San Francisco is not known for its beaches, or at least it’s not the first association that comes to mind, though the well known Mavericks surfing contest takes place on the fierce western shores up in Half Moon Bay a few miles to the south. But those who meander to the western edge of the Golden Gate Park on rare and fortunate sunny afternoons are treated to this grand view across the Great Highway, a vast expanse of natural sand where the Pacific Ocean comes in as it pleases, signs of shifting tides visible far into the drifts. Locals don’t speak much of this beach to the turistas, because most of the year, it’s overcast with rowdy freezing gusts that will have you wrapping on the layers right quick. Hardly a beach suitable for beach wear.
But on this day, a friend and I biked around the Cliff House, looked down, and saw that for this moment, life was good, and the sun shone down upon us and agreed.
Sutro Baths Cove is a somewhat haunting place of well documented history on the far Western edge of San Francisco in an area called the Lands End, with wide ranging views across the entrance to the Bay to the Marin Headlands beyond, hillsides of cypresses and wildflowers, and of course, the Sutro Baths ruins themselves. In its heyday in the late 19th century, postcards of the Baths show a fascinating giant glass greenhouse and a series of pools decorated with oddities like stuffed apes and animals, a concert hall, and a museum of artifacts Adolph Sutro collected in his many travels. It struggled in the 20th century, and eventually burned to the ground in 1966, and the national parks conservancy chose to leave the ruins as a historical preservation. In 1936, a large freighter even ran aground right next to the cove.
It strikes me that San Francisco is interesting not in that it has a storied history–many cities do–but rather, that its history represents a well documented highly photographed and preserved picture of the US western land grab dating back to the 1849 gold rush that spurred it, a mere 72 years after the American Revolution, a drop in the water compared to other world civilizations dating back thousands of years.