Sunnydale, California, is the fictional setting for the U.S. television drama Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Series creator Joss Whedon conceived the town as a representation of a generic California city, as well as a narrative parody of the all-too-serene towns typical in traditional horror movies.
Sunnydale is located on a "Hellmouth"; a portal "between this reality and the next", and convergence point of mystical energies.
Sunnydale's size and surroundings are implausible but justified given its origins - to sustain a human population for supernatural evils to prey upon. The town's founder spared no expense to attract a populace, and Sunnydale thus contains many elements of a large city - which the show's writers utilized fully for comic effect and narrative convenience. During the first three seasons, Sunnydale's population is revealed to be 38,500, very few high schools, forty-three churches, a small private college,, a zoo, a museum, and one modest main street. Even so, it has twelve gothic cemeteries. These cemeteries are so heavily used that services are sometimes held at night.
In later seasons it is revealed that Sunnydale contains a campus of the University of California system, as well as a profitable magic supply shop. The town is also seen to include a large park containing a creek and a lake, and one of its cemeteries is shown to be adjacent to a lake. Sunnydale has a number of parks: Weatherly Park, Glebe Park, Radcliff Park and Nelson Park are just some of the examples. Sunnydale has a train station, a bus station, a small airport, and a small military base.
Directly beneath Sunnydale High School is a Hellmouth, a subterranean, mystical portal that attracts evil forces. This functions as a major plot device in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as it explains why vampires and other demons are so prevalent in Sunnydale.
Sunnydale possesses many common horror-movie characteristics, such as an abundance of dark alleyways, abandoned mansions and factories, and an adult population that is either clueless or perpetually in denial, in stark contrast to the demon-fighting, supernaturally aware teens.
By the show's seventh season, set in 2002-03, the city's population has fallen to 32,900. In the spring, the town is almost completely evacuated before its destruction.
Sunnydale has a somewhat isolated location.
The town is situated near several acres of woods and forest, including Miller's Woods. Breaker's Woods is 45-minute drive from town.
Sunnydale is located on or near the Pacific Ocean. An ocean port with several docked ships is nearby. Nearby, Kingman's Bluff stands on a tall cliff overlooking the sea. There is a nearby beach.
Near, or in Sunnydale is an old quarry house built beside a deep lake, located a few feet from a cliff edge. In addition, there is a hydroelectric dam in the vicinity of Sunnydale.
Within a day's drive of Sunnydale is a desert. It is also stated several times to be approximately two hours drive from Los Angeles.
In the final episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ("Chosen"), and also in the first issue of the Buffy: Season Eight comic book, Sunnydale is depicted being surrounded by desert terrain. However, this appears to contradict information established earlier in the series about Sunnydale's surroundings.
Maps of Sunnydale have appeared at various times during the show:
Various southern California locations are used as stand-ins for Sunnydale:
In ancient times, a magic 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 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 is given as either 1932 or 1937, although it is 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.
The series begins in the winter of 1997, when Buffy Summers, the current vampire slayer, moves to 1630 Robello Drive, and Buffy begin attending Sunnydale High. There she meets 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 hangs out at the Bronze, the Espresso Pump (a local coffee house with a retro gas station motif) and the Sun Cinema. Buffy's mother, Joyce, works in an art gallery in Sunnydale.
During their time in high school, Buffy and her friends fight a number of vampires, most notably the Master, Spike, Drusilla, and (when he had lost his soul) Angel. Another slayer, Faith, arrives in their senior year of high school (Season 3) and lives at the Downtowner Motel until she joins forces with Mayor Wilkins.
At the end of the third season (June 1999), Sunnydale High is destroyed in a great conflict that kills Mayor Wilkins and Principal Snyder. After this point, there is no mention in the television show of the political leaders of the city. The police occasionally appear, but the police chief does not. There is no further discussion of the police covering up supernatural evidence, although one newspaper headline suggests this may have continued.
As the fourth season begins (fall 1999), Buffy and Willow begin attending the University of California, Sunnydale. There they discover that the United States government was operating a secret military complex, the Initiative, in a cavern beneath the UC Sunnydale campus. The Initiative is closed down at the end of the season (spring 2000) after a climactic battle with the cyborg Adam. By this time, Tara Maclay and Anya have been added to the Scooby Gang. Later this same year, Giles purchases a magic shop named The Magic Box.
Sometime between the fourth and fifth seasons (during the summer of 2000), the mysterious "Key" is transformed into Buffy's younger "sister", Dawn Summers. The next year brings deaths of Joyce Summers and also of Buffy herself, although Buffy manages to return from the grave. After this point, Buffy and Dawn become co-owners of the family house.
