Sutro Baths: One of San Francisco’s Most Unique Spots
One of the most popular spots for sunset in San Francisco is not the Golden Gate Bridge, but the Sutro Baths. These unique ocean fed baths were once a popular area for the public to swim while in San Francisco. Today they have been preserved so that you can explore them, but I doubt you would want to do any swimming in them. Here is all the information so you can check it out yourself.
- .5 mile hike
- 100 feet of elevation
- Free to park
- This information is from my visit in 2016 and 2018
The Sutro baths are located below the parking lot at the west end of Geary St. You just drive to the end, and you will see the parking lot. There are a lot of spaces, but they can fill up fast, especially during the weekends.
The below history is taken from here:
Adolph Sutro, the self-made millionaire who designed Sutro Heights and later the second Cliff House, developed the fantastic Sutro Baths in 1894. The massive public bathhouse covered three acres at one time. Sutro’s dream for the baths was to provide a healthy, recreational, and inexpensive swimming facility for thousands of San Franciscans. There were slides, trapezes, springboards, and a high dive. The power of the Pacific Ocean during high tide could fill the 1.7 million gallons of water required for all the pools in just one hour. The baths could accommodate 10,000 people at one time and offered 20,000 bathing suits and 40,000 towels for rent.
Over time, the baths became less popular due to the Great Depression, a reduction in available public transportation, and new public health codes. In attempts to make the facility profitable, the owners converted the baths into an ice-skating rink. Still, Sutro Baths never regained its popularity, and the ice-skating revenue was not enough to maintain the enormous building. In 1964, developers with plans to replace the baths with high-rise apartments bought the site and began demolition of the once great structure. In 1966, a fire destroyed what was left of the baths; the city did not pursue the high-rise apartment plans. The concrete ruins just north of the Cliff House are the remains of the grand Sutro Baths and have been part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area since 1973.
After parking, you can make your way to the lookout and see the baths from above. If you chose to continue on (why wouldn’t you?), there is a dirt path and stairs to the right of the parking lot. You won’t miss it as I guarantee there will be a lot of other people there exploring.
The dirt path takes you down to both the baths and Point Lobos Lookout.
I went to Point Lobos Lookout first, which is to the right at the split.
Point Lobos Lookout
The Point Lobos Lookout provides a great 180-degree view of the area. You can even see the Golden Gate Bridge sticking out on the right side, but just barely.
The best view is looking out at the rocks in the water. From this angle, you can see the heart shaped rock way out in the distance (this is the only angle you can see the heart from). You can also get a good view of the baths to the left of you from this vantage point as well. When you are done, head back to the split and down to the baths.
The baths themselves are a variable playground for the explorer. There is so much climb on and explore while you are down there.
I spent a good 45 minutes just walking around, going out on the cement paths, and trying to find the best angles.
After looking around for a while, I headed back up the dirt path on the other side, where there are some more ruins.
After that, I climbed back out and made my way to the car. I can say that this is a fantastic spot to explore in San Francisco. It is not often that you can find an old abandoned place like this that you can freely walk around. I can’t wait to come back and spend some more time here at a later date.
Let me know if you have been in the comments, and if there are other spots down there that I missed. Also, while you are there, consider hiking the Lands End coastal trail as well.