Why you need to go to Lands End San Francisco
A favorite day trip for locals and visitors alike in San Francisco is a visit to Lands End. My visit to this part of the city always includes a peak through the Camera Obscura, a walk past the historic Sutro Baths ruins and Sutro Heights gardens, views from Point Lobos and the grand archway of Seal Rocks just offshore, usually a stop for a bite at the Cliff House, and always a Lands End hike to the ocean and the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. It has all the ingredients for fun, and even the parking is easy (usually).
This is one of my favorite San Francisco day trips that I do often, especially if I have friends visiting who like to walk and enjoy a bit of nature in the city. Why? Free panoramic views, wildflowers, whales, porpoises, raptors, hummingbirds, harbor seals, and the feeling you’re not really in the city at all.
Lands End Trails
Just up from the Cliff House, you’ll find one of my favorite trails in all of San Francisco. Lands End is part of the National Park Recreation Area. The trail is long enough to be fun but not difficult. You’ll pass the historic Sutro Bath ruins, see the places where ships went crashed (read about it on the trail info signs), and best of all you’ll enjoy breath-taking views of the bay, waves crashing over the rocks, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Parking is free. Visitor center, cafe and gift shop. Open daily from 9am to 5pm.
Self-Guided Hike: If you’re heading out your own, you can’t go wrong, it’s free, and you’ll find signage along the way to guide you. See my cheat sheet below the Land’s End map.
- Start at the Lands End Lookout (free parking lot nearby, Point Lobos Ave).
- Walk north along on the Coastal Trail.
- Junction at Mile Rock Beach trail (0.7 miles) has scenic views and access to the beach at Lands End Point.
- Head down the 150-foot stairs to the cove at Mile Rock Beach.
- Continue your hike over the little hill through the eucalyptus grove. Drop down the hill to see a great view of Baker Beach and Golden Gate Bridge.
- End your hike at Eagle Point Overlook, then head back to your car (1.4 miles).
Land’s End Walking Tour: We usually just go on our own, but the first time you go, you might want to try this Land’s End 4-hour Small Group Guided Tour with an informative and fun guide (for less than $50). You’ll hit every good spot, including pass the Legion of Honor art museum in Lincoln Park, and you’ll stop for a picnic before walking back to the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center.
Cliff House Restaurant
If you plan ahead and make reservations (or get there before they open), you can grab a great meal with an amazing view at Cliff House restaurants, right in front of the Camera Obscura. The food is good — I had the fresh salmon and it tasted like it was fresh caught right outside my window seat. We got seated right away, although sometimes the wait was long and the place very busy. It really depends on when you go. Most people say the food is good (but not cheap) but the view really makes it worthwhile.
The Bistro is a casual restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner with seating on a walk-in basis (no reservations). Or you can enjoy upscale dining at Sutro’s at the Cliff House, open for lunch and dinner (definitely make reservations). You can also sit at at either the Zinc bar (appetizers only) or the Sutro’s bar or bar tables, which serves a bar menu and selections from their full menu.
I also recommend the Sunday Champagne Brunch Buffet at Cliff House (salmon, steak, prawns, pasta, seasonal salads, eggs Benedict, scones, fresh popovers …). Seating at 1am, 12pm, and 2pm. Make reservations.
You can book a San Francisco Coastal Walking Tour from the Golden Gate Bridge to Cliff House.This is a small group slow and scenic 4.5-mile walking tour that follows a coastline path with the most amazing views. I LOVE this tour.
You’ll start on the Golden Gate Bridge, pass through Baker Beach and Sea Cliff, and head to the Sutro Baths at Land’s End. The tour tops off with a drink at the Cliff House where you can chill and watch the sunset. (Make dinner reservations in advance if you want).
Your guide will show you the way to the 38 bus stop so you can head out. If you go, wear comfortable shoes and bring water and a snack.
Camera Obscura and Holograph Gallery
Go to the Cliff House restaurant in San Francisco, just north of Ocean Beach, and you can’t miss the giant camera perched on the cliffs out back — the Camera Obscura. The odd-looking device produces 360 degrees of live images of Seal Rock and surrounding coastal areas on Point Lobos, using ancient technology. You can walk inside the Camera Obscura and experience the strange camera-like effects for yourself. (Admission is just $3 at the door.)
Once inside the completely dark room, a guide will turn on the device and give a demonstration. Basically, it’s a dark room with a small hole in one wall. You’ll see an image in what looks like a large pan or drum in the center of the room. The image will look different depending on the weather and time of day and can be particularly stunning at sunset.
Although people once thought these images were the work of witchcraft or demons, the camera obscura is really a precursor to the present day camera. Light rays pass through the hole to transmit an inverted image of the scene outside. Scientists observed this effect as early as the 5th century in China. Aristotle and Leonardo da Vinci used camera obscuras to view solar eclipses.
The Camera Obscura in San Francisco is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of about 20 existing camera obscuras in the world. Both the camera and Cliff House restaurant are owned by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Know Before You Go
- Locations & Details:
- Lands End Lookout — Address: 680 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121. Visitor center, cafe & gift shop open daily from 9am to 5pm.
- Parking: Free parking on the street and in the parking lots up the hill and at the beach. Cliff House has valet parking beginning each evening at 5pm. For tours listed above, follow the link for parking info and schedule.
- Points of Interest:
- Guided Tours:
- Wheelchair-Accessible Trails: New! Start at the trailhead at Merrie Way parking lot. Find out more.
- Want More? Near Lands End: Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park; memorial to the WWII cruiser USS San Francisco; the West Fort Miley batteries (with grassy picnic area).
Hotels Near Lands End in San Francisco
- Nearby Hotels: Read TripAdvisor reviews of San Francisco hotels in this part of the city including …
- Seal Rock Inn — 545 Point Lobos Ave., San Francisco
- Great Highway Inn — 1234 Great Highway, San Francisco
- Beach Motel — 4211 Judah Street & 47th Ave, San Francisco
- Days Inn — 2600 Sloat Blvd. & 44th Ave, San Francisco