Note that the Lands End area receives the highest praise for coastal access in general (that is to say, for extraordinary features which are not limited to beaches).
Type: GGNRA and S.F. Parks and Recreation complex of contiguous parks. Lincoln Park alone is 168 acres.
Entrance Locations: There are 5 access points. Cliffside paths best accessed from Merrie Wy parking lot off Point Lobos Av. Coast Trail: main access from Merrie Wy, or alternately from large lot ending El Camino Del Mar off Point Lobos Av, or from the east end at street parking on 32nd and El Camino Del Mar. Access Fort Miley from El Camino Del Mar lot off Point Lobos Av. Access the Legion of Honor via Legion of Honor Dr from 34th Av. There is also a little known penetration which enters Lincoln park at 40th and Clement.
Facilities: Lincoln Park Municipal Golf Course. Palace of the Legion of Honor. Facilities at Merrie Wy entrance include two vault restrooms and a non-detailed plaquard map of the Coast Trail. At El Camino Del Mar lot off Point Lobos are (metered?) binoculars. Climbing a paved path to Fort Miley, there is a lawn area with a view, three tables with grills and a very funky vault restroom. 32nd and El Camino Del Mar has 2 vault restrooms. Pay phone is available at the Cliff House. A bit surprising is the absence of water anywhere. No bikes on the Coast Trail.
Fee-Hours: No fee. Merrie Wy gate closed 1:30am-7:00am. The area is largely unsupervised except around the Fort Miley Veterans Center and the Legion of Honor. No general curfew noted.
Dogs: Good. Recommended are the Sutro Baths area and Lands End Beach area for their explorability, and Fort Miley for nice open space. Keep on-leash for the Coast Trail.
This is an extraordinary, very large combination of parkland and natural areas around dramatic coastal cliffs. This cliff area runs between the Cliff House and the Sea Cliff District and is perhaps the most beautiful intrepidly explorable area in the city. The area is actually a combination of three parks or 'entities,' which are Lands End, Lincoln Park, and Fort Miley. Lands End is everything west of and including the Coast Trail. It includes the Sutro Bath ruins, Lands End Beach, and a great network of little trails which honeycomb the cliff bluffs in a haphazard way. This area is national parkland and is owned and operated by GGNRA. Lincoln Park is everything on the San Francisco side of the Coast Trail and is 138 acres of parkland which includes Fort Miley, the Fort Miley Veterans Hospital, The Palace of the Legion of Honor, and the Lincoln Municipal Golf Course. Lincoln Park is a municipal park and although it has some natural areas, the bulk of it is consumed by the sprawling golf course and the Legion of Honor. Fort Miley is a small area with a recessed historical bunker ruin and an open lawn area with a view of the city. The park as a whole is replete with secret little paths connecting everything through a complex web of great redundancy. A detailed map would show literally hundreds of paths. This makes it opportune to explore.
Land's End: The most sensational natural aspect here is by far the Land's End cliff system. One amazing little trail in particular scales along the cliff face from Sutro Baths to Land's End Beach, staying 100'-200' above the violent surf until it descends to what I call Capitol Rock and Boulder Beach. The small sandy cove at the end is Land's End Beach. This general area is an emphatic highlight of natural places in San Francisco. All the secret paths which weave around between this cliff trail and the Coastal Trail up above tend to lead to protected hideaways under twisted cypress trees. The cliffs are characterized by dark, hard rock rising in immensely detailed formations up to 300' high before yielding to a softer, decaying rock and soil. Since the water table leaks out of the cliffs, there is an abundance of interesting plants which seem to exploit the watershed dribbling down, among them douglas iris, plumes of cow parsnip with huge leaves, and some very nice flowering mallow bushes. This is another great feature of the cliffs. The area is especially good for watching pelicans on flyby. There is an amazingly weird round brick 'chimney' coming up out of the sea rocks near Boulder Beach. It is built over a surf cave with air shooting up out of the top when a wave comes through. There is a sizeable walk-through cave at Sutro Baths which cuts about 200' through solid cliff. This is an artificial cave but intersects natural rock tubes where surf can be heard and felt pounding into the darkness. The ruins of the amazing Sutro Baths have been reduced to foundational remnants and continue to lose more of their structure every year. They are a powerful testament to the eventual recapturing of man-made things by natural forces. The details are fascinating from a photographic point of view.
The Cliff House: The following history is from the National Park Service at www.nps.gov.
[Since 1863, visitors have been attracted to the western shore of San Francisco to refresh themselves at the Cliff House after a day at Ocean Beach. There have been three different Cliff Houses, each with a story of its own.
