Exploring San Diego’s Spookiest Spot: Our Whaley House Review

The Whaley House in Old Town, San Diego cheerfully labels itself as the most haunted house in America. But what did we find?

Whaley House review

The Whaley House in Old Town, San Diego cheerfully labels itself as the most haunted house in America. I say cheerfully because the place carries a pioneer whimsy that’s quaint and inviting, a bit like going to your grandma’s house for tea. But apparently, only if that grandmother’s piling up skeletons. 

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But you don’t have to believe the Whaley House– big-name publications like Conde Nast, Buzzfeed, Travel Channel, SyFy Channel, Discovery Channel, and countless YouTube horror hounds have covered the place in detail, keen to face a ghoul from beyond the grave. 

Considering its past – riddled with crime, illness, and death– it’s no surprise that anyone who perished within its walls might have a cross to bear. But do those persons truly haunt this place? Is it worthy of a visit with a spare pair of pants in tow? Read on for our Whaley House review.

Quick Guide to The Whaley House Museum

Location: The Whaley House Museum, San Diego
Date of Visit: June 2023
Admission: $13-18 for persons ages 13+ / $9-$18 for children ages 4-12 / $0 per child 0-4 years.
Top Tip: Check the Whaley House Museum website in advance to time your visit for any special seasonal events.

History and Hauntings

The story of its prolific history matches its reputation as a place to experience if you’re a fan of all things spooky. Originally built in 1857 by Thomas Whaley, this two-storey Greek revival home emerged as a gathering place for the community and housed a general store, the county courthouse, a public theater, and Whaley family residence. It’s astonishing that so much was crammed into such a small structure. One can only assume the close quarters are what drove everyone to keel over.

The Whaley House Museum family portrait.

San Diego proudly claims the Whaley House Museum as a historic landmark, which it is, but its history involves a slew of macabre incidents. Many of Whaley’s relatives, including his wife Anna and three of their children died on the premises, along with numerous descendants who also perished within its walls. 

Legend suggests that Whaley incited this bad fortune because of his own hubris. Before the house was built, a thief was hanged in the yard. And, while many believed this to be a bad omen, this tragic history had no effect on the opportunist whatsoever and he continued on with his plans.

The ghosts that reportedly haunt its rooms are Whaley’s relatives along with the aforementioned thief, Jim Robinson. 

Our Experience

Whaley House Museum sign

While in San Diego visiting family, we stumbled across the place as it was located blocks away from our hotel. It felt like kismet — how could such an intriguing spot present itself to us when we had sufficient time to savour its charms? Fate had clearly intervened, so we opted to pay a visit after being won over by its repeated claims of being the most haunted house in America. 

The day we visited, the sun shone hot and the sky burned a crisp, deep blue. Not exactly the sort of weather you really want influencing a spooky trip but we both love the sun, so it put us in a good mood. After buying our tickets –- and receiving some nifty stickers – we waited in the side yard for our tour to commence. 

Me and Glenna at Whaley House Museum, San Diego
Somehow I never manage to look at the right camera.

Our tour consisted of myself, my partner Glenna and a mother with her young daughter. Following an introduction outside, we were led into the main part of the museum. The quaint furnishings and fittings are plucked straight from pioneer times along with a square footage that can only be described as intimate.  

While we sprang for the daytime visit which might imply a less scary tone, the Whaley House tour leans into its horrific history, seldom shying away from how awful it is. However it doesn’t ever position itself as strictly for adults – the daytime tour is listed as PG.

The Whaley House Museum courtroom.

Our tour guide Bones was friendly and informative, and we chatted about ghostly experiences as we were shown the outdoors, kitchen, and courtroom. I asked for details on any of her own paranormal sightings in the house and she told us about her quite sinister encounter upstairs in the theater.

It was at this point we were left to our own devices, and wandered downstairs and upstairs by ourselves for another 20 minutes or so. All in all, it’s a fun way to spend an hour if you enjoy the prospect of seeing a ghost or witnessing something unusual. I had hoped to receive a tap on the shoulder going up or down the stairs, but no such luck. Upon later going through footage, I swore I spotted an orb but my brother and sister both informed me it was lens flare. Damn.

Highlights of our visit

The Whaley House Museum creepy doll in bedroom.

As the museum is small, it doesn’t take long to enjoy its various rooms and exhibits. The place operates like a time capsule and exhibition space, with certain areas maintained so they appear as close to how they did when the Whaleys lived there, and the rest include display cabinets. One room in particular held interest as it featured a creepy doll whose eyes apparently follow visitors as they look around the room.

