Our 2013 Best of L.A. issue came out in early October, but over the years we've found that some of the best places in Los Angeles aren't new or trendy at all — some are decades old, abandoned, and most assuredly haunted, or so we've heard.
'Tis the season to dig through our archives and find the eeriest places to explore — from abandoned hospitals and jails to hiking trails and hotels — in the weeks leading up to Halloween. Whether the ghostly legends are true or not, we've matched six different historic haunts for every type of urban creep-seeker.
If you like old Hollywood history, but you're terrified of driving through gut-wrenching Hollywood gridlock….
Hop on Dearly Departed's “Tomb Buggy” and have someone else do the driving.
It's called the L.A. tour that locals like to take again and again, and with good reason. Scott Michaels (founder of hugely popular celebrity-death site findadeath.com) and his dedicated and highly knowledgeable guides operate three tours that will give you a different and slightly morbid perspective on the city you drive around in on a daily basis. In comfy vans dubbed “Tomb Buggys,” Dearly Departed Tours offers a “tragical history tour” — a lighthearted look into the dark side of Hollywood, including Bela Lugosi's modest apartment, where the Dracula star died penniless; Manson murder-related locations; the hotels where John Belushi and Janis Joplin spent their last nights; the house notorious gangster Bugsy Siegel died in; the house where the Menendez brothers murdered their parents; and even a bathroom break at Will Rogers Memorial Park in Beverly Hills, where George Michael was infamously arrested for lewd conduct. Movie clips, 911 calls and actual crime-scene photography accompany the tours, giving you a geographic retelling of murders, death scenes and more, sure to delight those more fascinated with how the famous died than how they lived. 6603 Sunset Blvd., Hlywd. (800) 979-3370. –Liana Aghajanian
How to experience it now: Offered every year around Halloween, Dearly Departed's horror film location tour cruises to South Pasadena to explore the quiet neighborhood where John Carpenter's original Halloween (1978) was filmed. Beware: Michael Myers (er, some guy in the ol' William Shatner mask) has been known to hijack this suburban four-hour tour. Reserve tickets here.
If you'd prefer to drink spirits while hunting for them…
Mingle with new ghouls and guys at a GHOULA mixer.
On the 13th of each month, this band of urbane spook-splorers converge for cocktails at a different haunted SoCal locale, from a hanging tree in Calabasas to the coffin-shaped pool of the Figueroa Hotel (a suicide jumper favorite). The “Spirits With Spirits” mixers, like all Ghost Hunters of Urban Los Angeles (GHOULA) events, have “a certain ghoul-rilla aspect” to them, co-founder Richard Carradine says. The group has a way of uncovering places you didn't know about, or at least didn't realize had been touched by death's spectral embrace. Seasonal events — like the Ouija Board Exchange Program and renegade film screenings — keep things hopping. GHOULA's new tour company — offering bus tours, walking tours, interactive tours and special events — melds imagination, expert guides and reasonable prices ($13 and up), focusing on the paranormal, the twisted and the quirky, and offering the first UFO-themed tour in town. –Skylaire Alfvegren
How to experience it now: GHOULA's meet-ups are held on the unlucky 13th of every month at various haunted locations around town. This month's locale was North Hollywood's Cahuenga General Store, an old-timey former prop rental house turned cafe. So what makes the general store-themed lunch spot so haunted? 1940s radio personality Jean King, better known as “The Lonesome Gal,” reportedly died in the apartment above it just two years before the building was turned into a prop rental house in 1995. Also this month, GHOULA is sponsoring Sunday tours of the former “red car” train tunnels. Meet at Union Station and continue to underground haunts on the way to the North Hollywood red line station. More info here.
If you're looking to get in a workout while ghost hunting in the great outdoors…
Hike through the unmarked Corralitas Red Car Property trail
You hike in Malibu for the ocean views, and you trek through Griffith Park to get your hippie fix, but where to go when you want to see a ghost train? Corralitas Red Car Property sits on land formerly part of the Pacific Electric Streetcar line, which cut through Silver Lake on its way to Glendale, until it was decommissioned in 1955. Bordered on both sides by the skeletons of abandoned cars and old machinery, the public trail near the old rail is as creepy as it is cool. Relics of the big red cars are still visible: Heavy stones mark the spot where a massive bridge once stood, and you can see the steps where riders lined up to board. Wild flora block the sound of city traffic, making it that much easier to hear disgruntled spirits grumbling as they wait for the next train to arrive. 2400 Corralitas Drive, Silver Lake. –Sarah LaBrie
How to experience it now: The Corralitas Red Car Property has sat vacant for nearly 60 years, but there's been plenty of interest in developing the hilly trails that stretch between the 5 and the 2 freeways in Echo Park. (Think of it as L.A.'s own version of New York's High Line, but with an added bonus: cool old-timey railroad ghosts!) More than a year ago, the land had been proposed as a site for residential buildings, and then-Councilmember Eric Garcetti even showed interest in turning the space into a public park. Explore the Corralitas Red Car Property now before it gets developed and loses its eerie charm, lest the mayor's plan ever come to fruition in his former tri-hipster district.
