Something about coastal cities makes them prime spots for ghost stories. Maybe it’s because these cities have centuries of history; maybe it’s the way the breeze from the water makes buildings croak and groan in ghoulish ways. Either way, coastal cities and ghost tours go hand-in-hand. In these cities, the true story can be just as scary as the ghost story.
What’s scary: It may be known as the Hostess City, but Savannah, Georgia, also has its share of paranormal happenings. Restless souls from mass graves and disturbed burial sites roam the streets and Spanish moss–hung squares; the spirits of victims of murder, duels, and disease haunt the places they walked while living.
Take the tour: On the Voices of the Dead Tour (afterlifetours.net or 912-398-7820) you’ll stop at the Colonial Park Cemetery—Savannah’s oldest still-standing cemetery—and the purportedly cursed Historic Savannah Theatre, which has been victim of mysterious fires, floods, and menacing presences. Using findings and evidence from the Savannah Ghost Research Society, your guide will walk you through the histories of these sites, while presenting you with evidence from the investigations. (For a boozy or adult-only tour, try Boos & Brews by Tara Tours.) The ghost tour leaves from Telfair Square at 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Tickets are $24 per person, with military, student, and senior citizen discounts. This tour is not recommended for children, as some evidence may be disturbing.
What’s scary: Full of “cities of the dead,” the home of Voodoo, and the site of various murders, brothels, intrigue, and general debauchery, New Orleans, Louisiana, has endless horror stories and myths. The Ghost Adventures Haunted Houses Tour, led by historians and history buffs, seeks to separate New Orleans’s French Quarter’s legends from its history with a tour founded in fact and research.
Take the tour: The Ghost Adventures Haunted Houses Tour (neworleansghostadventurestour.com or 504-475-5214) offers the rare opportunity to visit and step inside locations investigated by the ghost hunters of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures. Sign up for the two-hour tour at 5 or 8 p.m. on any day of the week. Tickets are $25 per person and free for children under the age of 6. Tour groups are arranged so visitors with children are together and can be adjusted to be more family-friendly.
What’s scary: Charleston, South Carolina’s, storied past as a major seaport comes with its share of morbid tales. From the site of the Charleston Orphan House, which caught fire in 1918—leading to the death of four resident children—and is now the site of a purportedly haunted residential building for the College of Charleston, to the Old Citadel, now a hotel, where the ghost of a former cadet of the Citadel Military Academy roams the halls, the Holy City certainly has a dark side.
Take the tour: Explore these tales, and more, with the Supernatural Charleston Tour (walksinhistory.com or 843-737-2119). Led by historians and paranormal authors who are experts on the history and ghost stories of the area, the 90-minute ghost tour leaves from Marion Square, a historical military parade ground in the heart of the city, and ventures to haunted sites around the town. Tours are offered all nights except Tuesday and Thursday and leave most nights at 7; on Saturdays, they leave at 6 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $22 for adults and $12 for children ages six through 14.
What’s scary: Fells Point served as Baltimore, Maryland’s, port for more than 100 years and has plenty of sordid tales to tell. Legend has it that Edgar Allan Poe, a ghoulish character even while living, haunts the neighborhood, while the founders of the area, father and son William and Edward Fell, have been spotted roaming the streets more than 200 years after their deaths.
Take the tour: Explore Fells Point with the Original Fells Point Ghostwalk (baltimoreghosttours.com or 877-293-1571), an appropriate-for-all-ages tour that walks you through the area’s stories and past its ghosts. Tickets are $13 for adults and $10 for kids when you purchase ahead; on-site purchases are $15 per ticket. Tours leave at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays from July through November, with extra tours offered in October, and last between one and one-and-a-half hours.
What’s scary: Do you dare to walk the streets of one of America’s oldest cities, a city with a centuries-long history of disaster, disease, and death? Whether the notion thrills you or frightens you, you’ll be in good company in St. Augustine, Florida, with Sheriff’s Ghost Walk Tour.
Take the tour: The Sheriff’s Ghost Walk Tour (sheriffsghostwalktours.com or 904-540-0031) is led by Sheriff Guy White, who was killed in 1911 and has returned to share stories of St. Augustine with spirited visitors. The tour consists of a 90-minute stroll through Old St. Augustine and its cemeteries, during which the sheriff and his “deputies” will regale you with true tales of the city. It’s recommended that you bring a camera to capture any ghostly sightings. Tours are offered Tuesday through Sunday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults and $10 for kids and are purchased on-site, though you can call for reservations. This tour is family-friendly, and the Sheriff blends history, ghost stories, and humor in an entertaining tour that kids will love.