The Whaley House Museum tours

The Whaley House Museum general store.

Daytime Tours: These allow visitors to appreciate the history and architecture of the house – because you can literally see more of it during the day. It’s a more general experience suitable for families and history enthusiasts. 

You don’t need a reservation for the self-guided daytime tour. As a nice bonus, you do get a 15-minute introduction from a member of staff so it’s sort of like a mini guided version, anyway! 

Nighttime Tours: As one of America’s most haunted houses, evening or nighttime tours offer a more eerie experience. These are particularly popular around Halloween but can be available at other times of the year too. These evening tours also include seances. They’re not recommended for children under the age of 12.

Whaley House After Hours Paranormal Investigation: Throughout the year, the Whaley House Museum hosts various special events including this evening session that’s only for 8 people maximum. It lasts for approximately two hours. 

Visiting The Whaley House Museum

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Whaley House tickets: Entry into the Whaley House depends on when you visit but we’ve got the basics covered below. 

General Admission: Rates can vary based on the type of tour (daytime vs. nighttime). For adults, which is anyone 13 or older, the daytime self-guided tour it’s $13. For children aged 4-12 it’s $9, and those under 4 enter for free.

Special Events: The Whaley House After Hours Paranormal Investigation ranges from $94-$170 based on their September 2023 website information. It looks like prices go up in October.

The Whaley House Museum courtyard

Access Information

Location: The Whaley House is located in the Old Town of San Diego, at 2476 San Diego Avenue, San Diego, CA 92110.


  • Daytime tours 10am-4:30pm 
  • Nighttime tours: 5:00pm – 9:00pm 

Parking: There’s no dedicated parking for the Whaley House, but there are public parking lots and on-street parking available in the Old Town area. There is free parking available at Old Town State Park.

Public Transportation: The Old Town San Diego area is accessible by public transportation, including buses and the San Diego Trolley, which stops at the Old Town Transit Center.

Accessibility: As a historic building, there might be some accessibility limitations for those with mobility challenges. It’s a good idea to check in advance if you have specific needs or concerns.

Nearby Attractions

El Campo Santo Cemetery

A short walk from the Whaley House Museum is the El Campo Santo Cemetery, located at 2410 San Diego Ave. 

Established in 1849, it is one of the oldest cemeteries in San Diego. The cemetery played an important role in the early history of San Diego, serving as the final resting place for many of the city’s early settlers.

The cemetery is known to hold the graves of various individuals, from prominent citizens to notorious outlaws. One famous interment is none other than Whaley House figure – Yankee Jim Robinson, a criminal who was hanged in 1852. His ghost is one of several said to haunt the cemetery and its vicinity.

Being in Old Town, Whaley House Museum is located within easy walking distance to lots of restaurants and shops. You shouldn’t have any problems finding a spot nearby. 

Paranormal Activity house

The Paranormal Activity house in San Diego

Not many horror movies are filmed in the San Diego area, but you can catch a glimpse of the outside of the house used in 2007’s Paranormal Activity. This was writer-director Oren Peli’s actual home during production but he’s since sold it. It’s located at 13236 Bavarian Drive, San Diego, CA. Bear in mind this is a private residence so be respectful and ask permission before taking photos.

For a comprehensive dive into another California horror shooting spot, check out our long form exploration of the Scream filming locations in the Santa Rosa area.

Before we hit the road…

For horror fans seeking a scare, a daytime tour is unlikely to hit the spot. But if you are visiting San Diego with little ones, I’d highly recommend it – a low-impact activity for families with kids that’s inexpensive. There’s plenty of space for kids to run around outside (it’s fenced in) and the indoors provides gentle spooks that aren’t too shocking and shouldn’t cause nightmares. 

While we didn’t have time to try the late-night tour, I suspect it carries more weight with an older crowd in search of a pant-destroying experience. If you’ve taken part, I’d be really interested to know if it’s worth checking out. 

Or if you visited this San Diego spook spot and faced a sighting please let us know with your Whaley House review in the comments below. Until next time…

Librarian by day and scribbler by night, Gem Seddon is a Seattle-based freelance entertainment writer with bylines at Vulture, Digital Spy, TechRadar, Regal Cinemas, Total Film, and more. Gem especially loves writing about horror movies. When not visiting her native England, she enjoys traveling to spooky film locales. Alien and Scream are tied as her all-time favourite movie – please don't make her choose.

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