An icon in Old Town San Diego and nationwide for ghost hunters, the Whaley House Museum is a popular addition to many San Diego itineraries. This Greek revival-style home is an official California Historic Landmark, a museum, and a paranormal hotspot.
The house was built in 1857 by Thomas Whaley, and it was the site of several tragedies that have led to its haunted reputation.
The home opened to the public in 1960 as a museum and has had a live-in caretaker since 2007. Several tours and tickets are available, including self-guided daytime tours, guided evening tours, and even an after-hours paranormal investigation tour.
Quick History and Who Haunts the Whaley House
Thomas Whaley, the original builder and owner of the home, was a New York City native that relocated to California hoping to capitalize on business opportunities due to the gold rush.
Upon its completion in 1857, it became known as the finest house in Southern California, built with bricks made on the Whaley property. Whaley House hosted San Diego’s first commercial theater, a county courthouse, and a bilingual general store.
Many believe that ghosts haunt the Whaley House. In 1858, baby Thomas Whaley Jr. died of scarlet fever in the house, and it is believed that his ghost still haunts the property.
Additionally, in 1885, the Whaleys’ daughter Violet died by suicide on the house’s second floor. Her ghost is also said to roam the premises still.
However, the most significant death associated with the Whaley House is the execution of James Robinson, a convicted thief, who was hanged in 1852 on the property.
The Whaley family home was built on the same spot where the gallows once stood. Visitors to the house have reported seeing Robinson’s ghost lurking in the hallways, or feeling his presence around the site where he was executed.
Whaley House Visit Highlights
Here are some highlights of the historic Whaley House:
- Original Antiques and Furniture: The Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) has worked hard to restore many aspects of the home to capture the feel of the mid to late 1800s. There are pieces on display that are original to the Whaley House.
- Lively Tour Guides Make for an Entertaining Experience: Many visitors remark that their tour guide was their favorite part of the experience. They are knowledgeable, and these tour guides do their best to get into character to deliver a funny and unforgettable experience.
- Paranormal Investigation Tour: This guided tour takes place after hours. On this tour, you are shown rooms not accessible to the general public during normal business hours. You’re also supplied with ghost hunting and monitoring equipment.
- Excellent Location for Shopping and Eating: Old Town is a popular destination for tourists and locals. Peek inside artisan shops, enjoy world-class food, and experience live music and a lively vibe, all within walking distance of the Whaley House.
- Historical Significance: The Whaley family is often called “The Pioneer Family of San Diego.” The Whaley family was integral in bolstering San Diego’s growing economy by opening stores and businesses in the Old Town district and helping San Diego blossom in its infancy.
Things to Know Before Visiting the Whaley House
Before visiting the Whaley House, check out essential details like hours, ticket prices, nearby food, gift shops, and parking.
Tickets and Hours
The Whaley House is open daily. Reservations are not required for daytime tours but can be helpful during summer months or weekends.
Visitors can choose from three ticket options. A daytime self-guided tour costs $13.30 per person, and an evening guided tour costs $18.00 per person. The after-hours paranormal investigation is $94.05 per person.
Admission is also covered by the Go San Diego All-Inclusive and Explorer sightseeing passes that include various other San Diego attractions such as San Diego Zoo, USS Midway Museum, and the Old Town Trolley, which can help you get to The Whaley Museum from stops around the County.
EXCLUSIVE LA JOLLA MOM DISCOUNT
Use promo code GOSDO5LJM to apply an extra 5% off ALL Go San Diego sightseeing passes! This discount stacks on top of sale rates! Expires 12/31/23.
(Pass has limited value for families at many attractions during Kids Free October in San Diego — we recommend individual tickets during this timeframe instead.)
Cafes and Restaurants Nearby
Though there are no onsite options for food, there is a plethora of good eats within walking distance of the Whaley House.
Right behind Whaley House though is the New Orleans Creole Cafe, housed in a late 1890s building. You can also check out Old Town Mexican Cafe, Cafe Coyote, or Harney Sushi for some quality food after enjoying your tour. There is also a cigar lounge and olive oil shop nearby.
There is an excellent gift shop onsite called the Whaley House Museum Shop. Beyond carrying your typical souvenirs such as t-shirts, mugs, and magnets, this gift shop also carries an assortment of Mexicana-themed items such as sugar skulls and Dia De Los Muertos gifts.
The shop also carries a variety of paranormal-themed gifts, such as books and ghost-hunting kits.
Free parking is located just north of the Whaley House off Harney street. The parking lot is known to fill up quickly, so come early and with plenty of time before your tour starts to secure a spot.
There are also other small parking lots located throughout the Old Town San Diego as well as street parking.
Top 5 Unique Facts About the Whaley House
Discover more about the legendary Whaley House with these interesting facts about this popular San Diego destination.
- America’s Most Haunted House. It was deemed “America’s Most Haunted House” by multiple sources, including LIFE Magazine and The Travel Channel. It was even officially recognized as haunted by the US Commerce Department in the 1960s. The Whaley House has embraced the nickname and even trademarked it for marketing purposes. The Whaley House is mentioned and featured in several paranormal tv shows, books, and guides.
- Photographic Evidence for Ghosts on Display. It’s not unusual for cell phones and cameras to be prohibited at some historical sites. This is not the case at the Whaley House. Taking pictures is encouraged! So much so that there is an entire section on the Whaley House for “ghost encounters” where they share visitors’ pictures that may or may not feature spirits, ghosts, or paranormal activity. If you capture something eerie, submit your photo or use the #whaleyhousesd hashtag on social media to share it.
- House of Many Uses. Besides being the first home constructed formally in Southern California, the Whaley house also became San Diego’s first commercial theater. It also served as a county courthouse and a general store. The home became an important piece of the community, even causing division between Old Town and New Town residents in the late 1800s.
- Due to Repeated Tragedy, The Whaleys Moved Out. After several family members’ deaths, including Thomas Whaley’s daughter’s suicide, the Whaley relocated to downtown San Diego. The Whaley Home sat vacant for many years afterward until Thomas Whaley’s son Francis moved back in and made efforts to restore the home in the early 1900s.
- The Haunting Began Before the Whaleys. The haunting history potentially began before the Whaleys moved in. It’s reported that a man named Jim Robinson was hung on the home site before Whaley purchased it. Thomas Whaley even witnessed the hanging himself. Since then, several members of the Whaley family have passed away in the home. The property also used to be the site of a gallows and cemetery before Thomas Whaley purchased the land.
Why We Love This Haunted House
The biggest reason to love the iconic Whaley House is its versatile activity option that attracts history buffs, ghost hunters, families, and curious travelers alike.
For those that spook easily and don’t like ghost stories, this can be a fun and lighthearted option for a daytime self-guided tour. During the daytime tours, you can go at your own pace and focus as much or as little on the haunted aspect.
Additionally, the house is a well-preserved example of mid-19th-century architecture and offers a glimpse into the lives of one of California’s pioneer families.
Besides its historical and paranormal draws, we love the location. There are many fun things to do in Old Town San Diego with Whaley House toward the top of that list. Be sure to include time to explore the restaurants and shopping in the area. If you’re considering staying in the area, check our list of best Old Town San Diego hotels.