Four different variations of the Cliff House have stood on the cliffs overlooking Seal Rocks, at the Northwest corner of San Francisco. Two earlier versions were rather modestly small in size, especially when compared with the elaborate eight-story Victorian building which stood on that spot from 1896 to 1907 as the third Cliff House. And when that ornate version of the building burned down, the fourth version to be built was designed more like the first two: simple, and made to blend in with the ocean and cliffs surrounding it. That fourth version is still standing today.
The Cliff House has held restaurants, dance halls, gift shops and vista points. From the windows of the building, a person could see for miles down the coast. They could also sit at their table and watch any ships that might be sailing in or out of the Golden Gate. Regardless of which incarnation of the building a person was visiting, they always had a spectacular view.
There were various means of commuting out to the building. At first there were horse-drawn carriages, which for a small fee would take them on the approx. 45 minute trot from downtown to the ocean. Later, trolly and train lines were added for more frequent runs back and forth across the city.
There were several other attractions for people to visit after making this trip out to the coast. Depending on the year, people could also walk among the statues in the elaborate gardens above the Cliff House, on the grounds of Sutro Heights. There was also a sky tram that carried passengers between the Cliff House and Point Lobos, along the water’s edge. For many years, just down the hill from the Cliff House was a large amusement park called Playland, and then directly North of the Cliff House were the famous and elaborate swimming/ bathing/sauna buildings of Sutro Baths.
And of course, people have always loved just strolling along the beach, breathing in the salty air and listening to the waves. The Cliff House has always been one of the true San Francisco icons.