San Francisco: Lands End & Sutro Baths Trail Access

At San Francisco’s northwestern tip is a forested, windswept park perched on steep bluffs overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and Pacific Ocean shorelines, are the Sutro Baths and Lands End Trail. On a clear day, its sweeping views take in the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, Point Reyes, and the Farallon Islands, as well as the rocky shore below.

The Coastal Trail here follows what’s left of the bed of the old railway that Adolph Sutro built in the 1880’s to bring day-trippers from downtown to Sutro Baths and the Cliff House. Rail service (first by steam train, later by electric trolley) ended in 1925 after a landslide—a common phenomenon along this rugged coastline—destroyed a section of track.

Visitor Center Area

Begin your visit at the park’s western end, Point Lobos Overlook, where you can orient yourself at the visitor center with a few exhibit displays and even more souvenir gifts. A map with large print and assistive listening devices are available, which can be picked up at the lowered desk. A cafe and bathrooms are on both sides of the visitor center; the cafe has an outdoor order window that’s barrier-free. Right outside the visitor center is a 3-dimensional model of the area with space underneath for a wheelchair to roll-up under. This area is also known as Merrie Way, from an old amusement park of the same name that opened here in 1895 and featured attractions from the 1894 Midwinter Exhibition in Golden Gate Park.

From a promenade that runs along the western edge of the parking lot, take a moment to look down on the ruins of Sutro Baths. Splashed with surf at high tide, the concrete slabs and stairs are all that remain of a grand glass-enclosed bathhouse, with fresh and saltwater pools, that stood here from 1890 to 1966, when it burned down. Backless asphalt benches are along the promenade, and some have enough space for a wheelchair.

Lands End Trail

From the visitor center area, a broad paved trail winds up through a native plant garden that blooms thickly in the spring with wildflowers, including beach strawberry, paintbrush, lupin, buckwheat, and seaside daisies. As you climb, pause to look back at the ocean, Cliff House, and Seal Rocks through the trees; you may see structures of brush and branches piled in the forest below to provide shelter for birds. You soon come to a juncture with a broad, paved trail; follow it to the left. Monterey cypress and pine trees dominate here. Interpretive signs along the trail tell the area’s history.

After a short distance you come to a paved, semicircular overlook with spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands. When the weather is nice this stretch of trail can be very busy, and many people stop to pose for photos. A set of stairs behind the overlook leads up to the USS San Francisco memorial and Fort Miley parking lot. Continue a short distance to a second overlook, where at low tide you may see remains of the Lyman Stewart and the Frank Buck, two of the many ships that have sunk along this rocky, foggy coast. The orange-and-white striped caisson perched on an offshore rock is the automated Mile Rocks lighthouse. Past this point the pavement ends and the trail becomes rough and frequently muddy. Adventurous wheelchair riders may continue a short distance, but will soon come to a steep section and stairs.

Sutro Baths Trail

The trailhead to the only barrier-free path to the Sutro Baths is located down the hill from the visitor center, right by a small restaurant called Louis’.  This pathway is about a quarter of a mile and steep with no side-railing. The first few hundred yards are especially steep, so much so that wheel traction may be a problem. Cross-slope is also extreme here; further down it becomes less so. The first few yards are asphalt but quickly breaks up and becomes dirt mixed with rocks. Near the bottom, the trail splits in three directions: to the left is an unkempt overlook; to the right, the trail curves around the cliff and dead-ends at a paved, level platform; in the middle, the pathway continues down to the Sutro Baths, but is too steep for most wheelchairs.

Sutro Heights Park

Across the street from the visitor center is Sutro Heights Park, a formally landscaped 18-acre park that was once the grounds of Adolph Sutro’s mansion; the walls still remain. It is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. There are two ways to get to the park. The most level and barrier-free route is a wide, decomposed-granite path that leads to the center and loops around the mansion. However, to get here from the visitor center requires going uphill on the sidewalk. From a viewing area below a stone parapet you can look down the full length of Ocean Beach. One of the city’s major surfing spots is below you. Interpretive panels will help you imagine the place as it was in Sutro’s day.

The other pathway to the park is right across Point Lobos Avenue from the Sutro Baths trailhead. This pathway climbs up to the main park area. The initial pathway begins as paved asphalt and then splits. The paved pathway then becomes very choppy and even steeper. It is recommended that wheelchair users take the trail to the left, which is made up of tanbark and has a more gradual rise up to the top. At the very top of this trail is a water drain that is angled on both sides, making it a challenging pass for most wheelchairs, power or manual. It is recommended that a section be filled in to make this passable. If this is not passable, use the smoothly paved bike lane to go up the street to the decomposed-granite path instead. 

Fort Miley Area

From the northwestern end of the lot, you can follow the Coastal Trail north around Point Lobos for sweeping views of the Golden Gate. Another short hike leaves from the eastern edge of the Merrie Way parking lot, where a wide gravel path follows El Camino del Mar to the West Fort Miley parking lot and USS San Francisco memorial. A piece of the bridge of the Navy’s heavy cruiser has been installed here in memory of those who fought and died on the ship in the World War II battle of Guadalcanal. The memorial has no ramp access. Off the parking lot is a wide, paved trail that leads up a hill to Battery Chester. A few picnic tables are located up a narrow, paved pathway, none of which have modifications. A short, steep trail on the left of the battery travels to the top of the battery and to an overlook.

Eagles Point Area

At the park’s eastern end, near the Legion of Honor museum and Lincoln Park golf course, you can take a short hike to Eagles Point Overlook. The overlook perched atop Eagles Point offers views of the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge. The hard-packed, quarter-mile dirt trail that leads from El Camino del Mar to the overlook is part of the Coastal Trail. You can follow it past the overlook a few hundred feet to a spot with better views of the Golden Gate Bridge, but just beyond that you come to a flight of stairs. The overlook has a couple of benches with space on the side for a wheelchair. No designated parking is available at this overlook.

 

Accessibility Details

  • Length: Under one mile total
  • Typical Width: 4 ft. & above
  • Typical Grade: Gentle
  • Terrain: Hard
  • Accessible Parking: Yes. Several accessible spaces are in the Merrie Way lot off Pt. Lobos Ave., some are east of the Merrie Way lot, at the intersection of El Camino del Mar and Seal Rock Dr., and in the Fort Miley/USS San Francisco lot. Limited on-street parking only (no designated accessible spaces) at Eagles Point. Along Point Lobos Ave, in front of the Louis’ restaurant, is one designated parking spot on the street near the trailhead for the Sutro Baths.
  • Accessible Restroom: Yes. There are flush toilets for men and women at the Land’s End Visitor Center with roll-up sinks and lowered towel racks; plus, on the door of the stall is a lowered hook for personal items. Portable units are at the Merrie Way parking lot and at the northeast corner of the parking lot for the USS San Francisco memorial, at the end of El Camino. By the Eagles Point Overlook, behind the museum there are also flush toilets for both men and women.
  • Drinking Fountain: Yes, at the visitor center there is a modified option. Another is located at the public restrooms behind the Legion of Honor Museum. 
  • Other Things of Interest: The California Palace of the Legion of Honor art museum is located in Lincoln Park, and in the same parking lot is a small Holocaust Memorial that is accessible by ramps.

Additional Information

  • Hours: Always open. Visitor center: Daily, 9 am-5 pm.
  • Map: See here.
  • Map Route: See here.
  • Fees: None
  • Dogs: On a leash
  • Public Transportation: Muni
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