Mythical and mysterious places of the Bay Area (and CA)?
April 29, 2012 5:33 PM   Subscribe

San Francisco Bay Area (and CA) - can you think of any mysterious, or interesting or secret places? Legends/myths? Strange rewards for a bit of driving, or walking, or an ExpeditionTM of Discovery, etc? Difficulty: not looking for woo, or establishments of commerce, no-matter how good hole-in-the-wall-food may be :) Examples inside...

Along similar lines to this question - James Cameron's Abyss abandoned in an unfinished nuclear reactor in SC, The unsolved mystery of the missing $200K - and D.B. Cooper - in WA / OR, the NM parking lot where Atari buried the ET cartridges, the caves (and underground lake?) that intersect the tunnels of Boston, Mesa Verde in CO, the ongoing burning town in PA that inspired Silent Hill, giant meteor craters, or hidden waterfalls&swimming holes, or ruins of old atomic-age secret constructions, or... hell, even rumours of buried treasure. Actually, definitely any rumours of buried treasure! :)

What does CA have (or might have... or some people say CA might have) that's out of the ordinary? Even if not safe or legal, but quite interesting, that's something.

I'm aware that in the last few years the Abyss thing was removed and the unsolved mystery solved, etc, but these still make great examples :-)
posted by -harlequin- to Travel & Transportation around California (28 answers total) 105 users marked this as a favorite
My friend took me here when I went to visit and I thought it was pretty cool. Next time I would go earlier in the day so I can see the whole property. Not sure if it's quite what you are looking for but I'd recommend it if you are nearby. Safe travels:)
posted by blubutterfly at 5:57 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, I just reread your post. The place I mentioned is definitely a more commercial style endeavor although it is a historical site as well.
posted by blubutterfly at 6:05 PM on April 29, 2012

Check out the entries in Atlas Obscura.
posted by unliteral at 6:15 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Secret Staircases of the east bay
Fun walking guide around the staircases in the east bay. Pretty awesome.

Secrets of San Francisco
Where to find our city's "POPOS" — privately owned public open spaces

Loads of rooftop parks in SF that are public spaces inside of privately owned buildings or property. Fun to have a rooftop lunch in a secret park.
posted by JimmyJames at 6:57 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I found Grey Whale Cove State Beach close to Pacifica to be a neat little "hidden gem" sort of place. Obviously, it's not completely unknown being a state beach and all, but you can drive by it a hundred times and never realize it's there because the facilities are so rudimentary, just a parking lot across a busy highway, then a wooden staircase down. The only giveaway is the occasional people carrying beach stuff darting across the highway. Once you've climbed down the steps and are on the beach, you're far enough down and secluded enough you'd never even realize you're 20 minutes or so from San Francisco or the busy beaches like Pacifica State Beach.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:06 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have suggestions for San Francisco.

Sutro Baths:
My favorite place in the city. Crashing waves, quiet pools of water full of weird green plant life, crumbling stone walls and rusted pipes from ruins of a elaborately fancy Victorian swimming pool complex that burned down. Surrounded on three sides by hills full of cypresses, wonderful on a foggy day when everything is all silvery and quiet.

Clarion Alley and Balmy Street in the Mission
Very elaborate and beautiful street art.

Seward Street Slides
Concrete slides to go down on a piece of cardboard, quite steep with a couple of turns and dips. Also the Saturn Street stairs are nearby for a lovely walk through flowers and trees tucked between houses.

The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps Project
Beautiful mosaic covered stairs in Golden Gate Heights that lead to a beautiful view of the city.

