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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