Sutro Heights Park

Sutro Heights Park is a delightful surprise sitting high above the Cliff House on the edge of San Francisco. The views of Ocean Beach and the coastline are spectacular, but not many people know it's there.

view of ocean beach, sutro heights park, san francisco
View of Ocean Beach

History of the Park

Sutro Heights Park was the location of an elaborate estate and gardens built in 1881 by Adolph Sutro, an immigrant from Prussia who bought and developed much of the land in this part of San Francisco.

adolph sutro, sutro heights park, san francisco
Adolph Sutro, on the grounds of his estate

There had been a cottage in this spot, but Sutro built a large house and had formal gardens laid out, along with an observatory, a stone parapet, and a glass conservatory filled with orchids and exotic plants.

house and observatory, sutro heights park, san francisco
House and Observatory

He had about 200 statues placed around the grounds, replicas of European ones, of which only two remain: a stag, and the Goddess Diana. The lions guarding the entrance are reproductions of the originals.

conservatory and statues, sutro heights park, san francisco
Conservatory and Statues

diana, sutro heights park, san francisco
Diana Today

In 1885 the gardens were opened to the public and the house remained occupied by the Sutro family until 1938, when Sutro's daughter Emma died and the land was donated to the city.

parapet in sutro heights park, san francisco
The Parapet, Overlooking the Cliff House

A couple of colorful postcards show the Sutro Heights gardens in their heyday.

old postcard of garden promenade, sutro heights park, san francisco
Garden Promenade, with the entrance gate in the distance.

old postcard of sutro heights park, san francisco

The park had an elaborate entrance gate; all that's left of it are the stone lions, still guarding the entrance.

lions at gate, sutro hieghts park
Entrance to the Sutro Heights Park

During the Depression, all of the buildings were torn down, with just the stone parapet remaining, along with the Well House, a small Victorian structure. In the grassy area, you can still see the tiles from the floor of the conservatory.

original well house, sutro heights park, san francisco
The Original Well House

well house, sutro heights park, san francisco
Well House Today

Enjoying the Gardens

The park is a wonderful place to have a picnic, or just enjoy the peace of the garden, relaxing on the benches or strolling around the grounds.

grounds of sutro heights park, san francisco
Sutro Heights Ruins

And of course, the views...

The amazing views of the beach and ocean, as well as the western edge of San Francisco, are the best part of the Sutro Heights Park, IMO.

ocean beach view, sutro heights park, san francisco
Ocean View

There is also a view of the entrance to San Francisco Bay, and of course Seal Rock and the Cliff House below.

view of sf bay, sutro heights park, san francisco
Bay and Marin Headlands View

On a recent visit up there, I was lucky enough to see a migrating whale just off the beach; every so often he would rise and slap his tail on the water - really cool.

If you're feeling energetic or in need of exercise, there is a very pretty, very steep, rustic stairway climbing up to the park from the south side on Balboa Street, just off the Great Highway.

stairway to sutro heights park, san francisco
Balboa Avenue Stairway

The park is on top of the cliff overlooking the Cliff House

cliff house and sutro heights park, san francisco
Sutro Heights and the Cliff House

Getting There

By bus: the 38 Geary bus goes right there. You can catch the bus from Market and Third or First Streets, near the Montgomery BART station. The 38-Geary also runs past Union Square (on Geary Blvd).

Get off at the last stop, 48th Avenue and Point Lobos, and walk a little way towards the ocean on Point Lobos until you see a small parking lot on the left (south) side. Head down the path and you will see the stone lions guarding the entrance.

stone lion at entrance to sutro heights park
Park Entrance

By car: There are two parking lots opposite the entrance to the park on either side of Point Lobos Drive, just below 48th Avenue. The little one on the south side of the street is often full, but the large one across the street by the Lands End Visitors Center is a good bet.

Note: San Francisco is in the grip of a rash of car break-ins, and this area out by the Cliff House has been particularly hard hit. Don't leave anything valuable or visible in your car when you park here. Sorry!

practical tipParking Tip: If it's a beautiful, sunny day in the summer, even the big lot can fill up, but the park backs up on a quiet residential neighborhood and there is parking along the east side of the park along 48th Avenue.

48th avenue, sutro heights park, san francisco
Eastern Edge of the Park on 48th Ave

Free Tour of the Park

San Francisco City Guides offers a guided tour of the park and the Sutro Baths. This organization run free tours on many subjects in San Francisco. The guides are volunteers and the tours I've been on have been very professional. No reservations necessary, just show up at the appointed time. See Sutro Heights tour.

Map of Sutro Heights Park

Map of Sutro Heights Park
Map data (c) OpenStreetMap and contributors, CC-BY-SA

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