Surf, Sun, and Spirits in San Diego-Part 1
San Diego, California, the name itself conjures up images of surfers on the beach, sand between your toes, and margaritas in a glass. One doesn’t think about San Diego as a haunted hot spot where the intrepid para-traveler can spend their time doing all things ghostly, but San Diego and the paranormal go hand in hand. So much so, that I cannot fit it all into one blog but need to separate all the eerie fun into two. In this installment, we will concentrate on Old Town San Diego, the birthplace of California.
A stay in this wonderfully haunted area of San Diego offers everything the adventurous par-traveler needs without ever having to get back into your car once you arrive at your hotel. Old Town, and Old Town Village are a self-contained para-travelers dream. For starters, you have two haunted hotels to choose from. The Cosmopolitan Hotel in the center of Old Town’s historic district started out life as the Casa de Bandini in the early 1880s. Over the years, and after losing the home, the casa was sold many times until the State of California commissioned it to become the Cosmopolitan Hotel we can enjoy today. The hotel has had so many reports of ghost activity over the years that it is now considered to be one of the most haunted places in Old Town.
For those looking for a more modern hotel, the Best Western Hacienda, just behind the Whaley House, in Old Town Village is the place. Best Western has a reputation for clean rooms, attentive staff, and a pleasant night’s sleep. This Best Western however, also offers the para-traveler an opportunity to sleep with the many restless spirits wandering the village because their gravestones were removed but their earthly remains were not. This is just one of the tales that await you if you lay your head at this wonderful hotel.
There are many fine restaurants in Old Town to sate the ravenous para-traveler, but as the birth place of California, Mexican food is the most prominent. One of these, the Casa de Reyes, formerly the El Fandango, has been up-graded to a more “Bistro” style Mexican menu, but that doesn’t mean it has lost its original, old world charm…or old world ghosts. Heading into Old Town Village, Fred’s Mexican food, has great food, good cocktails and little girl ghost who likes to play tricks on the guests and staff. This is a wonderful place for lunch that should not be missed. Perhaps the most popular Mexican eatery in Old Town, the Café Coyote never disappoints. With a varied menu and the best chili rellenos in California, this marvelously haunted restaurant should be on every para-traveler’s to eat list. Situated in what is called the Old Town Esplanade, the patio of the Café Coyote is said to have a mysterious ghostly lady who walks among the diners, along with spirited children who scamper around the guests and will sometimes play harmless tricks. When you dine at the Café Coyote, consider the queso and chips appetizer, you won’t regret it.
As mentioned, Old Town San Diego has everything a para-traveler needs, a place to rest your head and great food, and also lots to do in both Old Town, and Old Town Village. Many people have heard about the Whaley House being designated by Congress as haunted, even though this designation is nothing more than urban legend the house is most definitely haunted. The house is now a museum open for tourists and the museum does not shy away from its haunted reputation. The docents are knowledgeable and will gladly answer your questions about the ghostly goings on. Just up the street from the Whaley House is the now tiny El Campo Santo Cemetery. I say now tiny, because the graveyard was much bigger…before progress shrank it dramatically. For a little scavenger hunt fun, while walking to the cemetery from your hotel, keep your eyes on the ground and in the street for small, brass markers that simply say, “grave site.” When you find one, pay your respects; you see, like the movie, “Poltergeist” when El Campo Santo shrank, they moved the headstones, but left the bodies. This is one of the main reasons that this area is so haunted today. Ask the shopkeepers and clerks about the many things that happen in Old Town Village.
Of course, Old Town square, where California began, has its fair share of spirits. If staying in the Cosmopolitan Hotel, all you need to do is walk out the door of your room, and in front of you is the Casa de Estudillo. The spirits at this home turned museum are numerous, so when touring, keep an eye out for one of the Estudillos and their live-in priest. Next door to the hotel, is the stable that once belonged to the original hotel owner, a man named Seeley. The stable, although not considered overly haunted, has over the years, thrilled the unsuspecting with an occurrence or two. For those desiring a good cigar or with other tobacco needs, Racine & Laramie fine tobacconists, is the place to shop. This store has some of the finest cigars and pipe tobaccos including most everything you might need for your smoking pleasure…but they also have two resident ghosts.
For those looking to find ladies apparel, the Johnson House is the place to look, just make sure those helping you are actually clerks, and not past home owners. Miners Gem’s is the place to go if you are looking for that one piece of nature’s wonders, both rare and common, don’t worry if what you are looking for is hard to find, one of the Estudillo daughters may be able to help you find what you are seeking. Just try not to be alarmed or stare when you realize she is transparent. For those looking for the perfect tourist keepsake, or a good ghost book, there is no better place than Captain Fitch’s Mercantile. This shop, set in Old Town’s first post office, has a wide variety of souvenirs, both upscale and the more economical and offers a great selection of books for every taste. If you are lucky, you may even meet the store’s namesake, Captain Fitch himself, or at least feel his presence.
Most people like having snacks to munch on when they return to their hotel rooms for the night, and we know the para-traveler is no different. What better to sate the munches than a bagful of candy, fudge, or a bag of licorice. If your sweet tooth gets the better of you, a stop at Cousin’s Candy Store is what you need. Here, you can find almost any type of candy or sweet that your heart desires. Be careful however, as there seems to be a ghost in the candy store who may have a bigger sweet tooth than any of the living who come into the store. After a long day of ghost exploring, what para-traveler can resist a cold refreshing cocktail or beer. If this is on your to do list, there is only one place to go…the Old Town Saloon. This neighborhood bar is directly across from the Whaley House and the bar’s owner Sal, says that Thomas Whaley is a frequent guest at the saloon, along with an untold number of other spirits who enjoy the ambiance and lively atmosphere. Not to mention the drinks.
As the para-traveler can see, Old Town San Diego is the perfect place to spend a haunted weekend of fun, food and haunts. With everything in walking distance, it is nice to be able to park your car, forget about gas prices and stroll along the haunted sidewalks and streets of Old Town Village, and walk the same streets as those who created California, while shopping and eating in Old Town Square. This is truly a para-traveler’s home away from home.