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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A couple of colorful postcards show the Sutro Heights gardens in their heyday.
The park had an elaborate entrance gate; all that's left of it are the stone lions, still guarding the entrance.
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.
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.
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.
There is also a view of the entrance to San Francisco Bay, and of course Seal Rock and the Cliff House below.
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.
The park is on top of the cliff overlooking the Cliff House
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.
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.
Parking 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.
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.
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.
Offices can reopen up to full capacity.
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.
Indoor museums are open, including the CA Academy of Sciences.
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.
Unvaccinated travelers are urged to get tested before and after arrival, and to self-quarantine for 7 days, but this isn't mandatory.
"Non-essential travel" basically means tourism.
Hotels are accepting reservations, but travelers are urged to limit contact with others in the hotel.
Indoor swimming pools are open to fullcapacity.
Schools: private schools are open. SF public schools started in-person learning for elementary students April 12. Older grades: negotiations are ongoing. Hopefully all grade levels will be open for in-person fall classes. Masks will be required for students in SF public schools in the fall.
Indoor gyms and indoor movie theaters are open to full capacity.
Indoor concerts, live theater, and sporting events, may open at full capacity. For indoor gatherings of >5,000, proof of vaccination will be required.
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.
Get the latest tips on visiting San Francisco.