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One of the best ways to enjoy the area’s breathtaking scenery is to walk along Lands End, a windy, sea-blown trail that takes you along the westernmost point of San Francisco featuring stunning views of shipwrecks and majestic cliffs.
If you know anything at all about San Francisco — or even if you don’t — chances are that you’ve heard of the historic Cliff House. Since 1863, this fabled restaurant has been a favorite for generations of locals, tourists, foodies, history buffs and lovers of the fine art of good living. It has hosted some of the most famous people in the country, including Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William McKinley, and a who's who of Gilded Age millionaires. However, in spite of its grand history it retains its original warm, welcoming atmosphere that has made it a favorite restaurant for people from all over the world for more than 150 years.
Perched high above the cliffs near Ocean Beach, The Cliff House has a history perhaps unlike any other restaurant in the country. It was originally built in 1863 by two businessmen, C.C. Butler and U.S. Sen. John Buckley. Shortly afterward, Capt. Junius Foster leased the restaurant, took over its management, and made it into a legend.
A well-liked local character, traveler and bon vivant, Capt. Foster attracted the high society crowd of the day, and soon, millionaire families such as the Hearsts and the Stanfords were driving their carriages to Ocean Beach for a day of horse racing and an evening of fine dining. By 1868, however, the restaurant began attracting a picturesque mob of scandalous local politicians and horse racing touts.
The Cliff House’s reputation was saved by millionaire philanthropist Adolph Sutro (later mayor of San Francisco), who purchased the restaurant in 1883 and brought back the high-society families. Over the next several decades, Sutro turned the entire area into a genteel, upper-class resort.
Meanwhile, The Cliff House endured a number of calamities: In 1887, it was partly blown up when a dynamite-filled schooner crashed into the cliff; and in 1894, on Christmas Day, it burned to the ground. After being rebuilt again, The Cliff House survived the 1906 earthquake, but burned to the ground again in 1907 and didn’t reopen until 1909. For decades, the restaurant’s fame spread as locals and tourists enjoyed its elegant cuisine and magnificent ocean views. Today, The Cliff House is owned by Dan and Mary Hountalas, who for more than 35 years have preserved its history and romantic ambiance.
The Cliff House boasts elegant floor-to-ceiling windows, so no matter where you look, you’re surrounded by stunning panoramic views of the ocean and the cliffs below. During dinner, you can enjoy the magnificent sunset as you sip a glass of wine or watch cruise ships as they take off for exotic ports.
Sutro Bath Ruins
In 1894, Adolph Sutro built a magnificent saltwater swimming pool complex. Destroyed by fire in 1966, the site is in ruins, but today it provides a fascinating glimpse of Gilded Age luxury.
Sutro bought up so much land in the later part of the 19th century that he owned one twelfth of the city. He employed hundreds of citizens to work planting thousands of trees in the Sunset District, now called Sutro Forest.
He designed the elegant Sutro Baths for the public. The glass-enclosed bathhouse contained seven swimming pools and could accommodate 10,000 guests. The power of the Pacific Ocean at high tide could fill the pools with 1.7 million gallons of water in just one hour.
The Sutro Baths had diving platforms and water slides descending from the rafters. Orchestras played Strauss waltzes while guests enjoyed restaurants, a theater, museum, classical Greek and Roman statutes, gigantic stuffed animals, rare plants and Egyptian artifacts.
Today, the Sutro Baths are filled with murky water and the pools are returning to the salt marsh.
This white sand beach provides a wild and windy walk and is perfect for strolling while watching majestic white-capped waves.
By the 1860s, a horse-drawn stagecoach made the trip every Sunday from downtown San Francisco out to Lands End. During the 1880s, millionaire Adolph Sutro constructed a passenger steam train from downtown to Lands End for the affordable fare of 5 cents.
Courtesy of Fog City Secrets
The Red Triangle
The Red Triangle, 28 miles west of San Francisco, has the highest incidence of white shark attacks in the world. From 1926 to 2000, there were 51 shark attacks.
San Francisco’s combination of dense fog, strong tides and dangerous rocks create the perfect conditions for shipwrecks. The treacherous waters of the narrow shipping channel between Lands End and the Marin Headlands has claimed over 300 ships.
The most horrifying wreck was by the SS City of Rio de Janeiro in 1901. The ship passed through the Golden Gate en route to Hong Kong and hit the Mile Rock in heavy fog. It sank in eight minutes and 130 of the 210 people on board died, including its captain, William Ward. There are three wrecks still visible at low tide: the Ohioan, Lyman Stewart and Frank Buck.