Lands End, a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area managed by the National Parks Service, has seen many lives. In pre-colonial days, the transient Yelamu Ohlone tribe lived seasonally along the rocky shores of modern-day San Francisco; these native peoples relied heavily on their maritime environment by fishing for sustenance. The Spanish, who arrived around the time of the American Revolution, brought missionaries who forever disrupted the Ohlone way of life, and later, the Gold Rush permanently changed the landscape of northern California.
San Francisco quickly became a haven for both the wealthy and those aspiring to riches, and the Cliff House was constructed at the edge of Land’s End to accommodate the city’s well-to-do who requested a luxurious getaway. Adolpho Sutro, one the city’s more charismatic characters, built Sutro Baths as part of an ambitious attempt to offer affordable swimming options for San Francisco’s less affluent. Sutro’s notorious Ferries and Cliff House Railway offered transit from downtown to the Baths and Cliff House for a mere nickle; later, the No. 1 Sutter and California Streetcar line replaced the steam train. These primitive forms of public transit forever transformed the dune and cliff covered landscape so treasured by the Ohlone peoples.
Sure, the streetcar ride was scenic, but its cliff side location ultimately spelled its demise – in the 1920’s, a series of landslides damaged the tracks so severely repair was seen as too expensive. Today, Lands End is under the protection of the National Parks Service, where visitors are welcome to stroll its impeccably-maintained paths and admire incredible Bay Area views.
I recommend starting at China Beach and taking the Coastal Trail, and continuing onto the Sutro Baths Upper Trail at the end. The views of the Bay, Golden Gate Bridge, and Sutro Baths are simply incredible – and too numerous to count:
Quirky vandalism (which, for the record, I don’t endorse) is always something I can appreciate.
A slight diversion to the USS San Francisco Memorial is worthwhile, especially for travelers interested in history. The memorial, crafted using part of the original ship, pays homage to those who died fighting in the naval Battle of Guadacanal in November 1942. The battle, although deadly for both Allied and Japanese forces, halted Japan’s planned invasion of Australia and turned the tide of the Pacific theatre in the Allies’ favor.
Lands End is famous for its maritime lore, namely those involving the slew of shipwrecks that have happened in these exact waters. Jagged rocks and rough, white-capped waves make for rough sailing conditions, and I’ve heard a number of shipwrecks are visible from Lands End during low tide. Did I see any wreckage myself? Sadly, no. But I now have an excuse to return – as if I needed one, am I right?
And, at the end, travelers are rewarded with an incredible view of Sutro Baths and the Cliff House, dramatically set against the white-capped waters of the Pacific.
Before visiting, I recommend printing out a copy of the official Lands End map or downloading it onto your phone – you can find a map of the trails and sights here.