The Sutro Baths in San Francisco was once the world’s largest indoor swimming facility, but now all that remains are the allegedly haunted ruins. The ruins are open to the public to explore, but please note that they are not maintained and no officials are on the premises, so please use caution. Keep reading to learn more about exploring the Sutro Baths Ruins in San Francisco and more information about Point Lobos, Cliff House, and the Camera Obscura!
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Guide to the Sutro Baths Ruins in San Francisco
History of the Sutro Baths
The Sutro Baths in the Lands End area of San Francisco was once the world’s largest indoor swimming facility. The Sutro Baths was opened in 1896 and built by the wealthy businessman Adolph Sutro who also owned the Cliff House.
The Sutro Baths featured six saltwater pools and one freshwater pool. During high tide, water would flow directly into the saltwater pools from the ocean, filling them in just 1 hour. The pools had seven slides, 30 swinging rings, and one springboard.
The Sutro Baths could accommodate 10,000 people, offered 20,000 swimsuits and 40,000 towels to rent, and also had 517 private dressing rooms, a 2,700-person capacity amphitheater, and eventually also an ice skating rink.
Why did they close Sutro Baths? Business was struggling, the pools were dilapidated, and in 1964 the site was sold to developers to build a high-rise apartment complex. However, while it was being demolished in 1966, a fire destroyed the building and the developers took the insurance money and left San Francisco. The fire was determined to be arson.
Now, both the Cliff House and the Sutro Bath Ruins are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area which is operated by the U.S. National Park Service.
When the Cliff House was open, they had some awesome displays of historical items from the Sutro Baths including old bathing suits, tickets, photographs, and posters advertising the Sutro Baths. I don’t know if the same displays will be available when the Cliff House reopens, but you can view some historic photos on the Cliff House Project website.
Exploring the Sutro Baths Ruins
To explore the Sutro Baths Ruins, there are several cement paths and walkways that you can venture out on. Just be sure to watch your step! I was wearing terrible shoes but managed just fine. Thank god I didn’t fall into that gross water!
One of the biggest questions is “Can You Swim In the Sutro Baths?” and the answer is that while no one is stopping you, you don’t want to! The water is from the ocean, it is filled with moss and algae, who knows what people throw into it, and there is no lifeguard on duty.
We pretty much explored everything, except the cave where the sand was too wet and deep. Maybe there is something cool in there, but I wasn’t about to plow through ankle-deep, gross sand to see it.
After exploring the Sutro Baths, be sure to also venture up around the bend to Point Lobos to check out the view of the ocean, rocks, and part of the Golden Gate Bridge.
We stood there for a bit checking out the view and watching the birds and a couple of the large cargo ships roll in from sea.
The Cliff House restaurant is currently closed, but a new restaurant could possibly reopen before the end of 2022. Fingers crossed!
Also nearby just below the Cliff House is the awesome Camera Obscura! Built in 1946, it was added to the National Registrar of Historic Places and is currently owned and operated by the National Park Service. For $3, step inside to see a 360-degree view of … the outside.
What to Know Before You Go
Getting down to the Sutro Baths Ruins is a short 0.5-mile hike with stairs and bumpy dirt terrain. Thus, it is NOT accessible for wheelchairs and strollers. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes. I wore leather flats and I did just fine, but if you really want to climb and explore, I recommend running shoes or hiking boots.
As always, it’s California and San Francisco is notorious for the cold weather, so dress in layers and bring a jacket.
When’s the best time to go? Well, that’s up to you! It can get very crowded on the weekend and if you’re wanting to take the best photos, I always recommend golden hour which lasts for about an hour after sunset.
However, we had a weekday brunch at the Cliff House and then explored the Sutro Baths Ruins and the photos were awesome!
How to Get to the Sutro Baths
Location: 1004 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121
Parking: The closest parking lot to Sutro Baths is located at the Merrie Way parking lot at Lands End. The parking lot contains several accessible parking spaces. There’s also street parking in the area. I believe we parked south of the Cliff House on Point Lobos Avenue.
Read More: Cliff House in San Francisco (coming soon)
Read More: Camera Obscura in San Francisco (coming soon)
Read More: Musee Mechanique in San Francisco (coming soon)
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Golden State Getaways wants to acknowledge that we live, operate, gather, and benefit everyday on the traditional stolen lands of several Indigenous peoples and nations including the Tongva (Gabrieleno), Kizh (Gabrieleno), Chumash, Popeloutchom (Amah Mutsun), Ohlone, Awaswas, and Fernandeño Tataviam peoples who have stewarded the lands and waterways throughout their many generations in what is now the state of California.
I wanted to personally acknowledge these Indigenous people and nations and both their commitment and current contributions to the land with a donation to the American Indian College Fund because acknowledgment without action does not begin to address the systemic issues facing Indigenous people. If you feel as though you benefit from the land you’re living on or traveling to and you have the means, I kindly ask that you donate at least $1 to a Native-led organization such as the Native American Rights Fund or the American Indian College Fund.
The Sutro Baths Ruins is located in San Francisco which is located on Ramaytush, Ohlone, and Muwekma land. You can learn more about the Indigenous land you’re living on or traveling to by visiting the Native Lands website.