First Cliff House: The first Cliff House was a modest structure built in 1863, and enlarged in 1868. The guest register bore the names of three U.S. presidents as well as prominent San Francisco families such as the Hearsts, Stanfords and Crockers. Patrons would drive their carriages across the dunes to Ocean Beach for horse racing and recreation. In 1881, the Cliff House was bought by Adolph Sutro, a self-made millionaire, philanthropist, and later a mayor of San Francisco. A few years later, Sutro and his cousin built a railroad to bring the public to this seaside attraction. On Christmas Day 1894, the first Cliff House was destroyed by fire.
Victorian Cliff House: Sutro spent $75,000 to rebuild and furnish the Cliff House in grandiose style, fashioned after a French chateau. Opening in 1896, the second Cliff House stood eight stories tall, with spires and an observation tower two hundred feet above sea level. Never a hotel, it served as an elegant site for dining, dancing and entertainment. At ground level, there was a large dining room, parlor, bar, numerous private dining rooms and kitchens. Upper floors offered private lunchrooms, a large art gallery, a gem exhibit, a photo gallery, reception room, parlors and panoramic views from its large windows and veranda. This was the most resplendent and beloved of all the Cliff House buildings, but it was to be short lived -- surviving the 1906 earthquake only to succumb to a raging fire the following year.
Today's Cliff House: Sutro's daughter Emma built a third Cliff House, which opened in 1909. It was neoclassical in design and carried on the tradition of sumptuous dining. The Depression and World War I took its toll on the area however, and the Sutro family sold the Cliff House in 1937 to other operators. The Cliff House was remodeled several times before the National Park Service acquired it in 1977 to become part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.]
Sutro Baths: The following history is from the National Park Service at www.nps.gov.
[The concrete ruins just north of the Cliff House are the remains of the grand Sutro Baths. In 1881, Adolph Sutro bought most of the western headlands of San Francisco and made his home there. Fifteen years later, Sutro Baths opened to a dazzled public at an estimated cost of over $1, 000,000. Spread over three acres, the Baths boasted impressive engineering and artistic detail.
A classic Greek portal opened to a massive glass enclosure containing seven swimming pools of various temperatures. There were slides, trapezes, springboards and a high dive. Together the pools held 1,685,000 gallons of water and could be filled in one hour by high tides. There were 20,000 bathing suits and 40,000 towels for rent. Balmy temperatures and abundant plants enhanced "California's Tropical Winter Garden." The Baths could accommodate 10,000 people at one time.
Sutro's dream was realized as San Franciscans streamed to the Baths on one of three railroads connected to the city. An amphitheater, seating up to 3,700 people, provided a variety of stage shows. Three restaurants could accommodate 1,000 people at a sitting. There were natural history exhibits, galleries of sculptures, paintings, tapestries and artifacts from Mexico, China, Asia, and the Middle East.
For all their glamour and excitement, the success of Sutro Baths was short lived. The Baths were not commercially successful and Sutro's grandson converted part of the Baths into a skating rink in 1937, a task completed in the early 1950's by new owner George Whitney. Sutro Baths never regained its popularity and the ice-skating revenue was not enough to maintain the enormous building. In 1964, developers who planned to replace the Baths with high-rise apartments bought the site. A fire in 1966 quickly finished the demolition work. Public sentiment that arose following the fire impeded the development plan for the site. The National Park Service purchased it in 1973 and incorporated the site into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.]
Coastal Trail: (1.13 mi.) G3-4S2F5B2-3M3P3
This may be the nicest section of the Coastal Trail inside San Francisco, certainly it is the most popular. Compared to other paths, it is the wide 'safe' trail, higher up and away from the cliffs. A drawback is that it is generally on the crowded side, and a bit short on vantage. It is a big trail and spends much of its time over 14' wide, narrowing in sections to 8' or so. It is like a main circuit cable connecting to everything else in several places. This is especially true of the lower cliff areas for which there are numerous haphazard paths leading down into a large explorable area. There is only one posted trail connector downward which happens to link directly to Lands End Beach. Recognize this important connector by stairs and an iconic 'dogs on leash' posting. At this point the Coast Trail is about 300' higher than the beach, so it is a long descent on stairs. The only intense grade on the Coast Trail is in the very center where it climbs with stairs over a steep section about 100.' Here there is a blocked alternate with a posted danger warning which leads to the cliff edge. These cliffs are 300' straight down to the water. This is a good opportunity to spend time at the extreme cliff edge. It is amazing to me the percentage of people that stick to the Coast Trail. If seclusion is desired, it is easy to achieve by simply taking any of many alternates into the brush. Events have been documented in detail along its course to help one understand where alternates go.
Events for Coastal Trail (from Merrie Wy):
0.02: immediate left side path leads to cliff network (recommended).
0.08: joins alternate branch (right) plus there is a path (left) to cliff network.
0.15: connector (right) to El Camino Del Mar parking lot.
0.28: path (left) down to cliff network.
0.35: path (left) down to cliff network above boulder beach.
