San Francisco’s City of the Dead: Colma, California

At first glance Colma seems a pretty quaint little suburban city, tucked away with tranquil white buildings and pristine roads. However, the town does has a little too many cemeteries, crematoriums and many other homes for the dead.

In fact, you could pretty much say the dead outnumber the living in Colma. Like the rest of San Francisco, Colma has been through a lot of changes, in order to get to where it is today. And it has a lot to do with all those cemeteries.

When Spanish missionaries came to San Francisco, California there was an influx of immigrants from all over the Americas and Europe. The overpopulation of Colma in its early days, led to the development of slums and unhygienic conditions. Colma has been through several pandemics and natural disasters, which resulted in many fatalities. As the town rebuilt itself, many dead bodies had to be shipped off to other parts of the region.

Colma, a small town outside San Francisco, has become a necropolis for the city, which relocated the remains from four of its cemeteries there. Credit:Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Slowly but surely, pristine buildings replaced the slums and the city was soon transformed into a quiet suburban area that was in high demand for the real estate sector. Not only for the homes of the living, but also the dead.

Today, you can easily drive through Colma and check out the scenery. Each cemetery or crematorium has a rich history of the people buried there, who could have spanned from generations of San Francisco’s early history.

Colma has about 1,600 living residents and 1.5 million dead ones. Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

It’s definitely a destination for travellers, who are looking for something a little off the beaten path and history. Check it out yourself the next time you’re in California and be amazed. Remember to always have respect for the dead, if you’re planning on visiting a cemetery.

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