There used to be this amazing scavenger hunt called the Jejune Institute disguised as a social engineering experiment that was really challenging and showed you really lovely and unexpected parts of the city and definitely some very mysterious things. (Like a tiny doll-sized book store in a larger bookstore, or mysterious statues on a skyscraper). Alas, the JeJune Institute is no more but you can still follow the trail here.
posted by erstwhile ungulate at 7:31 PM on April 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Scenic and out of the way/not heavily traveled: Tunitas Creek Road. It's down the peninsula, on King's mountain where the Redwoods are now a century old again after having been logged to build San Francisco. People bike it for the beauty. Not exactly a secret, but not well known.
posted by INFOHAZARD at 7:39 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wave Organ
posted by unknowncommand at 8:05 PM on April 29, 2012

This is SoCal but you did say "or CA." And it sounds amazing and I want to go there. Murphy Ranch.
posted by scratch at 8:13 PM on April 29, 2012

One time an erstwhile girlfriend took me to the Berkeley Rose Garden at night. She parked on the street Euclid?), and then took me down to the right, and then took me through a tunnel under the street into the rose garden itself. It was magical!
posted by Danf at 8:46 PM on April 29, 2012

In the east bay, I quite like the Albany Bulb.
posted by introcosm at 9:00 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Historic morse code radio station re-activated as a museum by volunteers, in Bolinas and Pt. Reyes (powerful transmitters require the receivers to be some miles distant in order to hear anything!). Open for tours most Saturdays. Tell them Owen sent you.

NOW can I ask about these alleged caves underneath Boston??
posted by autojack at 9:26 PM on April 29, 2012

There are a number of such places at the Center for Land Use interpretation Database. You can browse the map or keywords. For example, there's the Isla de Umunnum near Watsonville.
posted by euphorb at 9:31 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, these are great. More! MOAR! :)

NOW can I ask about these alleged caves underneath Boston??

Not under Boston. A friend who used to live/work in Boston was telling me of how there is a network of old disused tunnels under Boston. The basement of a store he worked for connected to the tunnels. I'm guessing these might be what he was referring to, and when they had the chance they would explore as far as they dared, and try to map them. (I'm under the impression the risk of getting lost was fairly serious.) He said there was also a natural cave system near the city, and that it was possible to get all the way from the tunnels to the caves and up out to the surface. (Or that it was thought to be possible?). He said the cave entrances are sealed with steel grills and doors to prevent kids getting in and getting lost - apparently there would be a death from time to time over the years, so the authorities take it quite seriously to keep the entrances gated.
He's also heard that there is a lake down there, but he hasn't seen it.

It's the perfect mystery blend that begins with "This much of it I have seen this with my own eyes and it's stone-cold real" and then throws in a pile of hearsay and legend and possibility.

posted by -harlequin- at 9:55 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

My serious answer is to drive or walk around West or East Oakland on a warm Friday or Saturday evening. It meets all of your criteria.
posted by lamp at 9:56 PM on April 29, 2012

Some reported hauntings investigated or to be investigated by the San Francisco Ghost Society. Some sites of legal history in San Francisco. (On both lists? The San Remo Hotel. Admittedly, its place in land use law is a bit dry. Plus, it's an establishment of commerce.)

My favorite slightly-spooky and slightly-beautiful place is the old Point Molate military base outside Richmond.
posted by salvia at 10:08 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe not quite what you are looking for, but one of the biggest Mahayana Buddhist temples in the west is about 2 hours north of the bay area.

The complex was originally the Mendocino State Asylum for the Insane, Later the Mendocino State Hospital, until shut down by governor Reagan in the late 70s.

The original planners in the 1880s were insistent that the complex be self sufficient, and that at least one of every tree that could possibly be grown in the climate be planted on the grounds, so it is a pretty great place to go look at what kinds of trees people thought were all the kinds of trees in the world 130 years ago.

In the 30s it was one of the centers of eugenic sterilizations in the united states. The director was supposedly in correspondence with Hitler, but I am having some trouble with finding a cite for that so that one might just be a rumor.

There are lots of urban legends (and some decent research as well, but I am having trouble with google) about links between the Peoples Temple, and the hospital during the time that the Peoples Temple where headquartered in Redwood Valley.

The complex was bought by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua's organization, the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association in the 1970s. The filled the place with as may peacocks and exorcisms as possible. they built some pretty amazing temples, and housing for monastics, and also for quite a few South Asian refugees, elementary schools, and the absolute best vegan restaurant that I have ever been to.

