Meet the Unique California Cryptids Bringing Creepy Color to the State’s Rich Folklore

Weird things are afoot in California. Some of them with big feet, allegedly. The world has assigned a reputation for being a beacon for the weird to California. People who have only seen our sun-soaked shores in postcards and motion pictures frequently inflate this estimation. Still, every once in a while, we hear of a story that transcends the standard California oddity. This brings us to the ominous-sounding term cryptozoology. For those unfamiliar, cryptozoology is the study of cryptids, a.k.a. creatures that may not actually exist. Bigfoot, arguably the most famous example of a cryptid, has often been reported to lurk Northern California forests. Then, there are other famed cryptids like the Loch Ness Monster, the Mothman, and the Jersey Devil. Over the years, plenty of witnesses have collected a burgeoning catalog of California cryptids. In the spirit of the season, we’ll take a look at a few today. 


A good portion of California cryptids tend to be hybrids of animals and people. Perhaps this is just an easy way for baffled witnesses to describe the unexplainable in a context they can comprehend. However, these supposed beastmen frequently lend to conspiracy theories of genetic experimentation gone awry. 

The Proctor Valley Monster

The first “x” on our roadmap of California cryptids falls fairly close to the California-Mexico border in the San Diego-adjacent city of Chula Vista. An unsettling creature has been said to stalk a rural stretch of Proctor Valley Road as drivers edge further into the surrounding arid foothills. Witnesses describe this cryptid as a seven-foot-tall bovine monstrosity similar to the Minotaur of ancient Greek legend. Fittingly, locals have been calling it the Proctor Valley Monster since the 1960s or ‘70s. 

It has also been described as sasquatch-like in appearance and build, though with a distinctly bovine face. While there have been no sightings of the Proctor Valley Monster since the ‘70s, blame for the area’s sporadic cattle mutilations is often assigned to the unfortunate creature. Visit the Bonita Museum to see an 18-inch long cast of a footprint attributed to the beast. Yes, footprint, not hoofprint. 

The Billiwhack Monster

If the Proctor Valley Monster isn’t satisfying your taste for something tall, dark, and bestial, then head on up a couple hundred miles to Ventura County’s city of Santa Paula. Legend has it that this was (or possibly is) the stomping grounds of a horned simian monstrosity comically known as the Billiwhack Monster. It gets its not-scary-in-the-slightest name from the long-defunct Billiwhack Dairy and Ranch.

Numerous accounts have been reported over the decades of a bipedal clawed ape with curving ram-like horns haunting the ruins of the dairy farm. Most came from the students of nearby Santa Paula High School. But, to their credit, these have, at times, come with proof. One nine-year-old boy pointed out pronounced claw marks across his arms and back after attesting to being attacked by the brute. 

Perhaps there is some sort of wooly horned sasquatch terrorizing the remote areas of Santa Paula. But with the Billiwhack Monster’s penchant for smashing the cars of local teens, we have a feeling that auto insurance appraisers aren’t buying this horned representative of the California cryptids. 

The Dog Woman of Watts

Photo credit: Sad and Useless

In the city of good ol’ Watts, recognition often comes from pop culture references in TV shows like Sanford and Son or movies like Menace II Society. But, on an otherwise typical summer afternoon in 1961, it was also reportedly host to one of the strangest California cryptids. 

Starting around 3pm, several witnesses allegedly encountered what they described as a hairy creature with the face of a woman, dashing up the streets on all fours. The accounts kept coming in over the course of about three hours. The bestial quadruped seemed to keep the intersection at East 103rd and Grape Streets as its focal point. No one was harmed by the Dog Woman and, to public knowledge, it was never seen again. 

Lizard People

Reptilian humanoids are by no means confined to the admittedly tiny niche of California cryptids. They’re actually a pretty hot topic in the conspiracy theory circuit. This popularity is due, in no small part, to the writings of David Icke, a former athlete who believes a shadow organization of transdimensional lizard people took control of the world some time ago. Icke’s unsubstantiated theories of reptilian humanoids span back to the early 1990s. Yet, the below accounts of lizard people as California cryptids took place several decades before Icke published his first book. 

Wetzel’s Riverside Monster

Image credit: Rivliex

The Dog Woman of Watts isn’t the only of the one-and-done California cryptids to make our list. On a fateful November night in 1958, an unsuspecting motorist was allegedly terrorized by a vicious reptilian humanoid while driving through Riverside. Charles Wetzel described his otherworldly assailant as around six feet tall with piercing fluorescent eyes and a mouth similar to a beak. He said the creature had no discernible nose or ears. 