Before Season 5's end, a scene in the city would be shown at least once in the second season of Buffy's spinoff, Angel. In the episode "Disharmony", Cordelia Chase calls Willow from LA when her high school friend Harmony Kendall turns up. We see Willow's side of this call in a rare Sunnydale scene for this series. Angel himself visits Sunnydale at least four times in Buffy seasons 4, 5 and 7.
At the end of the sixth season (spring 2002), the Magic Box is destroyed in a battle between Willow and Buffy. At the beginning of the next season (fall 2002), Sunnydale High is rebuilt, on exactly the same location as before - directly over the Hellmouth.
By this time, knowledge of supernatural phenomena seems to be slowly growing in the town. Sunnydale's population is also revealed to have dropped to 32,900.
In the second half of the seventh season (early 2003), supernatural manifestations at Sunnydale High reach unprecedented levels. Within less than a month, virtually the entire population of the town flees in a mass evacuation. Soon thereafter, the cataclysmic showdown between the Scooby Gang and The First Evil results in the complete obliteration of the town, which collapses into a giant pit, closing the entrance to the Hellmouth.
During the weeks between the series finale of Buffy and the Season 5 premiere of Angel, Lindsey MacDonald makes an off-screen trip to the crater and digs up the amulet worn by Spike in the final battle. He sends it to Angel at Wolfram & Hart where it releases an incorporeal Spike. The destruction of the city is mentioned several times during Angel's final season, mainly tying into Spike's brief ghostly status. It's seen one more time when a military general oversees the crater in Season 8.
In fiction fandom, the name Sunnydale Syndrome has been coined to describe the common tendency of mundane characters in horror drama to fail to notice, or to reject as unreal or impossible, the unusual activities taking place under their noses, even when blindingly obvious.
The town of Sunnydale is designed to parody this phenomenon, as its general population is largely oblivious to the ongoing conflict between the forces of good and evil. In the case of Sunnydale, the people are not completely unaware; often it is hinted that citizens realize vaguely that their town is unusual, but most merely do not try to find out why, and when presented with a cause tend to ignore it. For example, in one episode, a football player gushes, "This is our year . . . . if we can focus, keep discipline and not have quite as many mysterious deaths, Sunnydale is gonna rule." When Oz learns of the existence of vampires, he remarks, "Actually, it explains a lot." Later, Buffy's graduating high school class gives her an award as "class protector," explaining that they know she does something to save them all regularly, even if they don't know its exact nature. At the wedding of Xander and Anya, the human guests accept the fiction that Anya's demon friends are "circus people".
In Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, people come up with explanations for the presence of large alien space ships and police boxes, rather than accept aliens exist. Used frequently is the idea of drugs causing hallucinations. Some characters, such as Donna Noble, humorously completely fail to remember, having been "too drunk", or missed the events by "scuba diving in Spain". The Doctor refers to the phenomenon in the stories Remembrance of the Daleks and "Boom Town" as a result of human beings' "amazing capacity for self-deception".
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy often features humans less than impressed when confronted with aliens and alien technology. Usually they do acknowledge the situation, but go to great lengths to treat it as normal even if a normal reaction is totally inappropriate. This feature of the sapient mind is used by a Somebody Else's Problem field.
In the roleplaying game Werewolf: the Apocalypse, humanity suffers from a condition called the Delirium, in which suppressed racial memories of cullings carried out against humans by werewolves in the distant past cause them to either forget, rationalize away, or alter their memories of werewolf sightings and attacks. The werewolves refer to the limited protection this condition affords them as the Veil.
In the Harry Potter book series, non-magical humans (Muggles) tend to overlook magical things and occurrences by rationalizing them to mean something else, usually when there is not already a spell in place to make them overlook it in the first place.
In the Discworld novels, Death is usually perceived as something other than what he is. For example, in the novel Mort he was perceived as an undertaker. He explained that it wasn't magic, but that people chose to replace his image with something preferable.
In The Dresden Files the idea is taken in a more serious tone in that people are pathologically terrified to admit they do not know everything about the universe and to compensate will go to extreme lengths to explain unusual and supernatural occurrences. Harry Dresden goes so far as to say, "You don't know what you saw because it obviously can't be what it looked like, since that's impossible. By this time tomorrow, you won't be completely certain you remember any of it. A few weeks after that, you'll wonder if your fear caused your mind to exaggerate some of the details. A few years from now you'll be sure that you were so scared that you just imagined all of the parts you can't explain."