If you're an adventurous East Sider looking for a hospital that won't slam you with a hefty medical bill…
Pay a visit to Linda Vista Community Hospital
Abandoned places have their own energy — or seem to, at least, if you watch any basic-cable pseudoscience-channel filler programs about hauntings or the paranormal. The abandoned Linda Vista Community Hospital in Boyle Heights is used these days as a shooting location for everything from episodes of ER to music videos to assorted horror movies dripping with that dull post-Saw decay for effect. You can wander through for a fee. Founded in 1904 as the Santa Fe Railroad Hospital, it served railway employees who got sick of working on the railroad all the livelong day. Closed in 1991, it's been the focus of intrepid urban explorers who are either too principled or too cheap to pay the admission fee charged by the on-site guard. So why would ghosts choose to haunt places with very little life left in them? Psychoacoustic feedback loops, unexplained penance and just plain spectral loneliness have all been offered as guesses at ghostly motivation, but the faithful and the skeptical can agree that the building currently crumbling away slowly in East Los Angeles resembles a ghost because it's just sad. 610 S. St. Louis St., Boyle Heights. (323) 526-4222. –David Cotner
How to experience it now:Despite attempts to redevelop the National Historic Landmark into trendy East Side apartments called the Buena Vista Lofts and a plan to transform the former hospital into affordable senior housing units, the 1904 building is still abandoned, and we can't advocate for trespassing. Your best bet for hospital admittance: attend a guided ghost tour with a paranormal team or get hired as an extra with a film crew. (We hear Craigslist is good for that kind of stuff.)
If you're a Bukowski fan hoping to hang out with the deceased author…
Get a drink and put a dollar in the jukebox at The Frolic Room
When a friend comes to town, why not take them to where Bukowski drank? Hollywood's Frolic Room is one of the only places Bukowski obsessives agree that he actually haunted, and a portrait of him hangs above the cash register. But you don't have to be a Bukowski fan to appreciate a good dive bar and, thanks to gentrification, Hollywood boasts precious few these days. The Frolic Room has been around since Prohibition ended and continues to offer a paradoxically classy dive-bar ambience. Bartenders aren't over-tattooed out-of-work actors but suited gentlemen who will remember your favorite spirits every time you step in. The walls feature caricatures of Groucho Marx and Albert Einstein, two people who almost certainly never drank here but whose images provide a kitschy, old-school charm. So come during the day and see workaday Joes. Come at night and see Hollywood hipsters who know from good bars and the ghost of Hank Chinaski. 6245 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. (323) 462-5890. –Nicholas Pell
How to experience it now: It's pretty clear. But we have a conversation starter for you: Not only was the Frolic Room a favorite watering hole of Bukowski, but it was also frequently visited by Elizabeth Short (aka the Black Dahlia). Private detective Daniel Jackson reportedly spotted Short at the Frolic Room just days before she was found dead in a vacant lot on January 15, 1947.
If you're an art deco fanatic who's not afraid of spending the day behind bars…
Do some time at the Lincoln Heights Jail
The Lincoln Heights Jail (nicknamed the Gray Bar Motel by LAPD) housed murderer William Edward Hickman in the 1920s, drunken movie star Lucile Watson in the '40s, zoot suit rioters in the '50s and Watts rioters in 1965, shortly before the jail closed that same year. Though it's still owned by the city of Los Angeles, you're more likely to find Lady Gaga and Blink-182 inhabiting its still-standing jail cells these days, for the filming of their respective prison-set music videos, “Telephone” and “Feeling This.” The abandoned art deco building dating back to 1931 also is a coveted location for Hollywood movies like 1997's L.A. Confidential, and it's even being scouted by the L.A. River Revitalization Corporation, which is looking to redevelop the supposedly haunted site into a clean-tech hub with an urban farm and outdoor climbing wall. 401 N. Avenue 19, Lincoln Heights, 90031. –Jennifer Swann
How to experience it now: Like the Linda Vista Community Hospital, the Lincoln Heights Jail is an abandoned location and you'll need to contact Film L.A. for permission to film on the premises or get permission from the city of L.A. to conduct any other type of business at the historic-cultural monument. Or, for $10 a month, you can join the Los Angeles Youth Athletic Club, which is located on the fifth floor of the jail and holds boxing and kickboxing clases — so you can pump some iron while potentially catching some ghostly vibes.
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