Ten Spooky Legends and Cryptids That Haunt California

Lore plays a powerful role in urban and rural life. It can bring communities together, serving as a unique shared experience. When it becomes a tourism draw, it can also bring in revenue. 

Consider the legend of Bigfoot, a bipedal ape-like creature said to roam the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Thousands of Bigfoot hunters flock to the region each year in hopes of finding him. They rent cars, book hotels, and buy Bigfoot merchandise — all of it pouring money into local coffers.

Bigfoot is the best known cryptid by far. But there are many other legends and monsters that enrich the Golden State. In honor of Halloween 2023, here are ten spooky legends and cryptids you may not have heard about.

Lemurians of Mt. Shasta

This 124-year old legend involves purported descendents of an ancient civilization. They are said to inhabit an elaborate tunnel system beneath Mt. Shasta and occasionally surface, wandering in white robes. 

The Lemurians are just one of many legends that circulate around this breathtaking and almost mystical region. Every year, tens of thousands of people visit Mt. Shasta on spiritual or religious journeys.

The Dark Watchers of the Santa Lucia Mountains

Sightings of Los Vigilantes Oscuros or “The Dark Watchers” stretch back about 300 years. The mysterious figures are even featured in John Steinbeck’s short story “Flight.” 

The Dark Watchers are said to stalk travelers in the Santa Lucia Mountains of Big Sur. They’re described as 7-10 feet tall, shadowy, and typically clad in dark cloaks and hats.  

Tahoe Tessie

Scotland has the Loch Ness Monster. Canada has Ogopogo. And Lake Tahoe has Tahoe Tessie. She’s described as a 30 to 60-foot lake monster who dwells in deep, underwater caves. 

Those who’ve seen Tahoe Tessie believe she’s either a prehistoric animal or an undiscovered species. Skeptics say she’s likely a large sturgeon that has been misidentified and, at times, exaggerated.

Fresno Nightcrawler 

The legend of the Fresno Nightcrawler is fairly new. It began in 2007 when a resident captured video of two creatures walking along his front yard. Four years later, the same beings were captured on video in Yosemite.

The Nightcrawler is almost cartoonish in appearance. It literally looks like a pair of wide-leg pants with no torso attached, stumbling around like a drunk college student.

Some people think the Nightcrawler is an extraterrestrial. Others think it’s a person, an animal or a hoax.

Haunting at the Niles Hotel 

This is the only ghost haunting on our list. What sets it apart is that one of the most credible witnesses happens to have been a Modoc County supervisor.

Elizabeth Cavasso was working on the third floor of the Niles Hotel in Alturas when a figure suddenly appeared in front of her.

“Right in front of her face was a woman,” Cavasso’s husband told the Los Angeles Times. “It was brief, and she was gone.”  

Many other guests and hotel staff claim to have seen the same apparition. Believers say it’s the spirit of a prostitute who died in the hotel many years ago. Tourists come to the Niles from all around to catch a glimpse of her.

Joshua Tree Skinwalkers

No one knows the story of Joshua Tree’s skinwalkers better than the indigenous inhabitants of the Mojave Desert. They’ve been seeing these shapeshifting witches for centuries. They can cast spells and imitate your loved ones, or so the mythology goes.

Skinwalkers are having a bit of a moment on TikTok. See the videos posted by Skinwalker hunters here.  

Death Valley Underground Giants

Uninhabitable places are ripe for lore, and Death Valley is no exception. Beneath the scorching sand and rock lies an underground city of catacombs, according to legend. The tombs are allegedly filled with mummified remains belonging to an ancient race of human beings who averaged over 8 feet tall.

Yucca Man

Yucca Man is essentially the desert’s answer to Bigfoot. This large, bipedal creature was reportedly first sighted in Twentynine Palms back in 1971. Since then, there have been numerous sightings reported in Joshua Tree, the Antelope Valley, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Warner’s Ranch in San Diego County.

Borrego Sandman 

If Bigfoot and Yucca Man had a family reunion, the Borrego Sandman would probably be there. He’s very similar to the bipedal ape witnessed up north and in the Mojave. But this dude is a little lighter with a more humanoid face, and his hangout is the Anza-Borrego Desert.


Chupacabra sightings span the Latin world and the southwestern United States. The fanged creature, whose name means “goat sucker,” is reportedly responsible for many unexplained livestock deaths. The chupacabra is usually described as short (3-4 feet tall) and bipedal with red eyes. Some chupacabra sightings have been identified as coyotes with mange.

Chupacabra sightings first began in Puerto Rico. They have occurred in numerous California cities, including Chico, Fontana, Poway, Perris, Redlands, Riverside and Santa Ana. 

Sleep tight and have a Happy Halloween!