Discover Northern California's
Guest Article:
Ghost Stories of Big Sur and San Fran

Ghost Stories of Big Sur and San Francisco

This article was contributed by Brett Sklar of We've told you many times on these pages about - a website where you can compare lodging prices from hundreds of hotel booking sites all in one place; serves the same function for those who are looking to rent a car.

We first met Brett on Twitter (@rentacarnow), where we have chatted, shared information, and discovered that Brett also has a blog associated with his web business, In the spirit of helping each other out, Brett kindly offered to contribute an article to Discover Northern California.

I know you'll enjoy this article from Brett about a scenic drive up the Northern California coast and the ghost stories of the movie stars and buried ships to be found along the way.

Do you have a favorite NorCal story?
From a family visit from years ago to something
you discovered last weekend,
Share it with the rest of us
- we'd love to learn about it!

Compare hotel prices and find the best deal -

Ghost Stories of Big Sur and San Francisco

Contributed by: Brett Sklar

Mention Northern California and most people will immediately picture San Francisco and the fog circling the Golden Gate Bridge. But before you head there – and we will reveal some unexpected sites in that great city – why not explore some of the state’s breathtaking seascapes drive along the coast?

“A place of grandeur and eloquent silence.” This was writer Henry Miller’s (1891-1980) description of one of the world’s most amazing chiseled coastlines, the northern end of which is about 120 miles south of San Francisco. 

Take time to marvel at the eternal ruggedness, the primitive, angry, beautiful wilderness that is…Big Sur.

This sparsely populated area – “the noblest thing I have ever seen” – in the words of American poet Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962), is home to giant redwoods, steep cliffs, cascading waters and pounding surf. It’s one place where – thankfully – man will always be outwitted by nature. No footprint will last very long along this shoreline - except perhaps for the ghost stories of the great poets and writers who came before us.

Ghost Stories
Poets, painters…and sandpipers

Big Sur has inspired generations of painters, sculptors, composers and writers – not only Miller but Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), Hunter S Thompson (1937-2005) and poets like Jeffers.

And, of course, it was only a question of time before its awesome beauty was captured on celluloid. Think of The Sandpiper, a great 60s kitsch romance with Elizabeth Taylor playing a beatnik artist living in a secluded beach shack and having an affair with a married priest, played by Richard Burton.

Okay, it was no Oscar-winner (except for the love song, The Shadow of Your Smile), but it was redeemed by the opening credits. Forget about your problems and enjoy the birds-eye view of the Big Sur coastline and the haunting music of Johnny Mandel in the video above.

Perhaps Big Sur’s most famous landmark is the Bixby Creek Bridge – one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world, 13 miles south of Carmel and a prime spot on the California One Highway.

Ghost Stories
Make Clint's Day

Carmel itself is one of those coastal towns that exerts an eternal appeal. Its tranquil, genteel atmosphere makes it ideal for (well-heeled) retirees. It’s also home to Clint Eastwood who has set many films around here, notably Play Misty for Me.

This pristine environment – you get the impression that the authorities remove litter and undesirables overnight! – is home to a magnificent white sandy beach, quaint antique shops, cute cottages and million-dollar residences as well as lovely restaurants like The Cypress Inn, partially owned by Doris Day.

Compare hotel prices and find the best deal -

Ghost Stories
San Francisco's Sunken Ships

San Francisco, about 116 miles north of Carmel, is on everybody’s list of favorite cities. Possibly no other American city, apart from New York, evokes such instant connotations – Karl Malden and Michael Douglas leaping off trams, Dirty Harry shooting “punks,” Steve McQueen driving his Mustang down the city’s winding, hilly streets.

But there’s another San Francisco that is altogether more hidden. The city’s business district may represent its modern-day strength. But underneath some of its buildings lurks some (literally) hidden history…sunken ships to be precise.  

One such vessel, the Niantic, was initially uncovered in August 1872 after the demolition of the Hotel Niantic. The boat, which brought prospectors from Connecticut during the height of the Gold Rush in 1849-1850, was partially destroyed by fire but then re-discovered at the northwest corner of Clay and Sansome Street during plans to erect a skyscraper in 1978.

Another boat, the Arkansas – known as the Old Ship – was discovered during deconstruction work on the north side of Pacific Street. The vessel, then known as the Arkansas, ran aground and was towed into Yerba Buena Cove and set on the beach at what is now the corner of Pacific and Battery. The Old Ship Saloon now stands on the same spot – at 298 Pacific Avenue.

Ghost Stories
The Largest Chinatown

Chinatown Moon Festival 2012

Everyone knows the city’s Chinatown area, the largest outside Asia, and the oldest in North America but few people know much about the history of its residents. Every year people from all over the world explore Grant Avenue to buy trinkets and get authentic Chinese food. If you’re in the mood for a nibble, try the Golden Gate bakery on 1029 Grant Avenue for a great Hong Kong delicacy – and one that is strangely elusive – the egg tart, known as the “Don Tot”.

Chinatown may be a haven of civilization nowadays but it was once altogether more insalubrious, a hotbed of organized crime and gang rivalries. For example, stroll through Waverly Place, an alley between Sacramento and Washington Street. Back in 1931, this was the scene of a conflict between two powerful gangsters in which several people were shot.

Another place of interest in Chinatown, but hopefully with a more serene aura (!), is St Mary’s Church at 660 California Street, the city’s first Asian church, built in 1854 to teach Catholicism to newly arrived Chinese citizens. You can also visit the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum on 965 Clay Street to find out more about the community’s history.

Finally, want one of the best views over the city? Take the 49-Mile Scenic Drive which goes from the waterfront to the city’s western shore through Golden Gate Park to Twin Peaks. This gives you a 360-degree view over San Francisco, the bay and Marin and Alameda Counties.

You certainly won’t regret a drive through this part of California. So you better choose a firm that has the cheapest car rental rates and get going!

Thanks so much to Brett Sklar for his informative and interesting offering to Discover Northern California's Guest Articles!

Would you like to contribute a guest article to share with our readers? Just go to Discover Northern California's Guest Articles and fill out the super easy form. You, too, can have a story published!

In the meantime, here are some more guest articles for you to enjoy:

Please continue your exploration of what Northern California has to offer by using the Nav Bars in the left and right columns or by using the links at the bottom of the page.

Return to Discover Northern California's Home Page from
Ghost Stories

Like what you're finding here at Discovering Northern California? Then please share with the Social Network of your choice.

And thanks for coming!