The Sutro Baths ruins are an incredible part of San Francisco’s history.
The Sutro Baths was once a magnificent Victorian bathhouse on the city’s rugged, northwestern coastline at Lands End.
Wealthy mining engineer and philanthropist Adolph Sutro constructed the Sutro Baths in 1896, with six saltwater pools and one freshwater pool encased in a glass and steel structure five-stories high. It was an amazing engineering feat!
10 best things to do at Sutro Baths
1. Explore the crumbling foundations of the original swimming pools.
When the Sutro Baths launched in 1896 it was the biggest indoor swimming pool in the world, with a huge capacity of 10,000 visitors, and 517 private change rooms! The water in the salt pools was recycled by sea water from incoming tides.
This was an affordable attraction for the working class people of San Francisco, who flocked to the Sutro Baths in droves. They arrived from the city on a train, and paid 5c for the ride and 25c to swim. When Southern Pacific took over the railroad and increased the fare, Sutro built his own railroad to keep the prices down.
2. Imagine Sutro Baths as a grand Victorian bathhouse.
Visitors entered the magnificent five-story, glass bathhouse down a sweeping staircase, to an atrium-like main floor. They were treated to all forms of entertainment, with a natural history museum, theater, promenade, 2,700 seat amphitheater, and multiple restaurants.
This was a fun place to be, and the baths had a carnival-like atmosphere with springboards, flying rings, a diving board, big slides, trampolines and springboards. There were also plenty of fairs, swimming competitions, and beauty contests.
3. Walk up the stairs to Point Lobos Viewpoint.
Can you see the stairs carved into the cliff, that once led to a sky tram? In 1952 Sutro’s estate sold the property to the Whitney Brothers, who also owned the adjacent Cliff House and Playland amusement park. The stairs carved into the cliff at the Sutro Bath ruins, led to a sky tram constructed by the Whitney Brothers. The tram traveled between Cliff House and Point Lobos, complete with an artificial waterfall at Point Lobos.
Due to the high maintenance costs, the Whitney Brothers eventually converted Sutro Baths to an ice-skating rink. Sutro Baths then burned down in 1966, and all you can see today are the mysterious ruins.
4. Observe the offshore Seal Rocks with abundant birdlife.
Nature is gradually reclaiming this incredible setting, and eventually there will be very little evidence that the Sutro Baths were ever here.
5. Walk along the upper trail at the Sutro Baths, winding around the hillside.
6. Stop to admire the vibrant wildflowers that line the hillside.
The hillside is carpeted with stunning wildflowers, like the flowering, yellow lupines. The pink ice-plants are considered an invasive species, and efforts are underway to remove them. They were originally planted by the US Army to stabilize the sand dunes.
7. Take the trail up to the Lands End Lookout and Cafe.
The modern visitor center at Lands End Lookout has some interesting exhibits on local history, wonderful gifts, and a convenient cafe. It's a great place to be on a cold, windy day.
8. Continue along the Lands End Trail for views of Golden Gate Bridge.
The upper trails at Sutro Baths connect to the Lands End Trail. This magnificent coastal trail has soaring views of the Golden Gate Bridge from Eagle's Point, and leads to the exceptional Legion of Honor art museum.
9. Walk to the famous Cliff House restaurant.
The Cliff House (now closed) is an easy five minute walk from the Sutro Baths, and has multiple terraces with superb views.
10. Enjoy superb views of Ocean Beach, just pass the Cliff House.
Ocean Beach is one of San Francisco's most popular destinations, bordering the gigantic Golden Gate Park.
Know before you go
- Address: 680 Point Lobos Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94121.
- Lands End Lookout (visitor center/cafe): yes.
- Parking lot: next to visitor center.
Things to do near the Sutro Baths
The first three attractions are within walking distance of the Sutro Baths: