Cliff House, San Francisco

The Cliff House is a San Francisco restaurant on a headland above the cliffs just north of Ocean Beach.

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The Cliff House’s origins go back to 1858 when the house was built by Samuel Brannan, who founded San Francisco’s first newspaper the California Star. In 1863 the second Cliff House, a restaurant was built. In 1883, the building was brought by Adolph Sutro, who later opened the Sutro Baths.

In 1887 the building was partially damaged by a dynamite explosion when a ship run aground. Although the building was repaired it was destroyed by a fire on Christmas night 1894.

Sutro built a new seven-story Victorian Chateau in 1896, the same year he began work on the Sutro Baths. Sutro’s Cliff House survived the 1906 earthquake but was burnt to the ground a year later. Following the fire Sutro’s daughter commissioned architectural and engineering firm Reid & Reid to rebuilt in neo-classical style.

In 1937, George and Leo Whitney purchased the Cliff House and redeveloped in as a roadhouse to compliment an amusement park that the Whitleys had managed since 1926. On the terrace is a room size camera obscura. This was built in 1947 and today is the last remaining structure of the amusement park. 

The building was acquired by the National Park Service in 1977. In 2003 the building was renovated and restored to its 1909 appearance.

Today there is a casual walk-in bistro, an elegant restaurant, a Sunday champagne buffet brunch room, cafe, two bars, and a gift shop.

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Sutro Baths, San Francisco

The crumbling concrete ruins of the former Sutro Baths are on the northwestern edge of San Francisco above the Pacific Ocean.

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When the Sutro Baths opened in 1896 it was the world’s largest indoor swimming pool complex with seven pools. The baths were built by former San Francisco mayor Adolph Sutro.

An ice skating rink was added in the 1930s and in 1964 the complex was sold to property developers. A suspicious fire in 1966 destroyed the building before it was demolished.

Following the fire the condo development plans were abandoned. The ruins are now part of Golden Gate Recreational Area managed by the National Park Service.

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Baker Beach, San Francisco

Baker Beach is a public beach on peninsula of San Francisco.

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It is a popular beach with its views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Swimming is not recommended at the beach because of the rough surf conditions and rips.

The beach is also a photo stop for those walking the cliffside Coastal Trail.

The northern section of Baker Beach nearest the bridge is considered a clothing optional beach.

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Muir Beach Overlook

Muir Beach Overlook is part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

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Muir Beach Overlook provides stunning views of the Pacific Ocean coastline and its rocky cliffs. Between the months of November and June you may be lucky and see migrating blue whales.

During World War II it was used as a site to watch for potential attacks following the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Several of the historic base-end stations remain.

Muir Beach Overlook is located north of Muir Beach on Highway One (State Route 1)

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Conservatory of Flowers, San Francisco

The Conservatory of Flowers is a Victorian greenhouse and botanical garden located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

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The materials for the conservatory were purchased by businessman James Lick. He died in 1876 before construction could commence and the materials were sold by his estate. A group of businessmen purchased the materials and offered it as a gift to the City to be erected in Golden Gate Park.

The conservatory opened in 1879 making it the oldest building in Golden Gate Park. It is also the oldest wood-glass conservatory in North America. Its design is inspired by the Kew Gardens in London. The impressive wooden Victorian building has 16,800 window panes.

It houses nearly 2,000 plant species across five galleries – Aquatic Plants, Highland Tropics, Lowland Tropics, Potted Plants, and West Gallery.

The conservatory is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 4.30pm. It closes some public holidays; visit the website for full hours and pricing.

It is located at 100 John F Kennedy Drive.

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Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco

The Japanese Tea Garden is a jewel in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

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This is the oldest Japanese garden in the United States. It was originally created for a Japanese village exhibit as part of the California Widwinter Exposition in 1894.

After the exposition Japanese landscape architect Makoto Haigwara developed the exhibit into to a permanent Japanese tea garden. Haigwara and his family lived on the property until World War II when they were evicted and sent to an internment camp.

The garden’s winding paths weave around pagodas, wooden bridges, rock gardens, koi ponds, and buddha statues.

There is a tea house serving Japanese refreshments. I had a cup of green tea with a slice of green tea cheesecake.

If you visit before 10am on Monday, Wednesday or Friday admission is free. The garden opens at 9am and closes at 4:45pm in winter and 6pm in summer. See their website for prices and seasonal hours.

The Japanese Tea Garden is located at 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park.

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Yoda Fountain, San Francisco

The Yoda Fountain is a quick tourist stop for Star Wars fans, located outside the Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Francisco’s Presidio National Park.

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The Letterman Digital Arts Center is home to Lucasfilm, hence why one one of the Star Wars franchises’ most popular characters stands outside.

The 26″ life-sized Yoda bronze statue stands was installed in 2005. During weekday office hours you can find more Star Wars memorabilia in the lobby. I didn’t see any of this as I visited during the weekend.

If you are visiting the Palace of the Fine Arts the Yoda Fountain is about a 10 minute walk.

The Letterman Digital Arts Center is located at 1 Letterman Drive.

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