Stalking Local Ghosts

Believe in them or not, searching for ghosts in the county’s far corners makes a fine October outing

La Llorona, the Pink Lady, and perhaps the Duke himself? Orange County is the setting for more than a few ghost stories starring folk legends and celebs, and true believers say the hauntings range from rattling glassware to astonishing specters. There’s no better time than the Halloween season to visit some of the county’s shadowy corners. Explore these sites on your own, or sign up for a walking tour of haunts—after all, there’s safety in numbers.

1. Mission San Juan Capistrano
The city of San Juan Capistrano is riddled with ghost stories: A stateside version of Mexican folkloric figure La Llorona is said to wail for her dead children on the banks of Trabuco Creek. But one of the most oft-told mission tales centers on a young Indian girl with a forbidden lover. While she was carrying a penitential candle before the mission’s parishioners, the 1812 earthquake struck, killing her and dozens of worshipers. Locals say that at night, careful observers may glimpse a face lit by candlelight in the windows of the Great Stone Church ruins, above.Admission: $9, $8 for seniors, $5 for children 11 to 4, free for 3 and younger. 26801 Ortega Highway, San Juan Capistrano, 949-234-1300,

2. Wild Goose
The late Lynn Hutchins, a Santa Monica lawyer, purchased the yacht, a one-time U.S. Navy minesweeper, from John Wayne shortly before the actor’s death in 1979. Not long after, Hutchins said he began spying the Duke’s silhouette in doorways and hearing beer glasses rattling in the yacht’s vacant bar. Now docked in Newport Beach and part of the Hornblower fleet, the Wild Goose can be booked for dinner cruises, parties, and other events. Hornblower Cruises and Events, 949-646-0155,

3. Anaheim White House Restaurant
One regular customer threw a Halloween party complete with séance that was a bust—until the guests went home. Then, general manager Sylvano Serato says he felt an inexplicable gust of warm wind, as though someone had swept past him. Staff members say mysteriously opening doors, pockets of hot and cold air, and the sound of running footsteps are ever-present “ghostly” events. 887 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim, 714-772-1381, 

4. Chapman Antique Mall
When Dennis and Cathie Caldwell opened an antique store in downtown Orange, they’d heard staff members of a store previously at that location tell of a disembodied voice commanding, “Watch this!” followed by a window shattering. After 10 years in the space, the Caldwells feel the spirits of the Chapman Antique Mall are benign—though lone customers in the furniture-stocked basement describe cabinet doors inexplicably opening and the sensation of someone breathing on the backs of their necks. 201 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, 714-633-0388,

5. Black Star Canyon
Sudden screams. Flickering lights. Cell phones that mysteriously turn on. Black Star Canyon—known as Cañon de los Indios, or Indian Canyon, before the advent of the Black Star Coal Mining Co. in 1879—has exhibited plenty of unexplained phenomena, says Matt Harvey, who leads ghost-hunting tours there. Are these manifestations of miners who died on the job? Spirits of Native Americans shot by trappers trying to recover stolen horses? Or does the shade of cattleman James M. Gregg, who was fatally wounded there in an 1899 gunfight, still linger in the shadow of the live oaks? Black Star Canyon, off Silverado Canyon Road, just north of Santiago Canyon Road.

6. Café Hidalgo
Tucked in a corner of the Villa del Sol building’s courtyard, this restaurant serves Spanish and Latin dishes with a side of mystery. One evening bar manager Chris Erickson says he kept seeing customers go inside the café—only to discover later that no one was there. He also says glasses regularly slide off tables of their own accord and crash to the tile floor. But that’s mild compared to some of the weirdness other Villa del Sol workers have experienced. Go ahead: Ask the bar staff to share a tale. 305 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, 714-447-3202,

7. Yorba Cemetery
A few decades ago, a local librarian cooked up a children’s story-hour tale of the ghost of Alvina de los Reyes, a young woman who was buried in this Yorba Linda cemetery. Ever since, ghost-hunters have flocked to the tiny burial ground on June 15 of even-numbered years to try to glimpse the mythical Pink Lady. Cemetery tours are offered the first Saturday of the month, 11 a.m. to noon, but guide Ann Nepsa says she has never spotted any apparitions. Woodgate Park, Woodgate and Tanglewood drives, Yorba Linda, 714-973-3190,

Ghost Guides
Celebrate the spookiest time of the year, but don’t forget to reserve your tour.

Haunted Fullerton Walking Tour
Wednesday and Thursday at 6 p.m. through Nov. 3. $15 to $18. 714-738-6545.

Haunted Houses of Orange County
Monthly tours by psychic-medium Michael Kouri.

Cemetery Tour
Not a guide to ghosts, but a series of 90-minute historical tours on life in Orange County, starting at Fairhaven Memorial Park, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 22. $20. 1702 Fairhaven Ave., Santa Ana, 714-953-1876 or

Haunted History Tours
Old Towne Orange ghost walks and county-wide trolley tours. $18. 866-646-7803,

Orange County Ghosts and Legends Tours
Black Star Canyon and San Juan Capistrano tours run throughout the year. $10. 949-702-2072,

photo illustration by Sean Teegarden 

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Orange Coast magazine.

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