Everything You Need to Know About San Francisco's Historic Sutro Baths
If you're planning a visit to San Francisco's Richmond District, it's worth visiting the ruins of the Sutro Baths, both for their breathtaking views and rich history. Here's how to make the most out of your trip there.
History of Sutro Baths
The Sutro Baths were the passion project of Adolph Sutro, an entrepreneur who was also a former mayor of San Francisco. Set in the western part of the city on a cliff facing the ocean, the views afforded by the Sutro Baths were (and still are) impressive.
The baths themselves were built inside a large and impressive structure and consisted of six saltwater pools and one freshwater pool. The saltwater pools were filled by the incoming high tide, and an underground turbine pump was able to refresh the water every five hours during low tide. Completed in 1890, the Sutro Baths were an impressive feat of engineering in and of themselves, and were a popular destination for citizens of San Francisco and visitors alike.
However, by the start of World War I, the popularity of the baths had diminished significantly and attempts to revitalize their popularity — which included converting the baths into an ice skating rink — ultimately failed. The baths were slated for destruction, to be replaced by high-rise condos in 1964. Before that could happen, the remnants of the Sutro Baths were destroyed by fire and the condo plans were abandoned. Today, the ruins are a testament to the vision of one San Franciscan and how he saw the city.
Best Time to Snap A Photo at Sutro Baths
While the best time to visit the Sutro Baths is debatable, many agree that the view at sunset is best. If possible, visit during the week, as the baths can become fairly crowded on the weekend.
If you are driving, simply take Geary Blvd. west and you'll eventually run into the ruins. There is plenty of parking in the area. If you're taking mass transit, the 38 Muni bus runs close to the ruins. Other Muni bus lines that will get you close include the 5, 18 and 31.
Cliff House (1090 Point Lobos Ave.)
The Cliff House is a historic restaurant that offers breathtaking views of Seal Rocks and the Pacific Ocean. Cliff House is great for a relaxing brunch, or simply to enjoy a drink or two while overlooking one of the best views in San Francisco.
A short walk south from Sutro Baths along Ocean Beach will get you to the western edge of Golden Gate Park. Start exploring and you'll find giant Dutch windmills, a herd of buffalo, and even a waterfall. Keep heading east and you'll eventually come to Stow Lake, the California Academy of Sciences, and the de Young Museum.
The wooded parkland that extends north and east beyond the Baths is full of trails and offers spectacular views of the Golden Gate, where ocean meets bay. Just be sure to obey any signage: some climbs are awfully steep, and you're safer sticking to the marked paths.
Legion of Honor (100 34th Ave.)
This museum collects 4,000 years of ancient and European art in a spectacular neoclassical setting. Everything from sculptures to furnitures to tapestries can be found within its walls. Prior special exhbitions have covered topics as varied as Egyptian mummies and contemporary couture.
Right beyond the ruins lies Ocean Beach, which stretches south parallel to Great Highway. Walk along the smooth sands and feel the salty ocean breeze on your skin, or gaze at the stars beside a bonfire (follow park rules for safety, please!). While the mighty Pacific surf looks tempting, only the most experienced swimmers and surfers should get in the water. It's quite cold and the currents are tremendously strong.
This former military base is now one of San Francisco's largest and most popular parks. Within its grounds, you'll find multiple attractions including bike paths, outdoor art installations, terrific restaurants, and The Walt Disney Family Museum.