The Cliff House

A San Francisco Classic

A restaurant has perched on this cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean since 1863. Generations of San Franciscans and countless visitors have dined at the Cliff House and enjoyed the gorgeous ocean views.

But some very sad news arrived in December, 2020. The Cliff House may be permanently closed, at least as a restaurant, due to the reluctance of the National Park Service (which owns the Cliff House) to accommodate the current lessee and the financial difficulties of operating a restaurant in the Covid era. For details, see: SF Chronicle article.

cliff house, san francisco, seal rock
Cliff House and Seal Rock

There have been a whole series of Cliff Houses over the years, the style changing with the times. It burned down twice, and was closed during Prohibition, but the Cliff House is still here, and it's a wonderful place to come and have a meal and admire the view.

point lobos, view from cliff house, san francisco
Point Lobos View from Cliff House

The Cliff House sits at Point Lobos, right at the entrance to San Francisco Bay. This was a prime spot for shipwrecks before radar; strong currents, rocks and dense fog made for a lethal combination, especially at night.

The SS Ohioan, a cargo ship, ended up on the rocks near the Cliff House on a dark night in 1936.

aerial view of Cliff House Sutro Baths and wrecked SS Ohioan in 1936
Cliff House & Sutro Baths, 1936

The Cliff House Restaurants

There are three restaurants and two bars in the Cliff House.

Sutro's: elegant-casual and somewhat expensive dining, with two stories of glass windows looking out over Seal Rock and the Pacific. Serene and beautiful. Open daily, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., closed 3:30 to 5 p.m.

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Sutro's Restaurant

salmon and polenta at sutros restaurant, cliff house
Salmon & Polenta at Sutro's...yum

The Bistro: casual dining, less expensive, in the older part of the building, also with views.

The Terrace Room: Sunday brunch buffet, delightful setting with live harp music and flowing champagne. Seatings at 10, 12 and 2 p.m., reservations recommended. Adults $55.

Also Sutro's Bar and the Zinc Bar, open till midnight Friday and Saturday. Live jazz Fridays, 7 to 11.

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Zinc Bar

History of the Cliff House

The first Cliff House was built in 1863 and became a place for the wealthy residents of SF to come out to the ocean in their carriages and dine.

cliff house 1894, san francisco
First Cliff House, 1894

Adolph Sutro, creator of the Sutro Baths and Sutro Heights Park, bought the Cliff House in 1883 with the idea of pulling it out of a slump and making it family-friendly again. Apparently it had gotten a bad reputation for riffraff and scandalous behavior.

The Cliff House was badly damaged in 1887 when a ship carrying dynamite ran aground nearby and blew up. Sutro fixed up the building again, only to have it burn down in 1894.

This time, Sutro carried out an elaborate construction plan and created a marvelous Victorian confection on the cliff, which included a ballroom, several restaurants, museums, etc.

cliff house 1897, san francisco
Second Cliff House, 1897

The Victorian Cliff House survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but burned down a year later.

cliff house fire 1907, san francisco,

An attractive neoclassical version was built, by Sutro again, in 1909, but it closed during Prohibition and didn't reopen until 1938 after another remodel.

cliff house 1938, san francisco
Third Cliff House, circa 1938

Two ugly remodels followed. A brown, "modern" Cliff House appeared in 1950, then an even uglier blue and orange one in the 1970's.

cliff house 1950, san francico
Cliff House 1950

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Cliff House 1970's

The current Cliff House was created in 2004: a reconstruction of the 1909 classical shape, with a modern wing added on. This time they got it right! It's an attractive building and the restaurants are very pleasant places to eat and enjoy the beautiful views.

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Current Cliff House

view of sutro baths from cliff house, san francisco
View of Sutro Baths

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Modeling the Sutro Bath Swimsuit

Seal Rock

There used to be a large colony of seals on the large white rock just offshore, hence Seal Rock. The whole colony moved to Pier 39 after the 1989 earthquake, but some of them returned in 2007 and hang out there during the summer.

The Camera Obscura

This odd camera-shaped building sitting next to the Cliff House is a remnant of the amusement park that used to be just down the hill along Ocean Beach.

cliff house, camera obscura, san francisco,
Cliff House and Camera Obscura

The Camera Obscura, or "dark room", uses a series of lenses and a mirror to produce a live, 360 degree view of the surrounding area. The scientific principle was studied and sketched by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Open 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. Adults $3.

The large collection of mechanical games that was here moved to Fisherman's Wharf in 2004. See Musee Mechanique.

Cozy Diner Up the Road

An alternative to the Cliff House is the classic American diner up the street: Louis' Restaurant, at 902 Point Lobos Avenue, next to the parking lot.

Great burgers and breakfasts, and a wonderful view of the Sutro Baths and entrance to SF Bay. Family owned since 1937, low key and friendly, and cheaper than the Cliff House.

