October 1998

Type: GGNRA Historical Park.
Entrance Location: Across the street from Sutro Bath ruins along Point Lobos Av or from street parking along 48th Ave off Point Lobos Av. Alternate steeply climbing trail access from Balboa near Great Highway. Most recommended access from Merrie Way parking lot off Point Lobos Ave.
Facilities: None.
Fee-Hours: No fee. No curfew noted.
Dogs: Fair to Good. Moderate open spaces.

What is today Sutro Heights Park was once the palatial personal gardens of Adolph Sutro who made the Cliff House his home. The original Sutro Gardens required an army of 80 gardeners to maintain and was a utopia of garden beds in the shape of all things the imagination could devise. Remaining is the castle-like turret lookout, some interesting trees, large lawn areas, and a few statues. Today the park is notable mostly for one thing. It gives, from the turret area, the best elevated view over ocean beach to be had anywhere short of a plane. This view includes the western Richmond District and Golden Gate Park from about 300.' The scene is spectacular and is probably the one thing as spectacular today as it was in Sutros' time. This amazing view down the line of Ocean Beach is selected as the third most aesthetically exciting view of the city from any park, and the second nicest coastal viewpoint.

Much of the park has been 'reduced' to park lawns, far easier to maintain than Sutros' original vision which incidentally was in contradiction to the natural demeanor of this harsh location. The cliffside which rises over Great Highway becoming Point Lobos Ave has been cemented into place with a facade meant to mimic natural rock but which appears in fact more like a gigantic version of cardboard egg cartons. There is a brief and steep area of coastal strand on the south side which can be accessed via a stair trail that rises from Balboa. There is also a brief 'natural' area on the north side, overgrown and jungular. The central park area is dominated by a large lawn and a number of semi-exotic trees have survived to become large here. There are 'hints' of the original feeling. The park service has made a point of maintaining the original turret platform which once bore romanesque statues and some work has been done to restore the masonry. This romanesque feel was similar in its decadent style to that of Hearst Castle. Adolph Sutro was a self-made millionaire in the late 1800s who owned just about anything he wanted in and around San Francisco. He is known more for his ambitious architectural projects than for his sensitivity to the environment, and so his contribution to the city remains in historically sensational landmarks. But it also exists in another important way. Much of what he owned around the city has today become parkland, and if not for him may have been developed early on as something else. By the time his legacy was history there was essentially nothing new left to acquire. His influence played a large part in defining the way things are today in San Francisco.

Best Features: Best view over ocean beach to be had anywhere. Excellent elevated vantage in general. Of historical interest.

Worst Features: Can be very cold and windy with little protection. Little explorability.


View from Sutreo Heights