Hey there! As you may have read in Exploring California: Downtown San Francisco – Part 1, I spent the last week of April exploring Northern California: San Francisco, Napa Valley, and everywhere in between. This week, you’ll get to explore three more San Francisco neighborhoods–the Sunset District, the Presidio, and Sea Cliff–in addition to discovering gorgeous views from Lands End, Baker Beach, and Golden Gate Park!
The Sunset District
The Sunset District is San Francisco’s biggest neighborhood, both in size and in population. Prior to its settlement, city dwellers knew the Sunset District as the “Outside Lands,” and it largely consisted of sand dunes. The Sunset District has three segments, running from east to west: Inner Sunset, Central Sunset, and Outer Sunset. Outer Sunset’s westernmost border is Ocean Beach, which is popular among surfers; however, strong rip currents and cold water straight from Alaska often make it dangerous for swimmers. At night, residents flock to the beach to take advantage of its built-in fire pits. Apparently, a three-masted ship sank on the beach in 1878, and the wreckage emerges for a short time every few years. I recommend walking to Seal Rocks, the stunning rock formations that appear in many of my photos of the beach.
Lands End & the Sutro Baths
Lincoln Park is the coastal area on San Francisco’s northwestern tip that’s perfect for exploring on a beautiful day. The Lands End Trail winds through the park and is definitely worth hiking. The wooded path along the cliffs offers stunning views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Branches of the trail can take you down to Mile Rock Beach and the Lands End Labyrinth, which I regret not visiting! At one end of Lincoln Park are the ruins of the Sutro Baths, once a lavish public bathhouse that was open to visitors for 80 years. Somewhat sadly, the ruins of the Sutro Baths are more popular among tourists than the baths ever were! To hear the full story, I highly recommend listening to the Sutro Baths episode of 99% Invisible, one of my favorite podcasts.
The Presidio was a fortified military installation from 1776 to 1994, when it was transferred to the National Park Service after 219 years. If you visit the Presidio, you’ll notice hundreds of former military buildings scattered across the landscape; many are of historical significance and have been renovated for public consumption over the last two decades. My favorite part of the Presidio is Baker Beach, which offers breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge with waves crashing onto the shore in the foreground. We walked the entire length of Baker Beach and noticed that it gradually devolved into a nude beach as we approached the bridge, resulting in my favorite shot from the trip: I casually pose in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, failing to notice the completely naked man running into the waves behind me. Does it get any more quintessentially Californian than that?
Sea Cliff is San Francisco’s most lavish neighborhood, characterized by massive houses overlooking the bay. We walked through Sea Cliff on our way to Baker Beach from the Lands End Trail, and I fell in love with the many gorgeous examples of Mission Revival architecture. Many well-known celebrities have called Sea Cliff home; my favorite examples are Robin Williams and Ansel Adams.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is the Central Park of San Francisco—and it’s actually 20% bigger than New York’s famous park. It was constructed from the Sunset District’s sand dunes in the mid-eighteenth century, a process that included the planting of over 155,000 trees in a single decade. The park contains the Japanese Tea Garden, the country’s oldest public Japanese garden, originally constructed for the 1894 World’s Fair. Sadly, its Japanese proprietors were sent to an internment camp during World War II; and in their absence, many of the original Japanese artifacts were destroyed. Today, the tranquil garden is characterized by streams and pathways that wind around Japanese architecture, intended to slow down the pace of modern living for a few moments. In addition to the Japanese Tea Garden, I recommend visiting the de Young Museum for a beautiful, free(!) view of the entire city.
I have so much more to show all of you over the next few weeks. (Pssst… Here’s Part 3: Russian Hill, North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf & Chinatown and Part 4: Muir Woods, Vista Point & More Day Trips from San Francisco!) I’d love to hear which parts of San Francisco you love the most or can’t wait to explore, from the Sunset District to the Presidio and beyond–leave me a comment and let me know!
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