The Sutro Baths

Once the largest indoor swimming establishment in the world, the Sutro Baths is now an eerie ruin, sitting in one of the most beautiful settings in San Francisco.

Sutro Baths Ruins

History of the Sutro Baths

Adolph Sutro, a wealthy San Francisco resident and former mayor of the city, once owned most of the land in the western half of San Francisco.

One of his grandest projects was the construction of an amazing glass-roofed structure containing seven salt water swimming pools, fed by the powerful tides at the entrance to San Francisco Bay.

Vistors could also view the huge collection of odd specimens he had picked up in his travels, including Egyptian mummies, stuffed polar bears and apes, and totem poles. He even had a train track and train service created to bring residents out to his entertainment palace. The tracks are gone now, but they used to run along the Lands End trail.

sutro baths vintage postcard
Postcard of the Baths and Cliff House

The Sutro Baths opened in 1890, and was intended for the working people of San Francisco, who could take his train out to the ocean sand dunes and play in the pools, enjoying the day swimming, exploring his museum and eating in the restaurants. There were musical performances and dance competitions, and other amusements provided for his guests, who could make a whole day of it at the Baths.

Sutro kept the fees low so most city residents could afford to come: 5 cents for the train and 25 cents to swim (including a swimsuit and towel to use).

Aerial view of the Sutro Baths and Cliff House and shipwreck
Aerial View of Baths and Cliff House, with a Shipwreck

The SS Ohioan cargo ship crashed onto the rocks one dark and foggy night in 1936, quite close to the Baths. All members of the crew made it to safety.

The salt water pools ranged from really cold to a balmy 80 degrees, and were supplied with slides, swings, trampolines, trapezes, rings, and diving platforms. Swimmers had to wear swim suits supplied by the Baths up until the 1930's.

sutro baths, swimming pools in 1943
Swimming Pools in 1943

Sutro designed a series of concrete tunnels and tanks that used the force of the tides to fill the pools.

The Baths were extremely popular, but it was never profitable, and as the years went by, they became increasing expensive to maintain. Also, society changed, and fewer people were coming to spend their free time there.

glass done of sutro baths
Glass Dome in 1943

The Sky Tram opened in 1955 and carried people from the Cliff House, past the Sutro Baths, to Point Lobos. With all the salt spray and wind, maintenance got to be too much, and it closed in 1965.

Sky Tram, Cliff House to Point Lobos
Sky Tram

The Sutro Baths closed in 1966, and burned down in June of the same year, some say under suspicious circumstances.

sutro baths burning 1966
Sutro Baths Burning, 1966

The Baths were scheduled to be developed into housing and a shopping center, but were saved by public sentiment and purchased by the National Park Service in 1980.

The ruins aren't really old, but they are a romantic reminder of a vanished way of life.

sutro ruins in setting sun

Exploring the Sutro Baths

The Baths are now a rough collection of pools of salt water, crumbling walls and rusting pieces of iron. The setting at the end of the Land's End cliffs, looking out over Seal Rock and the ocean, is gorgeous and worth a visit.

grounds above the sutro baths
Above the Ruins

You can climb all over it; it isn't "maintained" and can be a bit treacherous, so watch your step. But that just adds to its mystique.

sutro baths ruins

sutro baths ruined building

There is a cool tunnel through the cliff that leads to a little beach, scene of past shipwrecks.

tunnel at sutro baths
The Tunnel

Free Tour of the Sutro Baths

San Francisco City Guides offers a guided tour of the Sutro Baths and the nearby Sutro Heights Park. City Guides is a non-profit that run free tours on many of the sights in San Francisco. I've been on several of these tours and the guides have been very interesting and professional. All of the guides are volunteers. No reservations are necessary; just show up at the scheduled time. See Sutro Baths tour.

Getting to the Baths

The Sutro Baths are next to the Cliff House off 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 takes you right there; get off just before you reach the ocean, at Point Lobos Avenue and 48th Avenue.

You can catch the bus downtown, on Market Street at First or Third Streets, or right at Union Square on Geary Blvd.

By Car: there is a large parking lot at Point Lobos Avenue and 48th Avenue, just above the Baths.

Map of Cliff House, Sutro Baths, Sutro Heights Park

Other Things to See nearby...

Sutro Heights Park

sutro height park view, ocean beach

Adolph Sutro built a mansion and elaborate gardens on the hill above the Baths and Cliff House. Cross the street from the parking lot to enter the gardens; one of the best views of Ocean Beach is up there. More on the Sutro Heights Park.

Lands End

lands end golden gate view

Land's End is a wild and beautiful area on the edge of the city, with hiking paths and amazing views of the entrance to San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. The trail begins at the parking lot above the Sutro Baths. More on Lands End.

Ocean Beach

view of ocean beach and cliff house

San Francisco's largest beach is just around the corner from the Baths. More on Ocean Beach.

The Cliff House

The Cliff House is just next to the Sutro Baths, at the northern end of Ocean Beach. A San Francisco restaurant that has existed in various forms since the 1890's. Good food and wonderful views. More on the Cliff House.

The SF Zoo

The San Francisco Zoo is at the other end of Ocean Beach from the Sutro Baths, down the Great Highway that runs along the beach. More on the SF Zoo.

Golden Gate Park

San Francisco's biggest and best park is just a few blocks down the Great Highway from the Baths. Explore the museums, gardens, lakes and Tea House. More on Golden Gate Park.

Documentaries on Sutro Baths

Two interesting short films were created about the history of the Sutro Baths.

More to explore...

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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 had been gradually reopening of many businesses and activities, but in December, 2020, came under a strict, stay-at-home directive, due to a sudden increase in infection and hospitalization rates.

Since then, Covid numbers dropped significantly, but rose again when Omicron hit, then dropped again. They are fairly low now.

Big changes coming June 15 California was "fully reopened", meaning all business sectors reopened to full or almost full capacity, including concerts, stadium sports and festivals. SF since then has been basically open, though somewhat more cautious in some regards than other locations.

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As of March 28, 2022, over 88% of SF residents have been fully vaccinated.

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

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

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