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Sutro Heights Park - a hidden gem
Right accross the street from the Cliff House is Sutro Heights Park - a great place to hike, have a picnic, and get away from the hordes at the Cliff House. Up the hill slightly from the Cliff House are 2 parking lots... the one on the ocean side of the street overlooks the Sutro Bath ruins, and the one on the hillside is for SHP. Both are great for families.
Part 1: Cliff House History
Since 1977, the Cliff House has been owned by the National Parks Service and is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Before that it was owned by George Whitney, who had bought it from the Sutro family in 1952. It was during the ownership of Adolph Sutro and family that the Cliff House spent it's heyday, as part of Playland and the Sutro Baths. Even before Sutro though, the Cliff House had considerable fame, having been first built by Butler and Buckley in 1863. In the early days, the wealthy, including three US Presidents, rode their carriages out to the restaurant as part of a day of horse racing at Ocean Beach. The original structure burned on Christmas Day 1894, after Sutro had built a railroad to allow the masses to visit the area. In 1896, Sutro built an eight story structure complete with towering spires and a viewing platform some 200 feet above sea level. During this period, the Sutro baths were also built, making the Point Lobos recreation complex one of the most visited attractions in the city. While the Cliff House survived the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, it burned to the ground a year later. Adolph Sutro's daughter Emma rebuilt the cliff house in a smaller neo-classical design. After Whitney purchased it, it was remodeled several times to meet tourist needs, but never regained the glamour of the Sutro days. Most recently, the restaurant underwent a two-year remodeling project to create a contemporary two-story room with a wall of glass looking out to ocean, a design that recalls the old steel beam ceiling of the Sutro Baths. The restaurant views are great, but local reviews of the food quality produced by the National Park Service concession make the views, rather than the food, the reason to come here. See Part 2 of this series for more information and great views as seen from the Cliff House.
- National/State Park
- Castles and Palaces
- Historical Travel
Down the hill from the Cliff House are the ruins of the old Sutro Baths. Back in the old days this was one of the big attractions of the city - other folks have documented its' history in their tips. It's been built and burned numerous times, and now all that's left are the foundations, which are alot of fun to climb on. There's lots of cool tidepools in the area. Keep an eye on your kids - the waters around here can be treacherous!
Part 2: Views and Camera Obscura
The Cliff House is as it's name states on a cliff that overlooks Ocean Beach, Point Lobos and ruins of Sutro Baths, and Seal Rocks. Besides these photos, there are a couple of good non-authorized websites with more images and information about Cliff House. The Giant Camera, or Camera Obscura, may be closed for you as it was for us. Before 2001, the National Park Service had planned to either demolish or move the camera, but local protest resulted in putting the only camera obscura in America on the National Register of Historic Places insted. Don't skip the opportunity to go inside should it be open for you.
- Food and Dining
- Historical Travel
- National/State Park
Beautiful Vista of Ocean Beach
The Cliff House in San Francisco is on the western edge of San Francisco, in the family-oriented district of the Outer Sunset, and provides a spectacular panorama of Ocean Beach. While Ocean Beach's waters are cold (and so you will rarely ever see people swimming, although there are often brave surfers on the water), on a clear day, the views are beautiful. From Downtown, you can take the N Judah line and get off at the very last stop (47th Ave and Judah), which will take about 40 minutes or so. You will then walk east, where you will see the Cliff House in plain view. Often, San Franciscans walk and jog along the beach, and you will see many jogging in that direction. The Cliff House holds a restaurant, however, you do not have to dine there to enjoy the free views!
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
- Budget Travel
Ocean Beach & Cliff House
Where Golden Gate Park meets the waves is called Ocean Beach. It is not exactly the most scenic beach, but for being located smack dab in a major city… what do you expect?
Just on the North Side of the beach is the famous Cliff House Restaurant. I’ve heard mixed reviews, but never have been. I guess you are paying for more of the name and location than the food. Not my style. The more scenic ocean landscape is beyond the Cliff House at Lands End and China Beach, in my humble opinion.
Take in the Views
On my very first trip to San Francisco in the mid -80's I made it out to Cliff House for a Saturday afternoon lunch. Earlier in the week I had my first taste of calamari as an appetizer and I thought this isn't too bad. It was fried and dipping it into a sauce was quite good. When I got to the Cliff House for lunch I saw calamari salad and said let's see what it taste like when it's not fried. Well you can probably guess what happened. I felt like I was eating small bits of rubber tire. Thank goodness I was able to pick them off and have just the plain salad. I still like fried calamari, but beg off eating it in other dishes.
Anyway, back to the Cliff House. On our most recent visit we were able to get out to Cliff House on our next to last day of our trip thanks to Sue's friend Sue, a college sorority sister, who lives in the area. We had dropped off our rental car when we got to San Francisco and even though we probably could have reached the Cliff House by bus, this was far easier.
We stopped and took a few pictures of the house, seal rocks and were entertained by a gentleman on the beach who was producing a huge San Francisco Giants Logo in the sand since they had won the baseball World Series (1 team is from Canada and some players grew up outside the U.S.).
If you go you might want to consider eating at the restaurant (changed quite a bit from when I ate there my only time in the mid 80's), walking along the beach below or the walkway above the beach, taking pictures of the seal rocks and watching and listening to the seals or walk on down to the old Suto Bath House ruins.
This is not on the top of the list of things to do in San Francisco, but if you have the time or are on your 2nd, 3rd trip, etc. it is worth a couple of hour stop.
Built in 1909 by Adolph Sutro, this unusual structure sits astride high bluffs overlooking the Pacific and the southern side of the Bay. Inside is a restaurant, with a variety of dishes and a reception hall. This is one of San Francisco's most famous places.
