- “Sunnydale: come for the food, stay for the dismemberment.”
- ―Xander Harris[src]
The area of Sunnydale was a concentration of demonic energy, which had its focal point under the Sunnydale High School; this was caused by its being the site of the Hellmouth, a gateway between the Earth and demonic dimensions. A college town, it housed the University of California at Sunnydale.
Sunnydale was destroyed and sank into the earth when a massive fissure opened beneath it. Fortunately for the inhabitants, the preceding sense of unrest on the streets and psychic disturbance in the town had already spurred most of the population to leave.
Prior to Buffy's arrival
Long before humans settled the area, an entrance to the Hellmouth existed at the site of the future town of Sunnydale. In ancient times, the Scythe was used at the site of the Hellmouth "to kill the last pure demon that walked upon the Earth." After this, the scythe was hidden, and its last guardian remained, waiting in a pagan temple that would somehow remain unnoticed for centuries.
Centuries later, Navajo and Chumash peoples lived in this area. One or more groups of monks or friars also settled in this area. As in general California history, it can safely be supposed those friars to be Spanish Franciscans, who arrived in California in the late 18th century. In 1812, there was an earthquake in the Sunnydale region that caused a cave-in in which an entire mission was lost; the very existence of the mission was soon forgotten.
Richard Wilkins arrived in California in the late 1800s, looking for gold. He founded Sunnydale (after considering the alternate names "Happydale" and "Sunny Acres") in a demon infested valley after a Navajo Slayer died there. He made a pact with the demons to found a town atop the Hellmouth for them "to feed on", in return for the promise of immortality by becoming a pure demon himself. Wilkins became Mayor of Sunnydale.
In the 1930s, there was at least one more major earthquake in Sunnydale. This caused a cave-in that swallowed up the Master and his lair, as well as the temple on Kingman's Bluff. (The date of this earthquake was given as either 1932 or 1937, although it was possible these were two distinct quakes.)
Sometime in the 1980s or 1990s, Richard Wilkins was again elected mayor, now under the name of "Richard Wilkins III", and served more than one term.
By the 1990s, Sunnydale appeared to have become a typical town on the California coast, with a popular mayor, a police force, and a local newspaper (the Sunnydale Press). However, Mayor Wilkins had instructed the police to cover up any supernatural or mysterious violence occurring in the city, and had instructed Principal Snyder to cover up supernatural violence occurring at Sunnydale High.
After Buffy's arrival
In the winter of 1997, Buffy Summers, the active Slayer, moved to 1630 Revello Drive, where she began attending Sunnydale High. There she met new friends, including Willow Rosenberg, Xander Harris, Cordelia Chase, and Oz, as well as the vampire Angel and her new watcher, Rupert Giles. This Scooby Gang often hung out at The Bronze, the Espresso Pump coffee house, and the Sun Cinema. Buffy's mother, Joyce, worked in an art gallery in Sunnydale.
During their time in high school, Buffy and her friends fought a number of vampires, most notably the Master, Spike, Drusilla, and (when he had lost his soul) Angel. Another slayer, Faith, arrived during their senior year of high school and lived at the Downtowner Motel until she joined forces with Mayor Wilkins.
In June 1999 Sunnydale High was destroyed in a great conflict that killed Mayor Wilkins and Principal Snyder. The political leaders of the city after this point remain unknown. The police occasionally appeared, but the police chief did not. The Sunnydale Press one had the headline "Mayhem caused. Monsters certainly not involved, officials say", suggesting the police continued covering up supernatural evidence.
In the fall of 1999, Buffy, Willow and Oz began attending UC Sunnydale. There they discovered that the United States Government had been operating a secret military complex, the Initiative, in a cavern beneath the campus. The Initiative was closed down in spring 2000 after a climactic battle with the cyborg Adam. By this time, Tara Maclay and Anya had joined the Scooby Gang. Later this same year, Giles purchased a magic shop named The Magic Box.
During the summer of 2000, the Key, an ancient mystical energy, was transformed into Buffy's younger sister, Dawn Summers. The next year brought the deaths of Joyce Summers and also of Buffy herself, although Buffy was brought back from the grave. After this point, Buffy and Dawn became co-owners of the family house.
