Certain California hotels are famous not only for their rich history and stunning architecture, but also for the spirits thought to be lurking in the rooms, hallways, or lobby bar. Some of these ghost stories harken back to the Gold Rush era while others hail from Hollywood’s Golden Age or local lore. Happily, most hotel ghosts seem fairly hospitable: Stories abound of their unpacking bags, tucking guests into bed, or, at worst, sneaking up behind folks in the bathroom mirror. Whether you’re a ghost hunter or a skeptic, stay at these hotels, listed north to south, to see for yourself.
Holbrooke Hotel, Grass Valley
This 1862 boutique hotel in Nevada County has hosted Mark Twain, presidents (such as Ulysses S. Grant and Grover Cleveland), and Old West outlaw Black Bart. Some folks think that Bart’s spirit inhabits the Grass Valley hotel room named after him, while others have noted that Room 9 houses a ghostly woman who unpacks your bag. Either way, the California State Landmark offers an elegant stay with exposed brick walls and a speakeasy-style bar called The Iron Door.
Cary House, Placerville
This historic hotel on Placerville’s Main Street was a hub of activity during the Gold Rush years and over the next century hosted luminaries ranging from Levi Strauss to Elvis Presley. Today’s guests claim to see and hear odd things, such as phantom piano music and the ghost of Stan, a former front desk clerk who met his end after insulting a guest. Ask for rooms 208 or 406 for the highest odds of an appearance, or just hang out in the lobby. Other hotels and buildings in El Dorado County have their own ghost-rich reputations, which you can explore on the Haunted Hangtown tour.
Delta King Riverboat Hotel, Sacramento
Get a room with a 19th-century view when you stay on this docked paddlewheel riverboat, which looks out over Old Sacramento. Before it became a hotel and theater, the 1927 boat shuttled goods between San Francisco and Sacramento, and was a transport boat during World War II. You may also get a glimpse of the ghost of the boat's former captain, who’s rumored to have been seen in the theater balcony or walking the decks.
Napa River Inn, Napa
This member of the Historic Hotels of America is housed within a former mill building, which used to support Napa Valley’s burgeoning wine industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hotel guests have reported weird sounds, along with self-emptying wine glasses, in some rooms on the second floor. The culprits are rumored to be the departed family members of the mill owner, one of whom died in the mill. Seek them out while getting your breakfast or a treat: One hot spot seems to be near the hotel building’s Sweetie Pies Bakery.
National Hotel, Jamestown
Legend has it that a broken-hearted young girl named Flora roams the halls of this hotel that opened in 1859 in downtown Jamestown. If you notice anything unusual—weird sounds, flickering lights, items that have moved—note them in the journal placed in your room, or just read what other guests have encountered. Other Tuolumne County hotels with their own haunted histories include the City Hotel within the Columbia State Historic Park (ask for Room One, but watch out for Elizabeth) and the Groveland Hotel, near Yosemite National Park, where Room 15 seems to be occupied by a ghost named Lyle.
Hotel Union Square, San Francisco
This 131-room hotel off Union Square offers convenient access to San Francisco shops, restaurants, and the Theater District. Its resident ghost may have her own theater connection too: Some people believe the ghost in room 207 is Lillian Hellman, who wrote The Little Foxes and reportedly conducted a years-long affair at the hotel with The Maltese Falcon’s Dashiell Hammett. Whoever she is, the ghost tends to move stuff around the room, while another suspected ghost, a young woman who died by suicide, is said to wander the halls and parking lot outside. Ghosts or not, you can also stay in the hotel’s Dashiell Hammett suite, stocked with his books.
Queen Anne Hotel, San Francisco
This hotel housed in a former girls’ school boasts a picture-perfect setting near the famed Victorian homes known as the Painted Ladies. The hotel is also famous for its purported ghost, Miss Mary Lake, the former headmistress who now supposedly unpacks bags and tucks in guests in room 410. The inn exudes Victorian charm through its antiques, chandeliers, and afternoon tea or sherry in the parlor.
