow Lake.  It is said that in the 1920s a pregnant woman, wanting to hide her pregnancy from her family, went to Strawberry Hill and disposed of her child and then killed herself in the reservoir. 

In the late hours, you may just see her walking around looking for her baby.

The other famous Park ghost story involves a police officer that roams the park, pulling over speeders and handing out tickets.  Only he doesn’t exist, or at least he hasn’t for some time.  The legend says that if you are being followed by a police car, go outside the Park to pull over and the car will disappear.

9.  Queen Anne Hotel – San Francisco

From the outside this elegant Victorian hotel appears to be exceptionally charming.  Inside, however, brave visitors and guests experience a true supernatural adventure. Back in the late 1800s, the hotel was the Mary Lake School for Girls. 

If you are feeling particularly brave spend a night in the Queen Anne and request Miss Mary Lake’s room.

The Headmistress was devastated when the school closed, and her spirit is said to lurk in the hallways and “hang out” in her old office.  Guests have reported cold spots, apparitions and very motherly acts such as the feeling of being tucked in at night.

Queen Anne Hotel, San Francisco. Image: Foottracker\

10.  San Francisco Art Institute

For 140 years, the Art Institute has been the home of budding artists from around the world seeking inspiration and education.  This building was constructed following the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, and on the site of a cemetery containing remains of people that perished in that disaster. 

It is said that several restless spirits reside in the tower and make their presence known.

11.  San Francisco Ghost Hunt

This walking tour visits San Francisco’s most notorious historic haunted places. Be prepared to hear thrilling ghost stories based on actual San Francisco events.  This tour will take you about three hours to complete and kicks off at the haunted Queen Anne Hotel.  Five nights a week at 7pm.  Not recommended for children under 8. 

Sutro Bath Ruins, SF. Tunnel center right. Image copyright: ana_lee_smith

12.  Sutro Bath Ruins – San Francisco

In the far western part of the city lies the Sutro Bath Ruins (named after its builder, Adolph Sutro).  Once a thriving pubic swim house, these baths have quite a history.  They opened in 1896 and Mr. Sutro died two years after the baths opened.  A fire was the ultimate demise of the baths. 

Sutro Bath Ruins, San Francisco. Image: Sam Dosick

Sutro Bath Ruins, San Francisco. Image: Sam Dosick

Amongst the ruins there is a tunnel that used to be part of the pump house. 

It is said that many people have been sacrificed at the end of this tunnel, and if you go at night and light a candle at the end of this tunnel, “someone” will pick it up and throw it into the water.

13.  USS Hornet – Alameda

The USS Hornet has the distinction of being called the most haunted ship in history.  The Hornet was commissioned in 1943 and in her 27 years of service, over 300 people lost their lives aboard, the majority claimed during combat. 

Only second were the number of suicides (the Hornet has the highest suicide rate of any ship in the Navy). 

Crew and visitors both have reported an inexplicable number of strange haunted incidents, sightings, sounds like doors opening and closing on their own, and voices heard.  But there are other less expected things, such as objects moving across the floor, ghost sailors moving about the ship as if they are carrying out orders, and feelings of being pushed or grabbed when no one is around. 

Ship of Spirits event: Friday October 26th, 7pm – midnight.  Hear real Hornet ghost stories followed by a paranormal investigation tour.  Limited to 100 guests, so book early.  Monster’s Ball: Saturday, October 27th, 7:30pm – 1:00 am.

USS Hornet, Alameda. Image: USS Hornet

Columnist Sherrie Perkovich offers an insider’s perspective of the very best San Francisco has to offer. Join her weekly to experience the best the City by the Bay has to offer - from parties to parks and everything in between. 

Sherrie is a San Francisco local that fancies herself an extroverted fine dining, wine drinking, know-it-all.  If it’s happening in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sherrie is in on it.  Follow her column, for the widest range of Out and About San Francisco treats.  

Read more of Sherrie’s work at Out And About San Francisco in the Communities at the Washington Times.  Follow Out and About on Twitter and on Facebook for even more inside scoop.  Follow her on Pinterest to follow the visual story.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Sherrie Perkovich

Sherrie is a perky, music and wine-loving, Northern California local that seeks out and spreads the word about San Francisco experiences as well as unforgettable wine-related travel experiences.  She is CMO of The Grape Hunter USA, where they focus on helping artisan wineries and developing unique wine travel for consumers. Follow her on Twitter @BigNoseWino

Sherrie is a San Francisco local that fancies herself an extroverted fine dining, wine drinking, know-it-all.  If it’s happening near SF, Sherrie is in on it.  Follow her columns,  for the widest range of Out and About San Francisco ~ San Jose treats and Wine Country Weekly.  


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