From Gravity Hill to Devil's Gate, 10 Creepy L.A. Places That Spawned Urban Legends

Every city has its urban legends and ghost stories, but few places are as ripe for tall tales and weird rumors as Greater Los Angeles. Here, brightly lit city streets can turn into the skinny, dark roads of horror movies in a matter of minutes as the city and suburbs butt up against dry, fire-prone nature. We have it all, from stories of disturbed burial grounds to haunted hotels to mysterious mansions. The hills here hold secrets within their hiking trails and it often has to do with a cult, either rumored or verified. Our ghost stories involve common people whose identities are unknown and the spirits of the famous. Indeed, L.A. is a diverse metropolis and that extends to our tales of terror. Check out a few local spooky spots here.

1. Cathedral High School (Chinatown)
To high school sports fans, Cathedral is known as the Phantoms. Their mascot isn't surprising given the school's eerie location. Situated on the edge of Chinatown, near the 110 freeway, Cathedral High School was built on top of the original Calvary Cemetery site. By the end of the 1800s, though, the Catholic burial ground had outgrown its digs and moved to New Calvary, opened in Boyle Heights. According to a 2009 Downtown News article, the old cemetery lay in ruins for years until the bodies buried there were moved. The problem, though, is that there may have been remains left underground. Hence, rumors of hauntings at the all-boys school have circulated for decades, passed down from generation to generation of Angelenos. In fact, I had heard about Cathedral's reputation from my own father.

2. Anything and everything related to Charles Manson. (Fairfax, Benedict Canyon, Simi Valley) 
Want to scare an Angeleno? Mention Charles Manson. The Manson Family's crimes were so horrific that they send chills up the spines of people who weren't even born at the time of the Tate and LaBianca murders. Needless to say, locations associated with these events remain notorious, even when the original structure has been demolished. Take the Tate mansion, for example. That house no longer stands, but Cielo Drive has not lost its reputation. In fact, another resident on that street runs ghost hunts through his own home. I went to one for journalistic reasons and, while it was bizarre, it wasn't really spooky. Meanwhile, the site of Spahn Ranch, once an old film set where the Manson Family holed up, is still home to the Manson Caves in the hills of Simi Valley. There's also El Coyote, the restaurant where Sharon Tate and friends ate their final meal together. Some say that place is haunted, too.

3. Devil's Gate (La Cañada-Flintridge)
Devil's Gate comes with an "only in L.A." story. Maybe in other parts of the world, you'll find sinister gorges that are said to be portals to hell. Here, though, that kind of location caught the eye of a scientist whose work led to his death and a pulp-fiction writer who went on to found a celebrity-obsessed, clandestine religion. The location's unsettling reputation predates the friendship of Jack Parsons and L. Ron Hubbard, but stories abound about what the two occultists, followers of Aleister Crowley, were up to on their visits. Still, it's eternally fascinating for any Angeleno curious about the intersection of science and magic here.

4. Houdini Mansion (Laurel Canyon)
In true urban-legend fashion, the stories surrounding Houdini's purported pad in the hills is full of weird and possibly erroneous information. There is a spot known as the Houdini Estate at 2400 Laurel Canyon, which can be rented out for parties and film shoots. In 2012, Curbed reported that this house, which had made the news after a fire took the original structure down in the 1950s, actually belonged to Houdini's pal and the magician possibly lived across the street. The video above gives a detailed breakdown of who lived where. Regardless, there has long been talk of hauntings there.

5. Turnbull Canyon (Whittier)
Ask your friends in the San Gabriel Valley for a spot that has spawned many urban legends and they'll probably mention Turnbull Canyon. Located on the outskirts of Whittier, this hiking trail is known among locals for a long history of reported terrors. One person familiar with Turnbull's lore pointed me to Weird U.S.' summary of the spot, which tells of lore involving a cult, a fire and a strange accidental death, but it also notes that this was also a site of verified deaths, due to vehicular accidents. Moreover, Turnbull Canyon was the site of a gruesome discovery in 2011, when authorities found the body of woman down an embankment. The suspect in what became a murder case pleaded not guilty last spring. 

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >