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Urban Legends About California That'll Blow Your Mind
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Urban Legends About California That'll Blow Your Mind

Before you visit any of these places, read up on a few of the creepiest urban legends and get your spook on.

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5 min read

July 19, 2021

Have you heard about the Loch Ness Monster? You know, that long-necked creature that inhabits Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands? Maybe you heard about it from a friend of a friend who swore they saw something move in the water, or it was your boyfriend’s brother who told you over a campfire sesh—or maybe it was your doctor’s travel agent. Either way, you can’t really remember where the story comes from or why it’s so fascinating, and that’s exactly what makes a good urban legend.

Also known as urban myths or contemporary legends, urban legends are basically unproven stories of peculiar things happening in unusual places—but somehow, we can’t seem to get enough. The strange thing about these myths is that the disproof doesn’t seem to prevent them from resurfacing; in many cases, the legends have become the main reason people visit a place.

And when it comes to the Golden State, there’s really no shortage of ghostly grounds and haunted locations for the fearless. Before you visit any of them, read up on a few of the creepiest urban legends and get your spook on.

Famous Urban Legends About the Golden State 

Legend says that Elizabeth Lake in Los Angeles County carries an evil presence below the water’s surface. Want to see for yourself?

The Monster of Lake Elizabeth 

Legend has it that Elizabeth Lake just outside of Lancaster L.A. was created by Lucifer himself. Apparently, the devil did not have room to keep his (slightly hellish) pets, and the only way to give them refuge was by bringing to life this body of water. And, what’s even scarier about this urban legend is the fact that an actual passageway to hell is believed to be found in Elizabeth Lake—all you have to do is swim deep enough.

As for the monster pets, the first sighting of the creatures dates all the way back to 1880. People say they spotted a creature circling the waters—it had the neck of a giraffe, head of a bulldog, wings of a bat, and was estimated to be 50 feet long (we’ll leave that to your imagination). 

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For the coming century, sightings of this creature were said to have continued. Locals were so terrified that the landowners would sell or—in certain cases—completely abandon their property. Farm animals would disappear with sightings of a flying bat-winged creature following shortly afterwards.

You might be wondering about the creature’s current whereabouts. Well, there has been talk of ranchers capturing this monster-pet in the 1800s, but—as with any creepy urban legend—proof of existence or death is yet to be discovered. Would you dare to swim deep enough?

It is said that Turnbull Canyon is home to satanic cults, ghosts, demons, gravity hills, and the rumored former location of an insane asylum.

The Hauntings of Turnbull Canyon

Are you an avid canyon hiker? If so, we suspect it’s best you know about this one. In the Puente Hills Preserve located near Whittier, death is said to be a prime resident. And before you call us dramatic, let us tell you that Turnbull Canyon—a popular hiking site in the preserve—was previously referred to as “Hutukngna;” translation, “The Place of the Devil”. 

According to the legend, the region is haunted by the Indians who were murdered for not converting to Catholicism. Their spirits are believed to be lingering in unrest inside the depths of the canyon, waiting to get out. Many years later, Turnbull would become the site of numerous satanic rituals held by people who—you guessed it—mysteriously disappeared. 

What was left behind from the ritualists were paranormal sightings and occurrences, reported by both locals and seriously-spooked-out hikers. Turnbull Canyon is also the site of other curious occurrences like a teenager being electrocuted while exploring the ruins of an old asylum and a 1978 plane crash, which tragically took the lives of 29 people. We suggest you think twice before angering the spirits.

"I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E."

The Sign of the Hollywood Spirit 

Probably one of the most famous urban legends from the Golden State, the Hollywood Sign is said to be haunted by a down-on-her-luck actress. In the early 1900s, actress Peg Entwistle read a review on one of her films and saw it as nothing short of career-ending. She then climbed onto the sign’s “H” and threw herself off it, forever remaining tied to the landmark’s history. Entwistle would later be known by the nickname “Lady in White”.

The Lady in White is said to haunt the sign and its surrounding areas. If you’re prone to believe legends and superstitions, we suggest you look twice while hiking the area, especially if you’re alone—the visit you’ll get won’t be from a beautiful Hollywood actress, but from a skeletal face with deep and hollowed out eyes. Still want to go to the Hollywood Sign by yourself? We thought so.

The Dark Watchers are most often reported to be seen in the hours around twilight and dawn, motionlessly watching travelers from the horizon.

The Dark Watchers 

To many, the Santa Lucia Mountains are rustic bliss, with lush greenery and gorgeous peaks that span from Avila Beach all the way to Monterey. But, to those who believe in scary legends, the mountaintops hold sightings of giant humanesque phantoms called the Dark Watchers. Legend goes that these creatures can only be seen at twilight, with their hollow vision aimed at the vast space below; they’ll look at you for just about a moment before vanishing completely into the night.

From what is known about the Dark Watcher’s origins, it’s believed that these ghostly figures first emerged in Chumash Indian history and folklore. When explored, Chumash caves revealed many drawings of these phantoms, some were exclusively displayed in scary depictions. The Dark Watchers also made an appearance in John Steinbeck’s Flight, where they were described to be “dark forms against the sky”.

As for recent sightings, not much is known except a 1960s high school principal claiming to have seen these human-like ghosts clad in dark capes and hats.

Once upon a time at Stow Lake, in Golden Gate Park, there was a lady who was walking her baby in a stroller. Guess what happened next...

The Stow Lake Ghost 

You know what they say, the best urban legends are the ones that take place in, on, or around a lake. Well, at least those who know the Stow Lake ghost do. Located within S.F.’s iconic Golden Gate Park, Stow Lake is said to be haunted by the spirit of a woman who drowned there many years ago. 

According to the story, the woman—referred to as the White Lady (not surprised)—was trying to save her child when she met her untimely demise. She’s believed to wander the edges of Stow Lake today, searching for her baby. If you’re the fearless type, you can try (at your own discretion) to summon the ghost by calling out, “White lady, white lady, I have your baby.” This chant is to be repeated three times. If White Lady believes you, she will appear and ask for you to give her baby back, so either refrain from doing this or invest in a very convincing baby doll.

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