Nearby are the Seal Rocks, where seals and sea lions stop to relax. Also close by are the Sutro Baths. These public baths were opened in 1896, and went through many different changes over the years. They burned down in 1966.
A nice side trip while visiting the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, the Presidio, or Golden Gate Park.
- Historical Travel
Trekking around the Cliff...
Trekking around the Cliff House and the Musee Mechanique
You could spend an entire day in and around this area! This is one of the most pan-San Franciscan experiences you can have for under 5 dollars. You can get there easily by public transit, you have this amazing vista that spreads out before you. From Land's End (just a light hike up the hill a ways) you can see the stunning Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate and the opening of the Bay. From the Cliff House area you can take in a view of the Pacific, Seal Rock (which is no longer a haven for Seals, they moved to the Pier-39 area long ago) or some really astonishing, breathtaking sunsets. You can take in some beautiful hiking in Sutro park, or you can hike down to the ruins of the Sutro baths and tunnels! It's so weird!
Then, back up on the cliff is the Cliff House itself, rebuilt after the first one was destroyed by fire way back when. The very best part of the Cliff House is the Musee Mechanique, which houses a great collection of antique coin operated novelty machines! How fantastic is that! You can easily spend a few hours enjoying this amusing, surreal and David Lynch-esque place for whatever pocket change you happen to have. There are even some great oldschool arcade machines in the back, if you want to spend a whole Quarter rather reliving the 80's.
- Hiking and Walking
Near Sutro's Baths
The Cliff House is a historical building located at the West end of San Francisco on a bluff hanging over the ocean. The Cliff House that is currently standing was built in 1907. Two former Cliff Houses have been destroyed. The current Cliff House was acquired in 1977 by the National Parks and Recreation Service, which now maintains it.
The Cliff House is a popular tourist destination--especially in the summer. (You can see Seal Rock, Sutro's Baths, Panoramic Views of Ocean Beach and Great Highway) It is often foggy over the water, but on days when the weather cooperates, the views are quite lovely. Walks along the beach are pleasant, and most of the visitors on sunny days in the winter are San Fran locals, but be warned. Conditions can be cold and windy.
Mon-Thu 9:00 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Fri-Sat 9:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.
Sun 8:30 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
- Food and Dining
- Road Trip
Sutro's Baths (Beside Cliffhouse) Ruins
Former Mayor Adolf Sutro Made the Sutro Heights (Including the Sutro Baths and Cliffside) in 1896 and he envisioned Big complex wherein one can have a bath literally then stroll around and see his extensive world wide collections of stuff and see a concert at a concert hall. Sutro Baths was created as a huge swimming and bathing facility, offering six saltwater swimming tanks of varying sizes, shapes and water temperatures that provided exercise and recreation to the San Francisco public but due to high operating cost, it went bankcrupt and in 1966, was destroyed by a fire. Today, it's ruins are a popular sideshow if one goes to visit the nearby cliffhhouse.
- Historical Travel
Cliff House, 1090 Point...
Cliff House, 1090 Point Lobos, San Francisco, CA. 94121 -- part of the Golden Gate State Park......The first Cliff House was a modest structure built in 1863 by Masters Butler and Buckley. The guest register bore the names of three U.S. Presidents as well as prominent San Francisco families such as the Hearsts, Stanfords and Crockers who would drive their carriages out to Ocean Beach for horse racing and recreation. In 1881, the Cliff House was sold to Adolph Sutro, a self made millionaire, philanthropist and later a mayor of San Francisco. Seven years later, Sutro built a railroad to bring the general public to this seaside attraction. On Christmas Day 1894, the Cliff House was destroyed by fire. Sutro spent $50,000 in 1896 to rebuild the Cliff House in grandiose style. Fashioned after a French Chateau, the second Cliff House boasted 8 stories, spires and an observation tower two hundred feet above sea level. Though never a hotel, it served as an elegant site for dining, dancing and entertainment. On the third floor were a photo gallery, reception room, parlors and panoramic views from its large windows. The second floor held 20 private lunch rooms, a large art gallery and a gem exhibit. At ground level, there was a large dining room, parlor, bar, numerous private dining rooms and kitchens. This was the most resplendent and beloved of all the Cliff Houses but it was short lived. This exquisite building survived the 1906 earthquake only to succumb to a raging fire the following year.
.... the photo abouve and at left is the second Cliff House, now gone
A third Cliff House was built...
A third Cliff House was built in 1909 by Sutro's daughter Emma. It was neoclassic in design and carried on the tradition of sumptuous dining. The Depression and two world wars took their toll on the area however, and the Sutro family sold the Cliff House in 1952 to George Whitney. The Cliff House was remodeled several times before the National Park Service acquired it in 1977. Today the Cliff House is preserved as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. ..... at left is the current Cliff House...you can overlook seal rock in the Pacific
Take in the views over Ocean Beach.
A gentle walk from Ocean Beach brings you to Cliff House. This old hotel still serves up fine (but expensive) food, but perhaps the great thing concerning Cliff House, is the viewing platform, from which you have some spectacular views down to Ocean Beach, and to the North, up the Pacific Coast.
There is no charge to stand on the viewing platform.
- Budget Travel
Ocean Beach from the Cliff House
The first Cliff House was a modest structure built in 1863, then it was rebuilt in grandiose style in 1896 to resemble a French chateau.
A third Cliff House was built in 1909. It was neoclassic in design and carried on the tradition of sumptuous dining.
Today the Cliff House is preserved as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
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