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San Francisco - Around Town : Oceanfront (part 1)

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As with every segment of this city, the area that faces the Pacific Ocean is a study in contrasts. Surprisingly to many, it contains terrains of natural beauty that are just as untamed and craggy as they always have been, particularly the rocky, windswept micro-climates that make up the cliffs and hidden ravines of Land’s End. This has been the scene of innumerable shipwrecks throughout the city’s history. Yet, just a few blocks away is Sea Cliff, one of the most exclusive residential neighborhoods in town. All up and down the area, beside blocks and blocks of tract homes, there are numerous parks and recreational possibilities, including, of course, surfing, if you’re skilled and brave enough to face the unpredictable, freezing waters of the Pacific. Of all San Francisco’s areas, this is the place where you’re almost certain to encounter the city’s infamous fog, but if the weather is clear there are great views of the offshore Seal Rocks and even the Farallon Islands. Further south, more activities can be enjoyed at Lake Merced.

Cliff House and the Sutro Baths

Adolph Sutro came to San Francisco from Prussia in 1851, aged 21 and looking for gold. Instead, he became the Silver King of the Comstock Lode (Nevada), and brought his riches back to the city to invest them in land. His projects included building the first Cliff House, the popular Sutro Baths, and his own lavish estate. In the process, he transformed the Ocean Beach area into a recreational gem. The legacy lives on, despite the disappearance of all three of the famous buildings he constructed.


Sights
  1. Cliff House

    Built in 1909, the present structure is the third on this site and was renovated in 2004. Its predecessor, a massively elaborate eight-story Victorian-Gothic castle that burned down in 1907, was built by the flamboyant entrepreneur Adolph Sutro (his estate overlooking Cliff House is now Sutro Heights Park). Cliff House has restaurants on the upper levels, observation decks overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a new wing containing two bars, a visitors’ center, and the Camera Obscura. The Musée Méchanique has moved to Pier 45 at Fisherman’s Wharf.

    • Open 11am–7pm Mon–Fri, 10am–8pm Sat & Sun

    • 415 386 3330

    • Adm

    Cliff House
  2. Ocean Beach

    Most of San Francisco’s western boundary is defined by this broad sweep of sand. Although sublime when viewed from Cliff House or Sutro Heights, the beach is dangerous for swimming due to its icy waters, rough shore breakers, and, most of all, rip currents that are powerful enough to drag even strong swimmers out to sea. Nevertheless, hardy surfers in thick wetsuits are a common sight, and in fine weather sun-bathers and picnickers materialize.

    The Great Hwy


  3. Legion of Honor

    The creation of Alma Bretteville Spreckels, heiress to the Spreckels sugar fortune, this museum is a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris. The original temporary structure was built for the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition to house French art, but Mrs Spreckels wanted to build a permanent version and employed the same architect she commissioned to build her mansion in Pacific Heights. It opened in 1924 and features a collection of medieval to 20th-century European art, with paintings by Monet, Rubens, and Rembrandt. Also excellent traveling exhibitions.

    Lincoln Park

    • 34th Ave & Clement St

    • www.thinker.org

    • 415 863 3330

    • Open 9:30am–5pm Tue–Sun

    • Adm

  4. Oceanfront Parks

    Lincoln Park, Land’s End, and Sutro Heights Park are large green areas that overlook and hug the coast all along this northwestern corner of the peninsula. Stupendous Lincoln Park is the work of the indefatigable John McClaren , and features coastal trails affording some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Land’s End is a surprisingly rugged and wild stretch along the coastal cliffs that features a stony, picturesque cove, stretches of broad sand, and truly spectacular hiking. Gardens, statuary, and walls of the old Sutro estate still decorate Sutro Heights Park, dominating the entire coastal scene from its dramatic vantage point.

    Land’s End
  5. Seal Rocks

    The westernmost promontory on this tip of the peninsula is Point Lobos, the projection that forms Land’s End’s rocky cove. Along to the south from here down to Cliff House is a scattering of small, rocky islands frequented by seals – hence the name. Bring binoculars to spy on the seals and birds in their natural habitat. At night, from the beach or Cliff House promenade, the barking of the sea lions – like the keening of the foghorns – is both reassuring and eerie, and so very “San Francisco.” On a clear day, 32 miles (50 km) off the coast, you can see the Farallon Islands, also inhabited by sea lions and with a state-protected rookery.

    Seal Rocks
  6. San Francisco Zoo

    San Francisco Zoo is at the far southwest corner of the city, between the Pacific Ocean and Lake Merced. The complex is home to more than 1,000 species of birds, mammals, and insects, among which 20 are considered to be endangered – most notably the snow leopard, Bengal tiger, and jaguar. Gorilla World, Koala Crossing, and Children’s Zoo are particular hits, as are the feeding times for the big cats (2pm at the Lion House Tue–Sun), penguins (3pm Fri–Wed and 2:30pm Thu at Penguin Island), and the Asian elephants (1:30pm daily).

    • Sloat Blvd at Pacific Ocean

    • www.sfzoo.org

    • Buses 18 & 23

    • Open 10am–5pm daily

    • 415 753 7080

    • Dis. access

    • Adm

    Koala, San Francisco Zoo
  7. Sigmund Stern Grove

    This 63-acre ravine in the southern Sunset District is the site of the nation’s original free summer arts festival, endowed in 1938 and still in operation. The Sunday programs may include classical music performed by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, opera, jazz, popular music, or productions by the San Francisco Ballet. The natural amphitheater is in a eucalyptus and redwood grove.

    • Sloat Blvd at 19th Ave, Sunset

    • 415 252 6252

  8. Sea Cliff

    Actor Robin Williams, a San Francisco native, has a home in this élite residential enclave, which stands in stark contrast to the natural coastal area all around it. Most of the luxurious homes are Mediterranean in style and date from the 1920s. Just below the neighborhood, China Beach – named after poor Chinese fishermen who used to camp here – is one of the safest beaches in the city for swimming and is equipped with showers and other facilities. Baker Beach, just to the north, is another popular beach.

  9. Sunset District

    Like its counterpart, the Richmond District, this neighborhood was part of the Outer Lands and is purely residential, consisting of row upon row of neat, look-alike houses. Yet, like the entire area along the ocean, this district is subject to a great deal of gray weather. Its one claim to fame is Sutro Tower, the pronged red-and-white television antenna that resembles something out of a science fiction movie.

    • Between Sloat Blvd & Golden Gate Park and Stanyan St & the Pacific Ocean

    Sunset District
  10. Lake Merced

    Located at the beginning of scenic Skyline Boulevard, this attractive lake, set amid verdant hills, extends across the southern end of the Sunset District. Relatively undeveloped and certainly under-used, it nevertheless gets its share of recreation enthusiasts. They come for the municipal Harding Park 18-hole Golf Course, and the biking and running trails that circle the lake’s green shoreline.

    • Hwy 35

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