But many of the Buildings are still pretty much untouched. I spent some time forklifting around there and moving every abandoned chair and desk into the old men's dormitory, and there are still paintings on the walls form the last days as a hospital; lists of what guards were assholes painted underneath tables, portraits painted around mirrors, carvings everywhere. I found two stashes of 50s porn.

The mortuary is still untouched, unlighted, and flooded. They keep doing more exorcisms, but no one wants to go down there (I got to fix the plumbing once).

Also the men's monastery has human skulls on the doors, and pictures of vivisected women on the bathroom mirrors.

Anyhow, if you ask nice you can probably see some of the old hospital buildings and the room full of 18th century maps. If not though , there are white peacocks, and a lot of statues, and an old timey forge , that was later turned into a slightly old timey metal working shop, also amazing food served by shy nuns.

God damn I miss that food.
posted by St. Sorryass at 12:50 AM on April 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

Seconding latkes' suggestion of Drawbridge, CA. Sounds like exactly what you're looking for.
posted by mekily at 12:56 AM on April 30, 2012

Looks like Drawbridge is closed:
"Drawbridge is now part of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge and is no longer open to the public due to restoration efforts."
posted by quadog at 2:02 AM on April 30, 2012

There's "closed", and there's "closed".
posted by latkes at 6:33 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Lemurians and Mt Shasta.
posted by talldean at 9:38 AM on April 30, 2012

The old tunnels on the (extinct) Los Gatos to Santa Cruz railroad.
posted by anadem at 9:47 AM on April 30, 2012

Angel Island is an interesting, sort of off the beaten track place. Especially the Civil War Era Army Hospital. Spooky.
posted by chevyvan at 9:50 AM on April 30, 2012

Northern California is full of this type of thing, particularly as you get up into the Sierras. As you come north from SF, there's the old Nut Tree about halfway between SF and Davis, signs are still there but I'm not sure how much of it is actually left.

In Sacramento, there's still a bit of the Old Town left under the retail that's encroached there, the rail road museum in particular is a bit of a throw back. The state capitol has some interesting nooks and crannies, a few of which a tour guide would be able to show you, the more interesting you kind of have to know someone who works there to get a gander at.

On the other end of the downtown area is Sutter's Fort, which is kind of your springboard to the pretty much endless lore and leftovers of the gold rush in the foothills and higher mountains. You could start with the northern half of El Camino Real, mostly as it runs along Highway 49, and see countless historic spots where gold was first discovered, boom towns used to exist, ghost towns still do exist (well, more into Nevada for the better ones of those), etc.. There's also lots of great rivers and waterfalls to explore along the same route. Washington Falls, above Nevada City as you continue up 49 towards its terminus into I-80, is a family favorite, with cascading 25-foot waterfalls into pristine pools that you can jump one after the other.

Not far from there is Malakoff Diggins, where you can get a real feel for how hydraulic mining worked, and walk 500+ meters in a pitch black tunnel that a creek still drains through. Nevada City and Grass Valley (both nearby) also offer a real Old Town feel and some other cool mining exploration / museums as well (respectively).

That's just a few off the top of my head. If you wanted to get an idea of the sheer scope of opportunities in Nor Cal, you would probably start with the state and federal park service pages and go from there. There's a lot of cool stuff to see, typing this makes me realize that I took growing up there for granted.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:25 PM on April 30, 2012

There's the Leonidis Taylor marker near West Sacramento, CA on the River Road which is a lovely drive.
posted by Duffington at 5:05 PM on April 30, 2012

37.804944, -122.407986
Accessible from Grant Ave. No story or mystery behind it that I know of, but it's a nice, fairly private spot to rest with a million-dollar view.
posted by clorox at 3:37 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wow, St. Sorryass. I've been to the 10k Buddhas many times (always for the yummy vegan food) and never knew the backstory of the place. I had always assumed it was the Mahayana sect that built all the buildings. Now that I pause and think about it, it is clear that some of these buildings were older than the sect.

I am going to be driving through there for Memorial day weekend. I'll pay more attention to the spookiness of the place this time around.
posted by thaths at 8:18 AM on May 6, 2012

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