0.38: trail (right) connects to upper Legion trail.
0.46: trail (right) connects again to upper Legion trail, trail narrows.
0.50: call box, large junction (right, paved access road) up to golf course around Legion, posted no bikes beyond this point, path (left) access down to cliff network above boulder beach.
0.53: icon marked trail (left) down to Lands End Beach (stairs).
0.65: trail climbs steeply upwards at painted rock overlook (300' cliff edge overlook posted 'no admittance' for safety, posting does little to deter people).
0.73: path (right) to easy golf course access.
0.75: clear trail (right), unknown.
1.0-1.13: trail sidles up to golf fields before ending at El Camino Del Mar. There is a decked view area here with stairs down to a cliff perch overlook.
Lincoln Park: Natural areas in Lincoln Park are limited to the undeveloped spaces that fall between the golf course, Legion of Honor, and the Coast Trail. Any such area can be expected to be saturated with little paths. In general, Lincoln Park areas appear weed choked when compared with the cliff areas. This is partly because the area has been so disturbed with so many projects over the years that weeds thriving on disturbed soils dominate. There are two notable natural areas in Lincoln Park. One is a nature trail running between the El Camino Del Mar view area and the back of the Legion of Honor. This 'Upper Legion Trail' is inundated with alternates connecting down to the Coast Trail and is 0.3 mile long.
Upper Legion Trail notes: From parking, paved trail becomes dirt fork at 0.09 (take right, left connects to Coast Trail) with a sand path up to Fort Miley. 0.27: second connector to Coast Trail. 0.3: Legion parking.
A second natural area is a combination of sheltered meadow and shady grove hidden behind the Legion. I call this the 'Legion Secret Meadow ' area.
Legion Secret Meadow: Here is a somewhat exciting little find amidst the haphazard natural areas of Lincoln Park. Access from street parking at 40th & Clement and follow the steep climbing footpath, or access road to the left around the maintenance area. There is a surprising sizeable glen under trees with picnic tables. Beyond that there is an open field before a screen of trees in which many things are growing wild. I was impressed by the diversity of wild plants in the disturbed area of this hidden field near the Legion. There are many species of plants, including common but handsome poppies and acacia. This was discovered in spring so it is certainly not going to be as exciting in other seasons. This area is not nearly as fantastic as the cliffs, but it has its own kind of interest and unique qualities which are more subtle. It is a secluded sunny meadow with a fair degree of wind protection.
Palace of the Legion of Honor: Hours: Tue-Sun 9:30a to 5:00p. Tickets: $8 adults, $6 seniors 65 and over, $5 youth 12-17, children under 12 free. Admission is now free every Tuesday. 24-Hour Hotline: (415) 863-3330.
Located near 34th Av and Clement St, this palatial museum serves as a kind of sister to the DeYoung Museum for its focus on antiquity. The centerpiece is a permanent collection of Rodin bronzes, including the famous Thinker who dominates the entrance atrium. The museum has the spirit of classic renaissance, and this sense of utopia is emphasized by the incredible location with views of the Golden Gate Channel. There is also an amazing fountain, flags waving, and classical courtyard surroundings. The museum was built to commemorate Californian soldiers who died in World War I. There is an impressive collection of some of the most well known large pieces by Rodin on permanent display, as well as European decorative arts and paintings, ancient art, and one of the largest collections of prints and drawings in the country. The museum is well known for its special events and shows.
Visit www.famsf.org/legion/index.asp for a current schedule of shows and events.
Fort Miley: At the end of El Camino Del Mar off Point Lobos Av there is a large parking and view area. This is a conspicuous park access point and penetrates the park via three options: 1) a connector accesses the Coast Trail which passes close under the parking lot, 2) an access road penetrates east to become the large 'upper legion trail' leading 0.3 mile to end at Legion of Honor parking, and 3) another paved access road weaves immediately upward to Fort Miley, the historical ruins of a fully recessed military armament. All portals are sealed off and the concrete surfaces seems all too appropriate for use as skateboard surfaces. There is a large open lawn enclosing the recessed bunker which is sunny and has a nice view over Ocean Beach and the Richmond District. There are three tables with funky grills. The historical ruin has little aesthetic appeal and the specific history has not been noted. The spot is notable for picnic use however, and is one of the only multi-use open fields here. It is good for dogs off leash and volleyball with an impressive view. It is one of the better table settings in the city.
Overall Best Features: Extreme cliffs with great access. Sutro Baths ruins with cave. Interesting ecosystem on cliffs with fabulous natural features. Remote and wild feeling. Highly explorable area with many small paths. Fantastic ocean and channel views.
Overall Worst Features: Upper trails, including Coast Trail are not that interesting. Area can be crowded, especially on Coast Trail. Upper areas are highly disturbed. Best trails are also the most dangerous.