Lands End, San Francisco

The Sutro Baths ruins with the Cliff House in the background

The Sutro Baths ruins with the Cliff House in the background

Our trip today is to Lands End, which is the western edge of San Francisco at the entrance to San Francisco Bay. On our way north we could see a huge band of fog covering San Francisco so we wandered just how much visibility there would be. We stopped at Peet’s on Geary for a hot drink and a morsel to eat.

Click on the photos for larger versions.

Just after 8 we were parked by the new lookout and visitors center at Lands End. We knew it wouldn’t be open at that time so decided to call in after our hike. From the car park there are a number of trails but before setting off to walk the Lands End Trail we investigated the ruins of the Sutro Baths. Built by Adolph Sutro and opened in 1896, the baths were a huge success. There were seven swimming pools – one large freshwater pool and six smaller salt water pools of varying temperatures. The salt water was pumped straight from the ocean. It was a huge construction which could accommodate 10,000 bathers and it also had a viewing area which could seat 3,700. But it was more than just a place for folks to swim. There were a number of other attractions to amuse visitors which included a host of antiques, collections and oddities to look at. Sadly the Sutro Baths were destroyed by a fire in 1966. Several attempts were made to rebuild the baths, but without success.

The Sutro Baths ruins and the Pacific Ocean

The Sutro Baths ruins and the Pacific Ocean

To get to the ruins we walked down a long, very steep, recently built, stairway. As we descended, we could see the extent of the Sutro Baths and they must have been huge. Built mostly of concrete and wood, only a few concrete foundation walls remain and some of them look quite dangerous. Part of the large pool remains but now it is not very deep. Weeds and algae proliferate there. Gulls use it now to bath in. It is hard to imagine what it looked like in its heyday. The baths were right on the edge of the ocean and just beyond them is a small beach where several fishermen, or rather anglers because one of them was a women, were standing knee deep in the water with large fishing rods.

At the end of the pathway, a tunnel through the rock beckoned us. Of course we ventured through although we could see that the path didn’t go anywhere because a rope, strung across the entrance, prevented us going any further. We looked down on a mass of huge boulders which obviously used to be part of the path. Amongst the rubble we could see twisted railroad tracks.

We walked back through the tunnel and started to climb back up. Instead of returning to the steep stairway we turned left onto the Sutro Baths Upper Trail as it seemed the less steep option plus the fact that it hugs the coast and we would have more camera opportunities. On both sides of the trail ferns were growing, which is not unusual, but these not only had lots of bright green new growth but stalks with little buds on them. On some the ferns, the buds had opened up as small white flowers which is something I had never seen before.

The Point Bonita lighthouse across the Golden Gate from Lands End

The Point Bonita lighthouse across the Golden Gate from Lands End

We came to a lookout point where we could see the Point Bonita Lighthouse across the Golden Gate. The water was a bit choppy and we stood and watched the water crash every now and again against the rocks and cascade into what looked like one of the smaller pools of the Sutro Baths. The remains of concrete walls and old rusty water pipes could be seen.

The trail continued higher up a wooden stairway with glimpses down to water and rocks below. The rock here is mudstone and in places parts of it are soft and could be crumbled by hand. It looks very much like shale but, no matter how hard I looked, I could not see any sign of fossils though at one point I could see a couple of broken white lines which could have been part of a fish skeleton.

The trail we were on joined up with the Coastal Trail. We turned left and continued walking along the edge of the bay. There were a lot of information boards on the first part of the trail and I learnt lots of interesting facts, e.g the local Yekuma tribe, which were part of the Ohlone Nation, camped here in the summer months; details of the many shipwrecks just offshore from where we stood and that part of the engines from a couple of the wrecks could be seen at low tide; the railroad track which Adolph Sutro built and the trains he ran from San Francisco to his baths so working class San Franciscans could reach them; the streetcar which replaced the steam train and the fact that part of the Coastal Trail is along the very same route as both the steam train and the streetcar, etc.

The Golden Gate Bridge on a typical summer morning.

The Golden Gate Bridge on a typical summer morning.