While driving up North Main Street, Wetzel’s path crossed the Santa Ana River, its banks overflowing due to recent heavy rains. When Wetzel’s radio suddenly cut out, he shifted from station to station to no avail. It was at this point that the Riverside monster leapt onto Wetzel’s hood, wildly flailing its gangly arms. With legs that extended from its sides, it gripped the hood of his car. No one could blame Wetzel for putting the pedal to the metal as the reptilian slashed at his windshield with its claws. The sudden jerking motion sent the creature tumbling beneath the wheels of Wetzel’s car before he unceremoniously rolled over its body. 

Obviously rattled, Wetzel reported the incident to Riverside police. During their investigation, authorities concluded that something did indeed impact the underside of Wetzel’s car. Yet, canine units found no trace of the mysterious creature at the site of the incident. So, what did Wetzel really encounter that night? Escaped Army experiment? Hallucination? Wayward Halloween decoration blown away by the wind? Wetzel did famously describe the creature as having a “round, scarecrow-ish head like something out of Halloween.” No matter the answer, Wetzel was the only person to report seeing the Riverside Monster. 

Subterranean Reptilians of Los Angeles

Image credit: Hannah Moss

Then again, maybe the Riverside Monster was just one of Downtown LA’s subterranean reptilians that took a wrong turn onto the 101. In the early 1930s, a mining engineer named G. Warren Shufelt began a documented attempt to dig down into alleged catacombs thousands of feet beneath Downtown LA in search of gold and ancient artifacts. Why did he think gold was under Los Angeles? Because a strange device he’d invented told him so. The closest analog we have to it is an x-ray machine. But Shufelt’s contraption was specifically attuned to identify minerals. And allegedly, this machine had revealed an intricate network of ancient tunnels below LA. 

Perhaps this would have been universally written off as the ramblings of a madman. But a then representative of a local Hopi tribe, Little Chief Greenleaf, echoed Shufelt’s sentiments. He claimed that a race of lizard people had long ago used chemicals to create tunnels beneath the land where Los Angeles would one day stand. The story got even more sobering when, on January 29, 1934, the Los Angeles Times ran a cover story on Shufelt’s endeavor. 

Surprisingly, Shufelt worked out a deal with the city to begin digging. But 250 feet in, the eccentric abandoned the project. For those in search of lost gold or California cryptids, it’s worth noting that Shufelt dug at 518 Hill Street. And while there has been plenty of strange activity in that area over the years, no lizards have been involved… yet. 

Ape Men

Of all of the California cryptids, the most famed is also arguably the most well-known cryptid of all-time. Yes, we’re talking about the big guy himself… the one with feet as big as his reputation. Bigfoot needs no introduction, nor does he (or she) need another write-up. Everyone knows Bigfoot. But the sasquatch isn’t the only ape man to earn a spot of honor among California cryptids. Northern California’s Bigfoot community are said to have some desert-dwelling cousins further south. 

The Borrego Sandman

Photo credit: SolarSurfer

Dating back to the late 1800s, prospectors and other frontiersmen seeking meaning in the promise of California found more than gold and opportunity in the Anza-Borrego Desert. Some claimed to encounter an eight foot tall ape further distinguished by its pale fur and intense red eyes. This snow-white simian was blamed for a multitude of brutal unsolved murders in which the victims appeared to be torn asunder. 

In 1888, two men even ventured into the desert to hunt the Borrego Sandman… and succeeded. Yet, the disappearance of the creature’s body whilst being shipped back to San Diego renders this claim dubious. If you visit the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine, you can see the only surviving trace of the Borrego Sandman. It’s a 14-inch long, nine-inch wide cast of a four-toed footprint. 

In the 1960s and ‘70s, accounts of run-ins with desert sasquatches sporadically came in from the Antelope Valley near Lancaster and Palmdale. This fed into rumors of repeated encounters of desert-dwelling apes near Edwards Air Force Base. Could the Borrego Sandman have been one of these potential sand sasquatches stricken by albinism? 

Water-Bound California Cryptids

Beastmen, lizard men, ape men… what’s next? Bird men? Lest the California cryptids seem like they’re running dry on creativity, here’s a bit of moisture to refresh things. California is host to a couple of lake monsters the likes of which would give Nessie a run for her money. 

Elsie, the Lake Elsinore Monster

Lake Elsinore may be best known for its occasional poppy super bloom, but those burning fields of orange can’t outshine the town’s aqueous dark shadow. Locals will tell you with a wry smile about the lake monster said to disrupt the tranquil surface of Lake Elsinore. Described as similar in appearance to the long-necked plesiosaurs of prehistory, the lake monster, affectionately dubbed Elsie, was first spotted in 1884. Since then, it’s been witnessed here and there. 