Cash only, but there's an ATM in the restaurant.

louis restaurant, san francisco
Louis' Restaurant

view of sutro baths, from louis restaurant, san francisco
View From Louis'

What to see nearby...

The Sutro Baths

Ruins of the largest indoor swimming place in the world. See Sutro Baths.

Sutro Heights Park

Adolph Sutro's gardens above the Cliff House, with amazing views of the coast. See Sutro Heights Park.

Lands End

A wild and beautiful hiking trail from the Cliff House towards the Golden Gate. See Lands End Trail.

Ocean Beach

The vast beach stretching along the entire western edge of San Francisco. Starts just below the Cliff House. See Ocean Beach.

How to Get There...

The Cliff House is at the end of Point Lobos Avenue, just below the parking lot for the Visitor's Center at Point Lobos and 48th Avenue.

By Bus: The 38-Geary bus will takes you there; get off at the last stop on the route, Point Lobos Avenue and 48th Avenue, then walk downhill to the Cliff House.

You can catch the bus downtown, on Market Street at First or Third Streets (a block from the Montgomery BART station), or right on Union Square on Geary Blvd.

By Car: there is a large parking lot at Point Lobos and 48th Avenue, just uphill from the Cliff House. There are also parking spaces in front of the building and down the road, but they tend to fill up.

Note: this area has been particularly hard-hit by the rash of car break-ins occurring in San Francisco recently. Best not to leave anything visible or valuable in your car when you park here.

Map of Cliff House, Sutro Baths, Sutro Heights Park

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Scroll down for COVID updates.

COVID-19 Status: at midnight on Monday, March 16, San Francisco was placed under a "shelter-in-place order.

All residents were ordered to stay home, except for necessary trips to grocery stores and essential medical visits, and solo outdoor activities like hiking.

The city was gradually reopening of many businesses and activities, but in December, came under a strict, stay-at-home directive, due to a sudden increase in infection and hospitalization rates.

Since then, Covid numbers had dropped significantly, but recently started rising again.

Big changes arrived June 15, 2021: California is "fully reopened", meaning all business sectors will reopen to full or almost full capacity, including concerts, stadium sports and festivals. SF is basically open, though somewhat more cautious in some regards.

As of August 20, 2021, almost 80% of eligible SF residents have been fully vaccinated.

Vaccine requirements: Starting August 20, 2021, SF requires that all restaurants, bars, theaters and gyms check for proof of full vaccination.

Documents accepted: paper or digital vaccination records.

See SF Chron article re: vaccination.

Public transportation options had been cut back, but are expanding again. See SF transit for more info.

The cable cars are running again and are free during August! In September, they will resume full (paid) service, starting with the Powell-Hyde Line, and the other 2 lines to follow after.

See COVID rules for current SF status.

Mask rules: another change, starting August 3, 2021. Everyone is now required to wear a mask indoors in SF, whether vaccinated or not. People may go without masks outdoors unless the area is densely populated. Hospitals, schools, nursing homes and public transit, still require masks./p>

What is open? Muir Woods, the Botanic Gardens, Golden Gate Park, Japanese Tea Garden, Pier 39, SF beaches, Golden Gate Bridge, and Twin Peaks (car access on Portola, main parking lot open) are all open.

Parking lots for SF beaches, Twin Peaks, and the Golden Gate Bridge are open, including the Welcome Center lot.

Restaurants can now be open to full capacity for indoor and outdoor dining, and many restaurants are open for take-out or delivery.

Bars that serve food can serve customers indoors.

Businesses can allow customers inside, up to full capacity. Malls are open.

The SF Zoo is open again.

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Alcatraz is open. The Day Tours and Night Tours are running on a somewhat reduced basis. The Cell Block is open also. See Alcatraz.

Hair salons, and open air tour buses, outdoor walking tours, and boat cruises can now operate.

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Travel to SF. Per the California Dept. of Public Health: non-essential travel to SF from outside California is discouraged but the quarantine requirements are no longer in effect.

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"Non-essential travel" basically means tourism.

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Indoor swimming pools are open to fullcapacity.

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Indoor gyms and indoor movie theaters are open to full capacity.

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Outdoor events for >10,000: may require proof of vaccination or negative test, but aren't required to.

Check individual events for requirements.

Napa and Sonoma county wineries are open.

For a handy list of what's open or closed, in California, see California reopening schedules.

See coronavirus news in the SF Chronicle for details and updates.

Also see site and parking lot closures for the National Park Service (Alcatraz, Muir Woods, etc.)

Plus helpful info on which parks and hiking trails are open in the Bay Area.

And to check the air quality (fires) in SF and the Bay Area, see and the SF Chronicle map showing current tests.

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