Whaley House at Old Town San Diego (California)

http://whaleyhouse.org

When you think of ghostly houses to visit with kids, you may worry that they will seem too creepy or scary.  Sometimes you can stumble across a historic home that is considered ghostly without being creepy.  One of our family’s favorite historic and “haunted” homes to visit is the Whaley House in Old Town San Diego.  

We have visited this house museum a couple of times with our kids, ranging in ages from toddler to teen.  It is in the heart of Old Town San Diego, which is one of my favorite places to visit with kids!  If you are staying in San Diego for any amount of time, a visit to Old Town is a must.  It is the oldest part of the city, dating back to 1769 when it was California’s first settlement with only a mission and a fort.  The historic mission and Presidio were built on a hill overlooking the town.

The historic part of the town includes Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, where your kids can learn about the Mexican-American life and culture found here from 1821-1872.  You can tour the homes and buildings (some are original and some are reconstructions) that include a jail, courthouse, and saloon.  My kids loved the hands-on activities like grinding corn.  

They also loved visiting a wagon that is available for kids to explore!

There are so many sites to see and the weather is usually perfect (as in most of Southern California) so you can make it a full day, wandering through the historic sites and homes, including the Estudillo house.  Surrounding the historic sites are modern shops and restaurants.  If you’re looking for great Mexican food or decor, this is the place to come!  Some of our favorites include Casa de Reyes and Barra Barra.

The Whaley house is just one block east of the historic park, along a street full of restaurants, shops, and historic buildings.  The home itself was built in 1857 and was the first brick home in San Diego.  It didn’t just serve as the Whaley family home – in later years, it also included a granary (which later became a courtroom!) and a store.  In 1868, some of the upstairs bedrooms were converted into San Diego’s first commercial theater, which you can still see today!

On your self-guided tour, you can visit each of these rooms and the family’s living quarters.  It is strange to see a courtroom and a theater in what appears to be a private home!  

My son’s favorite part of the tour, however, is learning about the ghost stories that are a part of the site’s history.  The Travel Channel’s show, America’s Most Haunted, has named the Whaley house as the most haunted house in America.  Whether you believe in ghosts or not, it does have some grisly stories in its past, including its grounds serving as a hanging spot before the home was constructed.

Every time we visit, my older son thinks that he has seen a ghost and takes pictures of the rooms with my camera to prove it.  Most of the time, the “ghosts” pictured are just reflections of ourselves in the plexiglass that protects the rooms from visitors!

No matter your belief in ghosts, the Whaley house is a fun and interesting place to visit with kids.  With its location in family-friendly Old Town San Diego, it can be a fun addition to any trip to Southern California.  While October is usually a good time to visit, this year, the Whaley house is still closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.  We will just have to enjoy the museum’s ghostly video tours until it reopens!

Enjoy the spooky fun this October!


Books to Read:

The History & Mystery of the Whaley House, Old Town San Diego

Haunted Old Town San Diego: A Walking Guide & History