The Sutro Baths ruins in San Francisco is a well kept secret and a locals favorite spot for hiking and exploring, or maybe even just for catching a really beautiful sunset over the ocean. Tucked on the far West side of the city are the San Francisco bath house ruins that used to be working bath houses 100 years ago. Now, they are beautiful ruins that touch the sea and happens to be our favorite place to explore on a sunny evening. Golden hour at Sutro Baths on a clear day is filled with warm light as the sun dips beyond the horizon.
On a particularly sunny night (right before a week of forecasted rain) we drove over to Sutro Baths near Ocean Beach for a walk around the ruins. The Sutro Bath ruins is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It’s exactly a national Park (there’s no fee to enter) but it is controlled by the national park service and thus was affected by the government shutdown. Normally, you can easily park in the parking lot and walk down the steps to the ruins. The parking lot is also right next to the Land’s End trailheads if you want to hike!
Northern California is infamous for chilly breezes, so for this visit, I paired a chunky J.crew sweater over my pencil skirt, also from J.Crew. I wore sturdy boots, because that’s the main important piece of clothing to wear to Sutro Baths. They are ruins, after all! Skip the heels if you visit, you’ll want shoes so you don’t fall off the broken down walls, etc.
HISTORY OF SUTRO BATHS
I think the history of the Sutro Baths is really interesting. A man named Adolph Sutro (hence the name) was basically hella rich and also a talented engineer, so he built the Sutro Heights area in 1894 then decided rich people of the day would pay a lot of money to eat on the oceanside, so he re-built the Cliff House next door to the baths soon afterward. (Yes – rebuilt. This cursed building has burned down a total of 3 times since being built in 1858 and we’re now on Cliff House #4. Bets on when it’ll burn down again?)
Then, he saw a business opportunity to build a Greek-style public ocean pool aquarium bathhouse and hence the Sutro Baths were born. The Sutro Baths swimming pools could fit 10,000 people at one time and also had 20,000 bathing suits and 40,000 towels for rent!! Families would come for a swim, eat at the Sutro Baths restaurant, and walk around Sutro Heights Park. Needless to say, this place was popping in the 1890’s.
And then there was another Sutro Baths fire again in 1966 and it took the baths with it. What’s left is an eerie yet beautiful old-world feeling ruins that is basically a large jungle gym for visitors.
TIPS FOR VISITING LANDS END SUTRO BATHS
Theses old baths in San Francisco are beautiful to visit any time of day, that being said, my favorite time to visit is at golden hour. Keep an eye on the Sutro Baths weather – this area of the city is usually very foggy, especially in the summer. It can also be windy. I recommend visiting on a weeknight. You may stumble across some couples taking Sutro Baths engagement photos (it’s a popular spot!) but you will also always see Sutro Baths wedding photos happening on weekends (the Cliff House is a popular wedding venue in San Francisco.) Wedding things combined with weekend foot traffic makes weekdays a more calm time to visit.
Park in the lot or on the side of the road. There are stairs down to the ruins or you can swing to the right and take a walk through some of Land’s End Trial before swinging around to the ruins. PLEASE STAY ON THE TRAILS, you guys. The evening we shot these photos, some girl was scaling the side of the cliff instead of taking literally an extra 3 minutes to walk up the proper trail. Not only is this dangerous for her, but it destroys the park. This area is like an adult jungle gym, but don’t be a dick, ok?
On that note, even those these were once a bathhouse, you can’t actually swim here anymore! You don’t want to, either. No longer are these ruins filled with warm bathtubs and luxury steam baths – the water inside them is green and stale. Don’t go in the water in the ruins and I don’t recommend swimming in the ocean, either. (The water is cold up here and the waves are strong!)
LANDS END TRAIL
One of our favorite hiking spots in the city is the Land’s End Trail. (Psst – this area is sometimes referred to as the Point Lobos trail, but all the locals refer to it as Land’s End) It’s great for all ages because it’s mostly flat. You’ll wind around the coastline and under tall trees, with the Bay and glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge popping out around some corners. We love to walk down to the Land’s End Labyrinth and to the small beach below it. The view of the Bay is STUNNING! It’s an easy walk down, but LOTS of steps on the way back up.
Read my past blog post about Land’s End for more details on these trails!
If you’re spending the golden hour here, go hiking the Land’s End trail first. Visit the Labyrinth and on your way back to the main parking lot, swing to the right to take the trail down to the Sutro Baths ruins. There is a cool cave at the old SF baths that you can walk under and pop out the other side. During low tide, you can even walk on the beach near the old pool baths.
The Cliff House Sutro Baths area is one of my favorite hidden gems in the city. We love hiking the trails or scaling the Sutro Bath ruins during golden hour. It’s like a natural museum for the 1890’s. Make sure to visit this San Francisco old bath house on your next visit!
Read my San Francisco travel guide for more things to do in the city!