In spring 2002, the Magic Box was destroyed in a battle between Willow and Buffy. In the fall of 2002, Sunnydale High was rebuilt, on exactly the same location as before - directly over the Hellmouth. By this time, knowledge of supernatural phenomena seemed to be slowly growing in the town. Sunnydale's population had dropped from 38,500 to 32,900.
In early 2003, supernatural manifestations at Sunnydale High reached unprecedented levels. Within less than a month, virtually the entire population of the town fled in a mass evacuation. Soon thereafter, the cataclysmic showdown between the Scooby Gang and the First Evil resulted in the complete obliteration of the town, which collapsed into a giant pit, closing the entrance to the Hellmouth.
The Scooby Gang and the Slayer army later headed back to Sunnydale, in the hope of recovering the Seed of Wonder, to end all the chaos unleashed upon the world by Buffy and Angel. In the ruins of the town, the Master had been guarding the Seed. Following the destruction of the artifact, Sunnydale received a number of creatures in search for its shards, including Morgan, Pearl, and Nash.
After the supernatural became public knowledge, it became tradition for revelers to party at Sunnydale on Halloween, a "celebration of the occult at the town that proved its existence." Around that same time, Andrew Wells stole the Slayer Handbook and returned to Sunnydale, planning to use the book and the new rules of magic to his advantage to resurrect the late Jonathan Levinson and Tara Maclay in an effort to atone for his past sins; however, his efforts attracted a Soul Glutton.
In the late 1990s, Sunnydale's population was around 38,500, with very few high schools (Sunnydale High, Fondren High, Kent Preparatory School, Miss Porter's), forty-three churches, a small private college (Crestwood College), the Sunnydale Zoo, the Sunnydale Natural History Museum, and one modest main street (Maple Court). Even so, it had twelve cemeteries. These cemeteries were so heavily used that services were sometimes held at night.Sunnydale also contained a campus of the University of California system, as well as a profitable magic supply shop, The Magic Box. The town, or the surrounding area, also included a large park containing a creek and a lake, and one of its cemeteries was shown to be adjacent to a lake.
Directly beneath Sunnydale High School was a Hellmouth, a location in which mystical energy converges and in which the walls that separate this world from hell dimensions was particularly thin, attracting demonic creatures and affecting the surrounding areas. This explains why vampires and other demons were so prevalent in the city.
Sunnydale possessed many common horror-movie characteristics, such as an abundance of dark alleyways, abandoned mansions and factories, and an adult population that was either clueless or perpetually in denial, in stark contrast to the demon-fighting, supernaturally aware teens.
By the year 2002, the city's population had fallen to 32,900. In the spring, the town was almost completely evacuated, before its complete destruction.
Sunnydale was a somewhat isolated location. Whenever the city was stricken by a town-wide epidemic — such as the silence spell —, no other towns seemed to be nearby.
Sunnydale was located on or near the Pacific Ocean. An ocean port with several docked ships was nearby (Sunnydale Port). Nearby, Kingman's Bluff stands on a tall cliff overlooking the sea. There was a nearby beach(Sunnydale Beach). There was a hydroelectric dam in the vicinity of Sunnydale.
Maps of Sunnydale
A large map of "Sunnydale County" hangs on the wall of Principal Snyder's office, as well as on the wall of Mayor Wilkins' office. According to this map, Sunnydale was located at a bend on the California coast. To the south and west of Sunnydale was the Pacific Ocean.
Andrew drew a map of Sunnydale to track the First's activities. The general shape of the coastline matched previously used maps. According to Andrew's map, there were woods between Sunnydale and the ocean to the west and to the south, and a dark forest directly southeast of the town, where the coast bends. There were also woods to the east of Sunnydale, as well as railroad tracks.
Behind the scenes
- Series creator Joss Whedon conceived the town as a representation of the typical, anonymous, generic suburban city, as well as a narrative parody of the all-too-serene towns typical in traditional horror movies.
- Sunnydale was "located" on the California coast, two hours northwest of Los Angeles. If Sunnydale was to be identified with an actual college town in this region, Santa Barbara (or perhaps San Luis Obispo) would be the logical choice. In Season Three, the mayor's office was shown with a giant map of "Sunnydale County"; this map was an actual map of Santa Barbara County with a new name pasted over it. Many of the long-range outside shots of the town were actually shots of Santa Barbara. These were especially clear in the widescreen versions of seasons four to seven; some of the Spanish-style buildings were obviously in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara to anyone familiar with the city.
