Spending our time untethering the mind, getting the fidgets out, exploring the in-between ideas, and learning kintsugi.

The very edge of San Francisco

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Sutro baths from Cliff House

Sutro baths from Cliff House

What have we got at the edge of San Francisco? Sutro baths of course. Our very own modern ruins. And fog. I doubt a hundred years have changed the course of San Francisco’s weather. So, who built a public bath house on a generally cold and often foggy beach? A rich dude, of course. In 1896, Mr. Sutro, who owned most of San Francisco’s western front, built an indoor swimming pool, in fact a set of seven swimming pools, at a cost of over a million dollars. Why? I guess, because he could.

Statistics of this bath are impressive even by today’s standards – six heated salt water pools of varying degrees and a cold freshwater pool. High tide could replace its 1.7 million gallons of water in an hour! There were 20,000 bathing suits and 40,000 towels for rent, with a capacity for 10,000 at a time. There were slides, trapeze and and diving boards. An amphitheater seated more than 3500 people and offered a variety shows. Its three restaurants could serve a 1000 people at a sitting. And it was a museum of sorts – Egyptian mummies, stuffed animals, pinned insects, coin collections, photographs and fine arts – display of Mr. Sutro’s things, maybe?

Picnic lunch at Sutro Baths, Brrrr....

Picnic lunch at Sutro Baths, Brrrr....

I am not surprised that the bath house struggled for years due to high operating costs. Eventually, it was destroyed in 1960s in a suspicious fire. The land is now part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area and start of a wonderful coastal hike. It is typically foggy in spring and early summer, but otherwise one can walk all the way to Fort Point and back. Adjoining Cliff House looks a bit forbidding to enter for just a cup of coffee but I am sure they would serve you a cuppa. And I promise you will need one if you find yourself wandering at the baths on a foggy and windy afternoon.

Ocean Beach from Cliff House

Ocean Beach from Cliff House

The beach itself, Ocean Beach, is popular among the locals. On a summer day, you will see picnics laid out, kites flying, joggers, surfers, smimmers and the usual things one expects at a beach during summer. I am not sure if any of that is advisable unless you are used to summers being cold, like the locals are. For historical photos of Sutro Baths, click here.

If you like history or simply like stories, look out for free docent led walks by San Francisco City Guides. The walks are classified under Sutro Heights or Lands’ End.

One Response

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  1. Ooh, I love this. Americans don’t quite have the ruined palaces of emperors or faded triumphal arches, but our ruins always feel more somewhat more mysterious to me. Maybe the people who lived there–or swam there–were there in your parents’ lifetime or your parents’ parents’ lifetime. The history feels so close. Great read!



    June 2, 2009 at 11:22 am

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