It’s great to be alive in Colma, California - a small unincorporated Bay Area town with a very unique history in San Mateo County on the San Francisco Peninsula. This scenic two-square mile town is home to Just under 2,000 “above ground” residents, but the population of the dead outnumbers the living by a ratio of nearly a thousand to one.
That is because the city of Colma was founded as a “necropolis,” or a city for dead people, in the early 1920s. Nearly three-quarters of the land of Colma is zoned for cemeteries - of which there are 17, including those that cater to Italians, Jews, Greek Orthodox, Japanese and Serbs.
At the turn of the 20th century, when gold rush towns like San Francisco realized they were running out of room to accommodate the growing need for graves, they banned new cemeteries from being built within the city limits. As a result, Colma became the new site for multiple cemeteries after San Francisco outlawed new interments within city limits in 1900, and then evicted all existing cemeteries in 1912.
Approximately 150,000 bodies were moved from cemeteries in San Francisco to Colma between 1920 and 1941. Today, hundreds of funerals take place each week in Colma. As the largest city in the San Mateo County, Colma is centrally located, while Daly City is minutes away from the San Francisco Bay.
Cemetery tourism is increasingly popular in Colma, where the town's slogan is, "It's great to be alive in Colma." Visitors from all over the world flock to the final resting spots of the influential figures buried in the city. Among the most popular spots are the Cypress Lawn Heritage Foundation, which is the Colma relocation of San Francisco Laurel Hill Cemetery. This cemetery is highlighted by renowned journalist William Randolph Hearst who is buried here. Baseball legend Joe DiMaggio rests at the Holy Cross cemetery, while Levi Strauss is buried at the Home of Peace Cemetery and Wyatt Earp is buried at the Hills of Eternity Memorial Park.
Today, you can easily drive through beautiful Colma and check out the scenery. Each cemetery or crematorium provides a rich history of the people buried there, who could have spanned from generations of San Francisco’s early history.