Sightseeing: Sutro Estate and Baths Review | Travel Writing

“Review: Sutro Estate and Baths”

Sutro Baths at Sunset
Sutro Baths at Sunset

The Sutro Estate and Sutro Bath Houses is a San Francisco landmark not to be missed. The site looms eerily on the wind-swept Pacific Ocean side of Baker Beach, adjacent to Golden Gate Park. Be sure to experience the bathhouse ruins, the eroding cave, and the story of an architectural folly.

Adolph Sutro was San Francisco’s eccentric mayor for one term in 1894, and a man-about-town and landed millionaire who opened his saltwater, Victorian-style glass bath house to the public in 1896. Directly above the beach-level baths was his estate, the modest gardens and mansion that jutt

ed over the cliffs. The weather must have been harsh on the leveled patios — San Francisco is known for its fifty degree shores, high winds, and cold fog — but cozy in the afternoon sun.

There were two “cliff houses” before Sutro; both were destroyed by storm or earthquake. Sutro’s estate was burned and leveled by the 1931 great earthquake. The bath houses resemble Roman ruins, filled in with sea water and rubble, pocked with supports. There are no tour guides. Many native San Franciscans can tell stories of holding parties on the patios at night, and of daring one another to climb through the cave and down into the tide pools.

Despite the danger, the Sutro area of the Presidio is a beautiful site of the reestablishment of nature over man. If you go, look for shielded alcoves on the beach, and groves of wild flowers and cedar trees in the hills.