- In fiction fandom, "Sunnydale Syndrome" is a name given to the semi-common tendency of mundane characters to fail to notice, or to reject as unreal or impossible, the unusual activities taking place under their noses, even when blindingly obvious.
- The screen used map was little more than background set dressing and does not even show the street Revello Drive (the street Buffy lived on).
- Main article: Buffy the Vampire Slayer filming locations
Various southern California locations were used as stand-ins for Sunnydale:
- The exterior shots of Sunnydale High were of Torrance High School in Torrance, California.
- The exterior shots and some interior shots of Buffy's home were of an actual home located in Torrance.
- The exterior shots of the Mayor's office in season three were filmed in Torrance, California.
- Most of the University of California, Sunnydale scenes were filmed at the University of California, Los Angeles, and in a closed sound stage designed to match the UCLA architecture. Some of the later scenes were filmed at a private business park.
- The exterior shots of New Sunnydale High were filmed at California State University, Northridge in Northridge, California.
Evidence for a location in the Santa Barbara region
Sunnydale was located on the California coast, about a two-hour drive northwest of Los Angeles. This was indicated by the following:
- Buffy had just moved from Los Angeles to a house in Sunnydale, and she complains that she was now "two hours from a Neiman Marcus". This was evidently in reference to the Neiman Marcus store in Beverly Hills.
- The characters visited other towns on the central and southern coast of California, including Monterey and Oxnard.
- The characters often drove to Los Angeles, but rarely refer to the San Francisco Bay Area, suggesting that they were much closer to the former than to the latter. Indeed, when the characters visit the Bay Area, it seems to be a more substantial trip. When Giles visits Oakland, he flies by plane, and Gilroy was a significant ride "up north" on a motorcycle.
- Sunnydale had been shown on a TV weather map in approximately the same position as Santa Barbara.
- The Scooby Gang was attacked by the spirits of Native Americans described as Chumash, a tribe local to Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
- Lilah Morgan refereed to Sunnydale as being "up the coast" from Los Angeles.
- Anya stated that the Denny's in Oxnard was exactly half-way between Buffy's and Angel's residences. From the Hyperion Hotel to Oxnard was 59 miles; assuming that Anya was being precise, this would put Sunnydale on the northwest outskirts of Santa Barbara.
Thus, this evidence would place Sunnydale very close to Santa Barbara, California. Since Santa Barbara was never itself been mentioned in the show, it could be surmised that Sunnydale simply was the Santa Barbara of the Buffy universe. Many of the establishing shots of the town were in fact shots of Santa Barbara.
On the other hand, it also was possible that Santa Barbara exists in the Buffy universe, and that Sunnydale was merely located close to it. Joss Whedon stated in November 1998 that "Sunnydale was in fact near Santa Barbara."
Evidence for other locations
There were also a few indications that associate Sunnydale with other California locations:
- UC Sunnydale also had a connection to the University of California, Santa Cruz. In several episodes of the fourth season, UC Sunnydale dormitories named Kresge and Stevenson were mentioned. Kresge and Stevenson were names of colleges on the campus of UC Santa Cruz. However, Eve refereed to UC Santa Cruz as her alma mater, so UC Santa Cruz was a distinct school in the Buffy universe.
- Buffy's home was in the 95037 ZIP Code, according to the text shown in a letter. This was the real life ZIP Code for the city of Morgan Hill, which was situated southwest of San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale. However, Giles once mentioned he was taking a flight from Sunnydale to Oakland, which would eliminate that possibility.
- Joss Whedon had remarked that originally he loosely based Sunnydale on Monterey, California, but that it was never intended to be an exact parallel.
Connection to Sunnyvale
- In the seventh season, the character Cassie Newton was shown to have created a website. Screenwriter Rebecca Rand Kirshner created an actual website for this character and registered it to "Cassie Newton" at a fake address. The ZIP Code she used was 94086, which was an actual ZIP Code in Sunnyvale.
- Sunnyvale borders the city of Santa Clara, California whose name bears a resemblance to Santa Carla, another fictional vampire-infested California coastal town and the setting of the film The Lost Boys, from which the term "vamp out", used often in Buffy and Angel, originates.
However, the geography of Sunnyvale makes it a poor candidate for Sunnydale, since it was located more than 300 miles (480 km) north of Los Angeles.