ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Sutro Baths and Cliff House, San Francisco, California

Updated on October 4, 2010
Click thumbnail to view full-size

One million bucks was a lot of moolah back in 1896 but it wasn't too much for former San Francisco City Mayor Adolph Sutro to spend on an extravagant creation. There on the coast of the Pacific Ocean he built one of the most memorable landmarks in the history of San Francisco.The place, named after himself, was the Sutro Baths. It was a set of public baths that was absolutely over-the-top in terms of its design. The ruins of this bathhouse are a popular place for visitors to the area and are also enjoyed by residents when they trek out to the coast.

What is a public bath house (or what was it at that time any way)? The simple description is that the Sutro Baths were a public swimming pool where people could enjoy swimming together with their friends and neighbors. However this description doesn't do the Sutro Baths any kind of justice because they were so much more grandiose than just a public pool. This swimming pool area was not just one big pool but was actually made up of 7 different swimming pools. These pools were built in the fashion of the Old Greek bathhouses, encased within glass walls that looked out over the water. Fun diversions and entertainment for the swimmers included slides, swings, diving boards and even trapezes. These amazing pools could hold up to 10,000 people at one time! It must have been a grand spectacle to see in its heydey!

For those people who wanted a break from the luxury of swimming in glass-encased magic, the Sutro Baths were also designed to be a place of leisure in other ways. There were three different restaurants located there so that visitors could ease the pangs of hunger worked up during swimming exercise. There was also an area where live stage performances could be executed and enjoyed. The art that covered the walls made this practically a gallery of its own. The place was fabulous to a degree that was certainly not matched at that time and may still not be matched in San Francisco today.

Unfortunately the entire thing ended up costing more than it was taking in and eventually had to close. Maybe the expense of creating and maintaining the building was just simply too high to be offset by the income it took in. Perhaps the inconvenience of getting to the baths was problematic; San Francisco was not built up at the time and so train travel was required to get out to Sutro Baths. Or maybe the Sutro Baths were just not right for their times, too modern for the turn of the century and too long since the Greek bathhouse days to work. Whatever the reason, the Sutro location went through a number of incarnations after being a bathhouse. Ice skaters spent their time here for awhile. Later the general area became home to Playland at the Beach, a magnificent amusement park that drew in crowds in droves for quite awhile but then shut down a couple of decades back.

All of this history makes the Sutro Baths a potential haven for ghosts.  Indeed, many people say that this place is haunted. A lot of people interested in ghosts head out to this region of the city to see if they can have a ghostly experience. The setting is perfect for having such an experience.The ruins of the baths are there to this day, situated starkly beneath the Cliff House Restaurant, perched on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Just north of the Sutro Bath ruins is a series of cave tunnels that lead out to a precarious perch on the water. Waves crash violently against the rocks at the end of these tunnels. One misstep, and you could easily find yourself cascading into lost waters below. It’s definitely creepy.

But, if you brave the waves and the windy weather that accompany them, and head out to the end of the tunnel with a candle, you may find spirits welcoming your presence. It is rumored that if you light the candle and place it at the end of the tunnel, then you begin to walk away, you will see a figure come along, pick up the candle and toss it in to the water. Maybe it’s the depressed spirit of Adolph Sutro whose wild dream was realized only to be crushed by reality. Perhaps it is the spirit of a swimmer who never wanted to leave the ruins behind. Or maybe it is more than one presence from different parts of the history of the area who find the blurring of time and the beauty of nature here too irresistible to leave behind.

Of course, even if you don’t end up seeing spirits at this spot it’s still a terrific tourist attraction to visit on a trip to San Francisco. The ruins themselves are fascinating. The ocean view is stunning. It’s a great picture spot. From here you can walk to Golden Gate Park, hike a natural trail along the ocean or check out the old military batteries that were once active here on the coast.

The Sutro Baths are located at Ocean Beach, which is itself a popular attraction. The weather in San Francisco is not typically conducive to a great beach experience but some days still find this beach busy. People come out here to go surfing and kitesurfing. It’s a cool thing to see if you’re there when a lot of people are there enjoying these activities. If you wear a wetsuit you can go into the water yourself.

Stop at the Cliff House Restaurant while you’re at the Baths. The food is a bit pricey but the restaurant has a terrific view. Plus it’s rich with history. It burned down three different times over the course of its history and there is a lot of historical information about its different incarnations inside of the restaurant. Even if you just grab a drink at the bar it’s worth it to take a look at all of the history that is held there.

Learn more from The Presidio Visitor Center.


Submit a Comment

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    Stopped by the bath ruins over thirty years ago... Just foundations and rocks leading to the ocean.

    Cliff House on the south end of the baths.

    My first visit to the Cliff House Restaurant was fifty years ago with family.

    That place was creepy... Downstairs was a fully functional miniature circus from the turn of the century.... the clowns were most alarming and the place had a haunting feeling with its darkness and dampness....

  • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

    Susan Hazelton 

    8 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Beautiful. Someday i hope to get out there to visit the ruins. It has quite a history. Thanks for sharing.

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 

    8 years ago from London, UK

    Thank you for your tour of the Sutro Baths. Very interesting.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 

    8 years ago from Oakley, CA

    This title grabbed me. I was born and raised in SF. What memories you've brought back! I started to write a detailed comment, until I realized it was going to turn into something much too long for a comment.

    So, I'm going to write a personal memoir about my experiences there, with a link to your hub as the inspiration.

    I had not, however, heard about the ghostly encounters. Very interesting. The paranormal fascinates me.

    Great Hub!

  • fundamentallife profile image


    8 years ago

    Thank you Kathryn, I love this 'oldy worldy' stuff.


  • FGual profile image


    8 years ago from USA

    Thank you for letting us know about this hauntingly beautiful place, perhaps it will make a comeback someday


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)