Halloween’s appeal is universal. What’s not to love about costume parties, candy, jack-o’-lanterns, and trick-or-treating?
But when you get down to it, dancing to the “Monster Mash” and handing out candy to a bunch of kids in superhero costumes isn’t all that spooky. So what do you do on Halloween in Los Angeles if you’re looking for something legitimately freaky?
It turns out that once you scratch the surface, living in Los Angeles is kind of like a real-life horror movie. From serial killers and gruesome murder mysteries to haunted elevators and ghost sightings at the Hollywood sign, all your worst nightmares have already happened right here. They’ve maybe even happened on your street.
To dive a little deeper into the dark side of LA, we spoke to two tour operators who can guide you through the haunted, seedy underbelly of LA. Patrick Bean and his wife started Hollywoods Haunted after experiencing similar tours in New Orleans, while Damien of the DTLA Murder Mystery Ghost Tour, a trained historian, came up with the idea while developing a pilot based in Downtown LA.
If you’ve never taken a true crime or ghost tour before, but are curious to learn more about LA’s history, Patrick and Damien gave us the lowdown on what to expect.
Why would you go on a Hollywood ghost tour?
On the surface, LA is all palm trees, sunshine, and celebrity glamour. But it also has a darker side. Taking a walking tour through Downtown or Hollywood can reveal fascinating tales that have been forgotten or swept under the rug.
As an example, Damien points to Griffith Park, which is named after Griffith J. Griffith, a man who notoriously shot his wife in an alcohol-fueled rage: “When you wander around Griffith Park, it’s a beautiful park, it’s a lovely spot, but just remember that some poor woman had to get shot in the head for you to enjoy it. One thing they could have done was at least name it after her, for crying out loud.”
What types of people are usually on the tours?
Damien says that he gets a surprising number of LA locals, especially on the Downtown LA tour. Downtown is also popular among fans of American Horror Story, who want to learn about the disturbing history of the Cecil Hotel — the inspiration for some of the series. The hotel’s history includes suicides, serial killers, and mysterious disappearances. “So many horrible things happened there,” he says.
Patrick says his tours seem to attract a lot of true crime buffs, particularly those who have theories on the Black Dahlia murder, a notoriously gruesome unsolved crime from 1940s LA.
What are some of the creepiest real-life stories you’ll hear about on the tours?
The Black Dahlia murder tops both Patrick’s and Damien’s list of creepy local stories. Not only is the case still unsolved in 2018, but sightings of the victim’s ghost are commonly reported around LA.
“Some people believe that she’s haunting at Boardner’s or the Millennium Biltmore Hotel Downtown [the last place she was seen alive],” says Patrick.
According to Damien, another common ghost sighting is Rudolph Valentino, the actor and “Great Lover” of 1920s film, at the Alexandria Hotel.
Many popular Hollywood landmarks, like the Hollywood sign, also hide horrific secrets.
“Some people don’t know about the Hollywood sign and Peg Entwistle,” says Patrick.
“She came out here to be an actor. She was already a big Broadway star, but the film industry happened. Then finally, she lands this really great role in this movie Thirteen Women with Myrna Loy, who was super hot to trot at this point … but once she got to see the film, she realized she’s left on the cutting room floor … she actually hikes to the Hollywood sign and then jumps off the letter ‘H’.
“A lot of people have seen her wandering around the sign, and a lot of people get her scent of gardenia too.”
How should you dress and what should you bring?
The tours are walking tours, so wear comfortable shoes and bring a hat and sunscreen if you go during the day. Cameras are essential, and ghost hunting equipment is optional!
What can you expect to see on one of these tours?
Both Patrick and Damien emphasize that they don’t actually have ghost sightings on the tours or make anything up. “It’s not a Disney tour, it’s an adult tour,” says Damien. “We weave in the history and tell a bit of a story. We always try and have a narrative on each of the tours, because it makes it more interesting and it makes it more memorable.”
“We’re not going to jump out and scare you or something like that,” says Patrick.
Both operators emphasize that they’re social events. Tours will stop at hotels or other landmarks where you can grab a drink and get to know your guide.
Patrick does admit that they’ve started experimenting with séances at the Five0Four bar in Hollywood, however, after the staff informed them of a ghost upstairs.
“Every time the door closes, people say they hear whispering in their ears and it just gets louder and louder and louder. A girl actually quit because of it. I keep telling my guests about it and they’re like, yeah, well, why don’t you do a séance?”
For Damien, sometimes the most surprising stories come from the tour-goers themselves. “We get a lot of locals on the tour and they have stories that I don’t even know. Sometimes they live in the building and they’ll tell you that someone saw a ghost in the elevator.”
What if you’re easily spooked, squeamish, or afraid of ghosts?
“It’s not too graphic,” says Patrick. “The worst thing is we talk about the Black Dahlia, you know? We’re definitely more about the history and the mystery. It’s a good time for everyone.”
While you’re not likely to see any blood or guts in real life, you may come away with a renewed appreciation for how awful people can be. “If there’s one thing you’ll learn on these tours, it’s the horrible things that humans can do to other humans, unfortunately!” says Damien.
Once you experience the darker side of LA, you may never look at those swaying palm trees or seemingly placid Hollywood back streets the same way again. Still, we say it’s worth taking a bite of the forbidden fruit if you want to know why the city has been an endless source of inspiration for writers, filmmakers, and artists throughout the years.
Want more spooky things to do this Halloween?
Check out our guide for the best Halloween happenings in LA!