It is difficult to think about San Francisco without an image of the Golden Gate Bridge popping into your mind. A fantastic view of the icon is the icing on the cake of an incredible hike along the Lands End Trail. The walk winds along the coastal edge of Lincoln Park, a bump in the land west of the Presidio of San Francisco.
1. Sutro Baths And Point Lobos
In 1894, the millionaire Adolph Sutro had the vision to create a recreational space for the inhabitants of and visitors to San Francisco. He built a vast complex of public baths with seven swimming pools of different temperatures. The glass enclosure was large enough for 10,000 bathers to enjoy the pools, slides, and diving boards.
Concert space and restaurants added to the appeal. Over the years, the baths faded in popularity and were no longer profitable, especially during the Great Depression. Developers started demolishing the building in 1964 with the plan to place high-rise apartments on the site. A fire completed the destruction in 1966 and the plans fizzled, leaving only a small trace of what once existed.
At the west end of the Lands End Trail, a wide wooden staircase descends to the Sutro Bath remnants and the natural pools that surround them. Colorful graffiti adorns the cement blocks, adding proof of the appeal of this location to artistic visions. A small beach is currently all that is available for enjoying the water.
To the east of the ruins, Point Lobos juts out and provides the first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. The site takes its name from the Spanish for sea wolves, now more commonly called sea lions, that would come ashore here and fill the air with barking. Around the far side of the promontory, steep steps invite you up to the Coastal Trail.
2. Coastal Trail
Along the rocky coast, the Coastal Trail winds through the shade of cypress trees with occasional views of the ocean waves. The lovely stands of grey, naked trunks curve up to a spray of forest green canopy. For centuries, the Ohlone and Miwok peoples lived in this area, hunting, fishing, and gathering food from the local plants. The ferries and cliffside railroad brought visitors to the park in the late 19th century. The trail follows the abandoned rail bed along the cliff edge.
Much of the trail is a wide, flat dirt path and easy to traverse. Many highlights of the park are directly on the trail and can be enjoyed even if you do not wish to brave the steps down to the beach areas.
3. USS San Francisco Memorial
After a short walk, the Eastern Coastal Trail Overlook provides a spectacular view of the entire Golden Gate Bridge. A long flight of stairs opposite the overlook leads up to the USS San Francisco Memorial. A small parking lot off El Camino Del Mar also allows access to this site.
The actual bridge of the USS San Francisco stands on the cliff as a vivid reminder of the violence of war. Jagged holes pepper the wall of the hull of this memorial. On the night of November 12, 1942, the Battle of Guadalcanal commenced. The USS San Francisco was damaged by enemy fire and a plane that crashed into the ship, but it was able to continue sailing. Rear Admiral Callaghan and 76 sailors died during the fighting. For her role in this battle and one the previous month, the ship received the Presidential Unit Citation.
In front of the ship pieces, plaques show the complete battleship and describe the Battle of Guadalcanal and the memorial.
4. Mile Rocks Lighthouse And Shipwrecks
One mile from the San Francisco Bay’s main shipping channel, the aptly named Mile Rocks — in partnership with weather conditions — have caused numerous shipwrecks. In 1901, the City of Rio de Janeiro ran aground due to the dense fog and sank within 8 minutes. Over half of the 210 people on board died. This led to the planning of a lighthouse with a fog whistle despite the treacherous conditions for the construction out on Mile Rock. A three-tiered structure, referred to as the “steel wedding cake,” was eventually completed. The Coast Guard automated the station in the 1960s and removed the top two tiers to create a helicopter landing pad.
Today, the white and orange bands of the lighthouse base are visible from the Lands End Trail. During low tide, remnants of the shipwrecks can be glimpsed near the shore.
5. Mile Rock Beach
Nearby, the challenge of the descent down more than 100 steps is worth a visit to Mile Rock Beach. This relaxing spot provides great views of Mile Rocks Lighthouse, Marin Headlands, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Large boulders dot the shoreline and dozens of rock cairns amass on the beach. You can build your own cairn or just take in the views with a continuous soundtrack of waves crashing ashore.
Near the top of the path back to the trail, Lands End Lookout juts out into the water. It is worth a stop for more photos of the Golden Gate Bridge and the miles of California coast visible on a clear day.
6. Eagle Point
At the western edge of Lands End Trail, Eagle Point offers a few benches to rest up for the walk back. This spot offered a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge and many people milled about, taking photos. Beyond this point lies a residential area before reaching the Presidio of San Francisco. After basking in the scenery for a bit, I turned onto the paved path that parallels El Comino Del Mar to walk toward the Legion of Honor.
7. Memorial For Peace
In the shade of a few pine trees along this path, a small memorial provides a quiet space for reflection. A stone bench offers a place to rest and contemplate the upright six-foot slab of the Memorial for Peace that was added to the park in 1984. A small engraved rock at the front calls attention to the quest for world peace. It reads, in part, “we recognize once again the true fundamental of the human soul that pursues the truth, implements the good, creates beauty, and renews his will to step forward.”
8. Legion Of Honor
When first seeing the Legion of Honor listed on the map of the park, I assumed it was a monument and planned a brief stop to see it. I was surprised to find an incredible museum filled with fine art. Several galleries on the first level and 19 on the second level offer Impressionist paintings, medieval and Baroque art, and porcelain dishware. Three galleries house an impressive display of Rodin sculptures, including a larger-than-life bronze of Three Shades beneath a domed ceiling.
Adolph B. Spreckels and his wife, Alma, created the museum to reflect the French Pavilion at the 1915 San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Alma had adored the pavilion and wanted to recreate it to showcase French art. The Legion opened in 1924 and was dedicated to the memory of the 3,600 California men who lost their lives in France in World War I.
The neoclassical architecture of the Legion of Honor, surrounded by manicured grounds, gives the feel of touring a European capital. Two rows of columns flank the tall arched entryway. A Greek-styled frieze adorns each end of the front of the building. A stone lion on either side of the low fence keeps guard. Statues of Joan of Arc and El Cid stand on the groomed lawns on each side. The columns extend into the open courtyard where Rodin’s The Thinker welcomes visitors. A smaller version of the Louvre’s glass pyramid leads you to the entrance of the museum.
After being immersed in fine art, you emerge to a spectacular view of the natural world of trees and water. A circular pool with a fountain also sits before the Legion of Honor. A short walk brings you back along the Lands End Trail to where you began.
One of the best hikes in San Francisco brings you through beautiful stands of cypress trees, down to relaxing beaches, and past interesting cultural sights. Lands End Trail showcases the natural beauty along the coast of San Francisco while highlighting the icon Golden Gate Bridge. You will leave with wonderful memories and incredible photos.