Lands End History

large white glass buildings near water
Historic Sutro Baths, located at the western edge of San Francisco, circa 1890s.



The First People

Long before Europeans arrived in North America, the Yelamu Ohlone tribe lived at Lands End in seasonal settlements. Here at the ocean's edge, they found everything they needed: hillside springs gushing with fresh water; trees and brush for shelters; and easy access to the shore, where they fished and hunted for otters, sea lions, and sea birds. For leisure, they played stick games and told tribal stories. Spanish settlement of San Francisco, which began in 1776, ended the Yelamu's traditional life at Lands End.


A Remote Place to Enjoy Nature

Under Mexican rule, this rugged section of coastline was part of a large land grant called Rancho Punta de Lobos. After California joined the U.S., the only visitors to this secluded and inaccessible area were naturalists who braved the long journey out to the coastline to observe marine mammals.

After the Gold Rush, San Francisco's population exploded and the downtown area got very crowded with new buildings and neighborhoods. Real estate developers, looking for new ways to make money, saw Lands End and its unparalleled beauty as an excellent place for a new restaurant and overlook. Entrepreneurs designed the new Cliff House as a fashionable resort for the wealthy and encouraged San Franciscans to travel out to the city's edge. To help people get to this far-off place, a private company constructed a brand new road called Point Lobos Avenue, making travel to this picturesque and rural place much easier. By the 1860s, a horse-drawn stagecoach made the trip every Sunday from crowded downtown San Francisco out Lands End.


Adolph Sutro Develops Seaside Recreation

During the 1880s, millionaire Adolph Sutro purchased property at Lands End and dramatically transformed the area into a popular seaside destination. Sutro strongly believed that all San Franciscans, rich or poor, should take advantage of Lands End's beauty. To provide inexpensive transportation, he constructed a passenger steam train from downtown San Francisco to Land End for the affordable fare of ¢5 cents. Sutro designed and funded the elegant Sutro Heights public gardens, the famous Sutro Baths and the 1896 Cliff House, which replaced the original building after it burned.

An Early Civil Rights Case

In 1897, John Harris, an African American, challenged Sutro Bath’s “whites only” policy in court and won his case.Harris vs. Sutro placed San Francisco at the heart for the fight against separate but equal during the Jim Crow Era and predates the National Civil Rights Act by 67 years.

historic image of visitors in horse-drawn carriage in Sutro Heights garden
Visitors enjoying Sutro Heights garden in the 19th century.



To get directions to Lands End and learn more about activities there, please visit the Lands End visitor information page.


To learn more in-depth information about the history of Lands End, please visit these other pages and documents:

colored map of Lands End

Vestiges of Lands End
This digital guidebook explores different regions of Lands End and highlights important stories, landscapes, events, artifacts and geology.

historic colored map of Lands End

History and Significance of the Adolph Sutro Historic District
(excerpts from the National Register of Historic Places nomination form, NPS, 2000) (PDF file, 120 kb)

historic image of Cliff House, courtesy of Gary Stark

The Cliff House Project

This web site has a comprehensive collection of photographs, articles and films on the Cliff House and Sutro Baths.

Last updated: January 23, 2023

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Golden Gate National Recreation Area
201 Fort Mason

San Francisco, CA 94123


United States Park Police Dispatch: Non-Emergency: 415-561-5505 Emergency: 415-561-5656

Contact Us