Hiking in San Francisco? YES! If you want amazing views, a little history, and a lot of nature then this is the perfect hike.
The best place to park for easiest access to the Sutro Baths and the Trailhead is in the lot next to Lands End Lookout at the western edge of San Francisco. It can get crowded on the weekends and there is additional parking near the USS San Francisco Memorial.
- 3.5 miles
- Difficulty: moderate (there are a lot of stairs)
- Dogs OK on leash
- Kid friendly, but not stroller friendly
- Free Parking
- Location: 680 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121
Lands End Coastal Trail
The pictures in this post are from two different trips to Lands End: a 60-degree overcast day in July 2019 and a 70-degree sunny day in November 2020. Both times we had great views and I thought it would be fun to show the difference.
To begin, follow the Coastal Trail which starts at the North end of the parking lot. Almost immediately the Golden Gate comes into view. There are lots of points to pull off to sit and admire the view. There are also informational signs to learn about the history of the area. This coastal trail is in the same spot as the Cliff House Railway which was completed in 1888. It was meant to be a convenient means of transportation from downtown to Sutro Heights and the Cliff House. You can also learn about the many shipwrecks that happened right in this channel – some are even visible during low tide.
Mile Rock Beach (Offshoot Trail)
About a mile into the trail, look for a sign on the left that points down some stairs towards Mile Rock Beach. This will take you down many stairs.
The first stop is the Rock Labyrinth which was created by a local artist. There are spectacular views of the Golden Gate and Marin to enjoy while you make your way through the labyrinth.
Mile Rock Beach
From there, you can head down even more stairs to Mile Rock Beach. Just remember you have to come back up! It’s a great workout!
Down at the beach there was plenty to explore. I enjoyed just staring out at the water while my 10-year-old kept busy stacking rocks and jumping on logs.
Back on the Coastal Trail there are even more stairs to climb on the way to Eagle Point Overlook!
The two pictures below are taken from essentially the same place on two very different days!
Take the trail all the way to Eagle Point Overlook. There’s a golf course on the right and a clubhouse ahead. We usually stop here and enjoy the view before heading back. We follow the Coastal Trail back the way we came, but there’s also the option of taking El Camino Del Mar to make it a loop rather than out-and-back.
Once you’re almost back to the parking lot, take the Sutro Baths Upper Trail offshoot to the right. It winds down along the trail. Along this trail, there are informational signs about the Ohlone tribe, the first people who lived here.
The trail passes Point Lobos, a great viewing area of the Pacific. We’ve seen small fishing boats and large container ships from here. If you’re lucky you can probably spot whales too.
A little bit further and you’ll see the Cliff House perched atop the bluff and the remains of the Sutro Baths. There are paths that lead down to the ruins and the beach. It’s really fun to walk along the concrete walls and explore everything. By the time we reach this point, our kids have always been done and ready to go. They’ve never been all the way down to the ruins, but I went years ago when I used to live in San Francisco.
These ruins have a fantastic story. The Sutro Baths were a public bathhouse developed by Adolph Sutro in 1894. At its height, a massive glass structure covering 3 acres and enclosing 7 swimming pools at various temperatures (all filled with ocean water) stood here. The baths could accommodate 10,000 people at one time!
The Baths were not successful, in part due to the Great Depression that followed. It was briefly turned into an ice skating rink, and then in 1964 developers bought the site and planned to replace the Baths with high-rise apartments. Before development began, a fire destroyed the Baths in 1966 and plans for development stalled. The Cliff House and the Baths have now been a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area since 1973.
Fort Miley Ropes Course
During the week, you may see people zipping through the trees off in the distance. We took a few double-takes the first time but then realized there’s a ropes course hidden in the trees near the main parking lot. It is mostly available to groups for team building events, but they do have Community Days on the first Sunday afternoon of each month.
My daughter was really excited when one of her classes took a field trip here last fall. The kids had a great time challenging themselves, working together, and supporting one another. I happened to drive on the field trip and got to spend the day exploring Lands End and dining at the Cliff House with some of the other parents (it was a great day for me too!). While I didn’t participate in the course, I watched a little bit and then was witness to the kids’ excitement as they recounted their day on the way home.
I think everyone should eat at the Cliff House at least once because of the views and history. I’ve been here several times (most recently in Fall 2019) and have never been wowed by the food. I’ve never had anything here that was fantastic, but it was good.
I have never been to the Camera Obscura. In fact, I only learned about it recently! It is a tiny museum right on the grounds of the Cliff House that reflects images of the beach outside and also has a small collection of holograms. We were going to check it out when we were here earlier this month, but my 10-year-old had no interest. Next time, we’ll start here and check it out first!