The Ahwahnee, Yosemite National Park
The grand 1927 lodge in Yosemite National Park has two ghost stories associated with it. One specter is the former hotel manager who supposedly still tidies up and folds guests’ clothes on the hotel’s sixth floor. Other stories persist about a reappearing rocking chair on the third floor, where President Kennedy requested a rocker for his aching back during a stay in 1962. Creepy fun fact: Much of the hotel interiors, including the elevator lobby, may have provided inspiration for sets used in The Shining.
Santa Maria Inn, Santa Maria
The 164-room inn in San Luis Obispo County has attracted a long list of Hollywood guests since it opened in 1917, including Charlie Chaplin, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope. According to legend, one A-lister has decided to stay: silent film star Rudolph Valentino. Ghost hunters feel he is still lingering around the Santa Maria Valley inn, but he’s not rumored to be hiding out in rooms. Instead, the best place to sense his presence is supposedly the inn’s Olde English Tap Room.
Glen Tavern Inn, Santa Paula
Stay at this 1911 hotel located in the Heritage Valley region to experience Old West charm and perhaps a few holdovers from the early days. During Prohibition, the third floor housed a speakeasy, a gambling room, and perhaps even a brothel. Room 308 seems to be the prime hot zone of paranormal activity, thanks to a cowboy named Calvin who, legend has it, got shot after cheating at cards. Room 307, meanwhile, may be haunted by a lady of the night named Rose. The Ventura County hotel is also a short walk from the shops, restaurants, and murals in the Santa Paula Historic District.
Chateau Marmont, West Hollywood
In 1982, John Belushi died in Bungalow 3 of this West Hollywood hotel that’s known for celebrity regulars. Over the years, many people have claimed that they’ve seen his ghost, along with the ghost of photographer Helmut Newton, who died in a crash outside the hotel in 2004. Today the hotel is a stop on the L.A. Ghost Tour, and is always a prime spot to see living celebrities.
The Hollywood Roosevelt, Los Angeles
As the location for the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, this grand Los Angeles hotel is steeped in Hollywood history. Its rumored ghost is a legend, too: Marilyn Monroe lived temporarily in room 1200 early in her career, and there have been stories of seeing her face appear in the bathroom mirror. Some folks have also claimed to see Montgomery Clift in room 928, where he stayed during the filming of From Here to Eternity.
Mission Inn, Riverside
Located in downtown Riverside, this Mission Revival hotel with towers, domes, and flying buttresses exudes plenty of mysterious charm. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that there have been accounts of ghosts, phantom voices, or eerie apparitions appearing in hallways or in the rooms known as Frank Miller’s Room and Alice Miller’s Room, named after the brother and sister who owned the hotel for years. To learn more about the Mission Inn’s fascinating history, take the hotel tour.
The Queen Mary, Long Beach
Permanently docked in Long Beach, this 1936 passenger ship that features a 347-room hotel has entertained so many ghosts over the years that there are a few different tours dedicated to them. Choose from the Haunted Happenings tour, the Paranormal Ship Walk, and Dining with Spirits, where you can learn about the lady in white, an engineer, and various children lurking about the ship. (Ed. note: As of press time, the Queen Mary is closed for repairs, and may open by early 2023.)
Hotel del Coronado, Coronado
This 1888 hotel on San Diego’s Coronado Island is forever associated with Marilyn Monroe, since much of the movie Some Like It Hot was filmed here. Today’s guests, however, tend to talk more about Kate Morgan, a young woman who checked into room 3327 in 1892 and died the next day—a gunshot wound that was either murder or suicide. Rumors of her ghostly pranks have persisted for decades—turning on and off the TV, generating breezes from nowhere, or even heading to the gift shop and knocking Marilyn merch off the shelves. Take one of the hotel’s Haunted Happenings tours to learn more about her and other ghost stories that involve the resort.