Hidden in San Francisco

Riki Kaya / PURE Certified

The noise and commotion that accompanies urban living can sometimes be exhausting.  


While San Francisco is a major metropolis of the west, there are many ways to escape the madness without actually leaving the city. Golden Gate Park and The Presidio are always excellent choices on sunny days. However one may find that places like Sutro Heights Park offer the same natural amenities without the crowd.  


Located at the northwest tip of the peninsula, Sutro Heights offers a series of sites and amazing views all within walking distance of each other.  In addition to its beauty, this area is signified over a century of rich history with old landmarks that still exist till this day.


While Sutro Heights, Lands End, and Ocean Beach are considered three different areas, their stories are very much intertwined with one another.  The history of this area begins in the late 1800’s, when the city approved an ordinance known as The Outside Lands act of 1868, which extended the city limits from what is currently known as the financial district out to Ocean Beach.  Rapid development followed when a man named Adolph Sutro used his wealth and power to begin terraforming the once sandy dunes of what is now the Outer Richmond. In the early to mid 1900s; this area transformed into a lively carnival area similar Coney Island or Venice Beach.  


Hikers and strollers are encouraged to begin their journey at the northern tip of Ocean Beach. There they will find a trail of stairs located near the corner of Balboa and La Playa Street. (Note that there is also an entrance located near 48th and Anza if hikers wish to circumvent the stairs)  The park is located upon a small knoll, which overlooks Ocean Beach to the South and Lands End to the north.  As you ascend into the park don’t forget to take a look back at the beach, as the views are breathtaking. Don’t be afraid to venture off into the network of small side trails, as there are hidden gems all around the park.  One of the more popular gems is an extended lookout on the west side of the park. This lookout is a half circle clearing inlaid with bricks, which leads many people to refer to it as a castle. The stair trail leads directly to the lookout at which point the white rooftops of the Cliff House will begin to appear through the northwestern tree lines.   


The Cliff House is one of San Francisco’s most treasured establishments.  Adolph Sutro founded the restaurant in 1868 with visions of romanticized elegance.  Since then it has passed ownership multiple times and has been destroyed and rebuilt twice.  It has hosted five presidents and many celebrities throughout the century.


If hikers wish to continue their journey beyond the park, they are advised to travel north until they reach Point Lobos Avenue.  Following the main trail through the park will take hikers directly to 846 Point Lobos Ave Parking. Continue east along Point Lobos Ave and the road will hook south at the Cliff House.  From there the road will follow the coastline all the way back to Ocean Beach. If hikers wish to go further they are advised to keep a look out for a small path on the north side of Point Lobos Ave just before the road hooks south.  This path will take hikers further north into Lands End at which point they will reach the ruins of Sutro Baths.


Sutro Baths were created with the idea of leisure.  At its hallmark, the bathhouses offered the largest indoor swimming establishment of its era.  The pools were built along the coastline, using the ocean tides as a natural filter to empty and refill the pools. While the idea seemed revolutionary, execution proved much more difficult.  Throughout its existence, the pools experienced constant collapse, as the architecture was not enough to withstand the parry of the tides. Today the pools are out of commission but the remnants of the structure still remain.

The path entrance of the path is located directly west of Louis’ Dinner.  The path will take hikers along a ridgeline, which overlooks the baths. This area is also home to the Golden Gate National Parks Conservatory.


The beauty of this area and the history involved provides attendees with many educational leisure activities.  While much of the early development has contributed to the historic beauty it has affected the natural composition of the beaches and coastlines.  Preservation has become increasingly more difficult. The battle against erosion has been constant since the creation of the Great Highway in the 50s and efforts to combat erosion has only made matters worse. Invasive species like dune grass and ice plants also exacerbate erosion not only at Ocean Beach but also along the entire California coast.


As actively engaged members of the environmental community we at Pure encourage the use of natural landscapes as forms of entertainment and leisure.  In addition to being low cost, outdoor adventures allow individuals to stay in touch with nature.


Connection with nature also includes devoting time to help preserve the environment. This involves giving back and participating in volunteer service. The Golden Gate National Parks Conservatory and The Surfrider Foundation of California offer an array of service opportunities.  


If you enjoy the natural beauty of Sutro Heights, Lands End and Ocean Beach and would like to give back, use these links to check out the ways you can help! 


Golden Gate National Parks Conservatory 

The Surfrider Foundation of California


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