We took a rest at a lookout overlooking Mile End rock. Back in the late 19th century a lighthouse had been built on top of the rock. The lighthouse was replaced by an automated light in 1966 and a heliport pad built. Why a helicopter would want to land on such a tiny rock in such an exposed place is a mystery to me. Up to this point, the trail had been fairly level and easy to walk on but then it changed. Instead of a paved surface it became gravel and in places rocky. There were also several flights of steps up and down and some of them were not only steep but long.

Whenever I got ahead of Tom, because he had stopped to take photos, I looked for somewhere to sit, either on a convenient bench or rock, to wait for him. I took those opportunities to get out my iPad and write but the views were distracting. It is always captivating to sit and look at the scenery out over the bay to the Marin Headlands beyond but people watching is also time consuming. At one of these rest points, a flight of stairs opposite led down to a beach. When Tom caught up with me he decided to go down the steps and I set off to join him after about ten minutes. I climbed down about 50 steps and met Tom coming up. He said there were an awful lot of steps and he never got to the end, so neither of us got to see the beach. Next time we will be prepared and will make time to go and have a look.

This trail is very popular and in some places the trail becomes narrow and you can get stuck behind a group of slow moving people who are busy chatting away to each other. It is good though to see so many people out enjoying a pleasant walk, especially the families with young children.

From the trail we could see Baker Beach with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. The upper towers of the bridge were still shrouded in fog but it was a wonderful sight. The Lincoln Park Golf Course was right behind us. The Lands End Trail ended nearby and we found ourselves on El Camino de Mar. We could have turned round and walked back the way we came but decided to go a different way. Instead, we climbed up El Camino de Mar walking alongside part of the golf course. We stopped at a memorial written in different languages. There were a couple of seats so we took another break. I spotted a raccoon some off which was busy snuffling the ground. It stopped and looked at me and then it started trotting towards us. At first I was not too bothered as it was about 30 feet away but it kept coming. I pointed it out to Tom and he thought it prudent to move on. Just as well we did because when I looked back he was at the bench where we had been sitting with his front paws up on the bench and he was still looking at us. I guess he is used to folks feeding him but we are not that stupid.

Another shot of The Golden Gate Bridge from along the Coastal Trail

Another shot of The Golden Gate Bridge from along the Coastal Trail

At the top of the hill we turned onto 34th Avenue and walked passed the Palace of the Legion of Honor. This grand building was a gift to the city by the sugar magnate Adolph Spreckels and his wife Alma. It is a purpose-built museum and the design was copied from the Legion of Honor building in France. For nearly 100 years it has exhibited fine art and now hosts many exhibitions. I have not been been inside but it is on my list of places to visit. The building sits atop the headlands and is a well known landmark. We walked past the museum gazing into the courtyard and carried on down 34th Avenue with the golf course on both sides of the road.

At the junction with Clement Street, we debated whether to carry onto Geary or walk down Clement. We decided on the later because it would be quieter. The Lincoln Golf Couse clubhouse is on the corner and as we walked down Clement we were still aware of the golf course on our right because several times golf balls came flying into the street. It must be hazardous living so close to a golf course.

The housese on Clement were interesting to walk by. Even though it was a quiet Sunday lunchtime lots seemed to be going on. Some people were working on their cars or doing work around their yards. One house was being painted and we watched nervously as a man standing on a scaffold was precariously painting the side of the house. Several folks spoke to us as we walked by and lots more smiled. It seems a friendly neighborhood.

At the end of Clement,we arrived back at the car park and decided it was nearly time to get something to eat. Before we did so though, we went to have a look round the new Lands End Visitor Center. It is a very green building using natural sunshine to heat the building and harnessing the wind to cool it. Outside it has been beautifully landscaped not only with stone sculptures of lions but benches made out of recyled cedar wood and plants that are not only native but actually germinated at the nearby nursery at the Presidio from seeds found onsite. Inside it was filled with visitors either buying a snack, checking out the books etc for sale or perusing information about the area. They had some interesting paddle boards giving lots of information not only of the Sutro Baths but the general area, including the nearby Cliff House,  as well. The highlight though, were the old Edison films being screened showing the glory days of the Sutro baths and Adolph Surto’s steam train.

We rounded off the day by having lunch at the Seal Rock Inn Cafe at the junction of Point Lobus Avenue and 48th Avenue. Afterwards we drove home at the end of another perfect day.

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