It makes sense that the most haunted hotels in San Diego are also among our most historic. Reports of paranormal activity stem from the decades of guest (or ghost) stories in each place.
Some are well-documented by the hotels themselves, while others are retold legends. Here, I’ll list the five most famous spooky places to check in and how to book them if you dare.
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1. Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton
The most iconic hotel in San Diego, the Hotel del Coronado, is beloved by U.S. presidents and Hollywood stars (Some Like it Hot featuring Marilyn Monroe was partially filmed here) and home to San Diego’s most famous hotel haunting and resident ghost.
On Thanksgiving Day back in 1892, a 24-year-old young woman named Kate Morgan checked in alone, saying that she was waiting for a gentleman to join her. Tragically, the mystery man never arrived. Five days later, she was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. At first, even her identity was a mystery. So, she came to be referred to as the “beautiful stranger.”
She was later identified as Kate Morgan, a young married woman who worked as a housemaid for a wealthy family in Los Angeles but who was estranged from her husband. She traveled from Los Angeles by train, and it was later revealed and argued on the train with a man who left her en route. It is said she arrived very sad and sick-looking.
Since her death, the hotel has periodically experienced strange occurrences of the sort similar to what happened in the 1980s movie Poltergeist, like flickering lights, a TV turning on and off, sudden temperature changes, doors opening and closing on their own, and sudden breezes, to name a few.
Most of these paranormal events have been centered around the 3rd floor guestroom, where Kate Morgan originally stayed back in 1892. But the hotel’s hallways, and even its gift shop, which itself dates to 1882, have experienced these phenomena as well from time to time.
A book “Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel del Coronado,” has also been published on the subject and is available for purchase in the hotel’s haunted gift shop. There is even a night-time ‘Haunted Happenings’ tour of Hotel del Coronado, focused on this Kate Morgan story.
Paranormal activity aside, this Coronado Island hotel is featured on many of my best San Diego hotel lists, including top beachfront San Diego hotels, because it’s fantastic and very popular with families. Don’t worry, I’ve stayed here many times and have never seen her. You can request the haunted room, but it isn’t guaranteed. If you’re wondering, we’ve been told by staff that it’s room 3327.
2. Cosmopolitan Hotel
The Cosmopolitan Hotel is located in Old Town San Diego, considered the birthplace of California. The original structure dates back to 1827. Fittingly, given its age, the hotel reportedly has multiple hauntings, including the Lady in Red, a mysterious woman said to be waiting for a “gentleman” in room 4/5. (Sound familiar?)
Another haunting is the ghost of Ysidora Bandini, daughter of Juan Lorenzo Bandini, in Room 11. The rumor that Ysidora died by falling off a balcony in front of Room 11 is apparently false, though, as the building did not have a second story at the time of her death.
Some even say that the ghost of a cat also haunts the property. The paranormal activities in the Cosmopolitan Hotel were featured on an episode of the TV show “Ghost Adventures” in 2011.
This haunted hotel in San Diego details its extensive history in greater depth and mentions in passing the ghost of Ysidora and the Lady in Red as well. The Whaley House Museum, one of the most haunted houses in the nation, is a short walk away.
Despite its ghosts, the Cosmopolitan Hotel is excellent for those who gravitate toward historic hotels. It’s not fancy, but you’ll feel a little bit like you’re back in the early days of California.
3. Grande Colonial La Jolla
For generations, the word around La Jolla was that the Grande Colonial, originally built in 1913 and then completely re-built in 1925, was haunted. Unlike Kate Morgan at The Del, or the Lady in Red at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, the string of unexplained paranormal events that have occurred at the hotel over the years are not linked to a single ghost or event and are not linked to gruesome rumors of murder or suicide.
Examples of the very disparate, harmless phenomena that form the basis for the haunting rumors include mysterious telephone calls to the front desk from one particular hotel room when unoccupied.
This room happened to be popular with Hollywood actors performing at the La Jolla Playhouse in the late 1940s who wanted to keep private happenings a secret. It’s thought that maybe they’re the ones behind the antics. There have also been brief glimpses of a couple dressed in formal attire and even sightings by a young boy of a group of miniature Abraham Lincolns.
The ghosts at this San Diego haunted hotel were really unhappy when the onsite NINE-TEN restaurant (one of La Jolla’s best restaurants) was remodeled. They allegedly fussed with the stoves and even moved items around.
The La Jolla hotel chronicles these odd occurrences in “Ghost Stories.” I love this hotel and its restaurant. The location on Prospect Street is excellent. It’s just a few steps away from the Children’s Pool and my other favorite (wait for it) haunts in La Jolla.
4. Horton Grand Hotel
The Horton Grand Hotel was built, well, actually reconstructed, in 1986. In the 1970s, two aging downtown hotels, the Horton Grand and the Brooklyn-Kahle Saddlery Hotel were scheduled to be demolished. Instead, they were dismantled systematically and the pieces were kept. In 1986, the current Horton Grand Hotel was rebuilt on a different but nearby downtown site from their combined parts.
Because of its long history and the Victorian charm of the building and furnishings, it is perhaps not surprising that the hotel is reputed to be haunted.
By far, the most famous haunting is in room 309. The story goes that, back in the 1800s, a gambler named Roger Whitaker fled some of his creditors and ran back to his room at the original Horton Grand to hide from them. (Presumably, this would have been the very late 1800s, because the hotel was built in 1887.) Unfortunately for him, he was found (allegedly curled inside the armoire) and was shot and killed, ingloriously, still stuck in the furniture.
As a result, today, in room 309 of the new, relocated hotel, some guests experience odd occurrences, like lights flickering and the armoire doors opening on their own, which some attribute to a haunting linked to Roger Whitaker.
A lesser-known haunting at the hotel goes like this. Because the current Horton Grand Hotel was rebuilt in 1986 on the site of what had long ago been a brothel, some guests have experienced manifestations of a haunting by the brothel’s Madame, Ida Bailey, in the form of a white mist, a brief chill, or even a fleeting warm and friendly feeling.
5. THE US GRANT, a Luxury Collection Hotel, San Diego
Opened over 100 years ago in 1910, THE US GRANT hotel was built by Ulysses S. Grant Jr., the son of the former U.S. president and Civil War hero, and his wife, Fannie Chaffee Grant. Fannie died less than a year after the hotel opened and, as the story goes, her ghost became unhappy when her widower husband re-married just a few months thereafter.
Her ghost apparently began haunting the hotel immediately after the wedding, with guests periodically reporting the apparition of a woman dressed in an old-fashioned white dress haunting the halls.
Is it a coincidence, one might ask, that a spurned woman is alleged to be the ghost haunting the Hotel del Coronado (Kate Morgan), the Cosmopolitan (the Lady in Red), and THE US GRANT (Fannie Chaffee Grant)?
Over the years, other mysterious happenings have been reported at the hotel, including a man sometimes appearing briefly at the foot of a guest’s bed in rooms on the 5th floor, lights flickering throughout the hotel, and even items disappearing immediately after someone sets them down in the ballroom.
THE US GRANT is one of my favorite downtown San Diego hotels and hotels near San Diego Zoo. I love the contemporary art in the rooms that creates a neat mix of old and new. It’s also walkable to a lot of fantastic sights, and many power meetings occur at The Grant Grill.
I’ve visited all five of these haunted hotels in San Diego, California, over the years and have stayed overnight in three. My stays were lovely and undisturbed by ghosts (to the best of my knowledge).