What’s scary: Known for being lovably weird and wacky, Portland, Oregon, also has its share of hauntings and haunted places. Take the prostitute who died more than 100 years ago in the then-Merchant Hotel, and whose spirit lingers in the space, now a pizza restaurant; or the Shanghai Tunnels, a network of underground passageways used for smuggling, human trafficking, and other illicit activities in the 20th century, where screams and disembodied voices are heard today.
Take the tour: Explore these ghost-inhabited sites, and more, with a Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tour (portlandwalkingtours.com or 503-774-4522). This mile-and-a-half–long walking tour is truly an adventure—your guide will hand you ghost hunting equipment suggested and used by paranormal experts, who helped organize the tour, so you can get a taste of paranormal investigation. The two-and-a-half–hour tours are on Thursday through Sunday at 7 and 10 p.m. Tickets for the 7 p.m. tour are $23 for adults, with discounted prices for seniors and children. Tickets for the 10 p.m. tour are $29 for all adults over the age of 18 (no children allowed).
What’s scary: The site of what is now Shaker’s Cigar Bar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has been a cemetery, a speakeasy, and a brothel, among other things, at various points in its history. Touting itself as Milwaukee’s Haunted Bar, the bar has been the site of many paranormal happenings, including items moving by themselves, mysterious sights, smells, noises, and other unexplainable presences.
Take the tour: Shaker’s Original Ghost Tour (hangmantours.com or 414-272-4222) guides visitors through the sordid past of the building, which was constructed in 1894. The tour covers all four floors of the building and includes anecdotes from bar employees. (Bonus: You’re welcome to take a cocktail from the bar with you on the tour.) Tours are capped at 15 people per tour and are offered Wednesday through Saturday at 7 and 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 per person on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and $20 per person on Saturdays. During the month of October, tickets are $20 on Fridays and Saturdays. This tour discusses brothel life and may not be appropriate for small children, though all ages are allowed as long as an adult is present.
What’s scary: Salem, Massachusetts’s, history as the site of the infamous 17th-century witch trials makes it a choice destination for exploring the witchy side of the paranormal. A visit alone could sate your desire for encountering the unknown and mysterious, but a short journey with Hocus Pocus Tours will give you historical context and little-known information on the area and its horrific happenings.
Take the tour: Named for the 1993 Disney movie, Hocus Pocus Tours (hocuspocustours.com or 781-248-2031) takes you on a 90-minute trip back in time to when witch hysteria swept the city. Your guide will walk you through 15 stops, touching on the history of the witch trials, passing the one-time home of the Boston Strangler, and visiting locations used in filming Hocus Pocus. Tickets are $16 for adults, $8 for children 5-12, and $13 for seniors, military service members, and students. Tours are offered most days of the week at 7:30 p.m. until November 1st; after that, they are at 5 p.m. Book ahead, as they often sell out, especially on weekends.
What’s scary: With five ghostly humans (and one ghostly dog) roaming its halls, The Whaley House, in Old Town San Diego, California, stands as one of the most haunted houses in the country. The house was a family residence for many years and served several other purposes since its construction in 1857; before that, it was the site of the 1852 hanging of “Yankee Jim” Robinson, an infamous thief. Ghostly figures are often spotted roaming the house, and visitors often hear disembodied noises from another era along with pianos playing, as well as see doors open and close and chairs rock, without any visible cause.
Take the tour: The Whaley House Museum (whaleyhouse.org or 619-297-7511) is staffed by a team of trained docents who can answer all your questions about the house’s ghostly inhabitants, but a more ghoulish experience can be found in the Past & Presence Ghost Tour. In this tour, you get exclusive after-hours access to the house, as well as the Adobe Chapel and El Campo Santo Cemetery, two other haunted sites just a few blocks away. The Whaley House also has a series of events planned for the month of October. Past & Presence Tours start at 10:30 p.m. and last an hour and 15 minutes on select Fridays and Saturdays in October. Only children 12 and older should take part. The nightly tours are capped at 25 people per tour, so book ahead!
What’s scary: Is any trip to San Francisco, California, complete without a visit to Alcatraz? People visiting the City by the Bay in the mid-1900s may have disagreed, but today, a visit to Alcatraz Island is a must-do. Another must-do? A tour of the former prison at night. Alcatraz is said to be one of the most haunted places in the country, but even if you don’t encounter any ghosts, an evening spent wandering the halls of this stark building is sure to send shivers down your spine.
Take the tour: The Night Tour (alcatrazcruises.com or 415-981-7625) includes a narrated boat tour around the island, guided tours from the dock to the main building, and a cell house tour (other perks include a gorgeous Pacific sunset and views of San Francisco from afar at night). The Night Tour is offered Thursday through Monday and lasts about two and a half hours. Tickets are $42.50 for adults, with discounted rates for juniors, children, and seniors. The ferry leaves at 5:55 and 6:30 p.m. and returns at 8:40 and 9:25 p.m.