However, the dream (or nightmare) of Elsie seemed to evaporate in 1954 when Lake Elsinore dried out. At the then-arid lake bottom, there was no trace of a lake monster… not even algae-encrusted bones. True believers argued that Elsie simply dragged herself to some nearby caves to wait out the drought in soothing shadow. But most regard this cryptid as simple folklore born from mistaken identity. The most popular explanation for Elsie remains a mass of lake mud propelled suddenly by a discharged sulfur spring. 

Tahoe Tessie

Image credit: Adam Stuart Smith

Hundreds of miles north of Lake Elsinore swims California’s best chance at a real deal lake monster. The popular vacation destination of Lake Tahoe is easily deep enough to accommodate a leviathan of epic proportions. And about six people every year will tell you it does just that. 

They call her Tahoe Tessie. Yes, yet another supposed plesiosaur. She’s said to elude chasers of California cryptids by using the vast subaquatic cave system of the lake. According to local folklore, Cave Rock, a formation sacred to the Washoe Tribe, marks Tessie’s underwater lair. Then again, many have explained the lake serpent away as a giant sturgeon. And for anyone who’s seen a giant sturgeon, that’s pretty impressive in itself. 

Otherworldly Humanoids

Finally, we reach a point that transcends cryptozoology, because the last two California cryptids on our list tend to be pretty far removed from the animal kingdom. This is cryptozoology’s inevitable blurry boundary. Take the Dover Demon for instance. Witnesses described this being to look very similar to contemporary stereotypical representations of extraterrestrials. Or the Flatwoods Monster, described as more like a robot or mechanical suit than anything you’d see in a zoo. Yet, our final two California cryptids seem to have as much (or more) in common with supernatural beings or visitors from another planet than animals. 

Dark Watchers

The fog-kissed stretch of the Santa Lucia Mountains is an eerily mystical place. So, if you’re going to run into a few silent, motionless 10-foot tall apparitions, this seems a weirdly fitting place to do it. The Dark Watchers have been startling travelers since at least the 1700s. They tend to only appear during twilight hours, gazing into the distance as if totally unaware of their witnesses. 

Illuminated by contemporary science, many now believe the Dark Watchers to be a phenomenon known as a Brocken spectre. Basically, the sun shines from behind a witness who is staring downward from an elevated peak into mist or fog. This creates an optical illusion by which an enormous shadow is projected onto the cloud of vapor. 

A similar hypothesis posits that the Dark Watchers are manifestations of pareidolia in which a witness searches for familiarity in patterns. In this case, the mountain shadows are manipulated by rolling mist and twilight’s glow to create the impression of colossal phantoms. Yet, on the off chance that the Dark Watchers really are sentient creatures, we can at least take solace in the fact that they seem less interested in us than we are in them. 

Fresno Nightcrawlers

All the California cryptids we’ve examined have been in the state’s folklore for some time. But this last one is a rather recent addition. In 2007, a man simply known as Jose shared surveillance footage from his home security system with TV station Univision. Equal parts absurd, unsettling and cute, the footage introduced the world to a baffling entity that would come to be known as the Fresno Nightcrawler. 

Imagine a pair of white pants trundling along by their own accord and you’re very close to envisioning a Fresno Nightcrawler. In the grainy footage, the “creature” walks in the direction of the camera, billowing like fabric. It almost appears as though it has a bulbous head atop two elongated legs. 

In 2011, new footage appeared of a duo of similar creatures slowly making their way through the dark in Yosemite National Park. Since these two didn’t seem to be in as much of a hurry, viewers were treated to a better glimpse of the Fresno Nightcrawlers. In this video, a larger Nightcrawler is closely trailed by a much smaller Nightcrawler down a declining path through the forest. Since then, the Fresno Nightcrawlers have been filmed at least twice, though not near Fresno. Once in handheld footage from Poland and then again on a home security system in Billings, Montana. 

Most would conclude that the mysterious Fresno Nightcrawlers are exactly what they look like. And that’s a puppeted pair of white pants. But the sheer inanity of the visual has gained fervent attention from cryptid enthusiasts the world over. While the Fresno Nightcrawlers won’t be challenging Bigfoot for the king of the California cryptids anytime soon, they’ve picked up quite the cult following. You can even find oddly adorable Fresno Nightcrawler plush toys with a cursory Google search. 

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