Given the location of Lands End within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, California, it can be difficult to pinpoint the importance and relevance of the park. With numerous federal, state, city and private parks located throughout the city, it’s tempting to think of Lands End as just another park on this list. However, a visit to the area conveys how and why doing so would be a mistake.
The economic and cultural significance of Lands End is evident in buildings like the Lands End Lookout and Cliff House as well as landmarks like the ruins of the Sutro Baths and the memorial to the USS San Francisco. These locations along with the Coastal Trail that runs through the park are a great example of the kind of legacy that can be built by taking advantage of the resources and history of a location. Because the park has done this while also creating an experience for viewers, it has been able to attract viewers from down the street and across the world.
A History That Can be Experienced and Learned
The history of the area dates back thousands of years when the Yelamu, a small tribe that was part of the larger linguistic group today known as the Ohlone, made the area their home. As white settlers moved into the area, disease and attempts to “civilize” these people marginalized the population, although they remain present in the community to this day.
Adolph Sutro, the namesake of the Sutro Baths, started a railroad line to the area in 1888. He wanted to develop the area as a public “Pleasure Ground”, and the Sutro Baths were a prominent part of this effort. Built in 1896, the Sutro Baths was a swimming pool complex that served as the world’s largest indoor swimming pool establishment. The Baths were very popular when they first opened, but then fell into disrepair. After struggling for many years, the building burnt down in 1966, and only the ruins of the structure remain.
These ruins now serve as one of the more notable attractions of the area, which are overlooked by the Cliff House, which itself has a history that dates back to 1858. Additionally, the memorial to the USS San Francisco is a short distance from the location of these ruins. The bridge wings of one of the most decorated ships of World War II are a prominent part of this memorial.
There are numerous attractions that highlight the history of the area along with resources that document attractions like the Sutro Baths, but that history is only part of the appeal for many visitors. Most are drawn in by the Coastal Trail that is both a very walkable path enjoyed by tourists, bikers, joggers and more.
Natural and Man-Made Attractions Along the Coastal Trail
This unique corner of the San Francisco peninsula sees the land drop abruptly into the sea and come to an abrupt end, hence the name. It remains one of the wildest and rockiest corners of San Francisco, and the proof of that fact is evident in the wildlife that still resides in the area along with the history of shipwrecks and landslides. This unique setting has given visitors and residents a reason to explore the Coastal Trail that cuts across the park, but the attractions along the trail provide further appeal.
The ruins of the Sutro Baths are probably the most well known of these attractions, and both the Cliff House and Lands End Lookout overlook these ruins. Visitors can have an incredibly personal experience with the ruins due to the only parts that are roped off are near the cliff sides. Visitors can wander through the remains of the building, which feel like they’ve been around for centuries rather than decades.
Walking up to the memorial to the USS San Francisco provides users with a unique experience since the setup of the bridge wings gives the appearance of the bow of the ship. The memorial allows viewers to get a sense of the people who made this ship so significant in the multiple plaques and dedications that are displayed throughout.
Mile Rock Overlook, Mile Rock Beach, Lands End Point, Eagle’s Point Overlook and China Beach are just a few of the attractions along the Coastal Trail that provide viewers with a place to stop and experience the natural wonders of the area, all in the shadow of the nearby Golden Gate Bridge. These multiple destinations are spread out but still fairly close to one another so that visitors can easily see many of them in a single trip. There’s even a hidden labyrinth at Eagle’s Point as well as winding paths composed of pale stones that are only found in the Wieliczka salt mines of Poland.
At the Lands End Lookout, visitors can leave their voice by writing a brief message of their experience, some of which are included in the “Imagine a World” display. Enabling this kind of personal experience with the monument is a major factor in the economic opportunities that it has created.
Economic Opportunities Inside and Outside of the Park
Opened in 2012, Lands End Lookout serves as the visitor center for the park. It contains various pieces of history as well as plaques which further detail that history, but the main appeal of the center is the various products visitors can purchase. These items vary from magnets to books to posters, most of which have something to do with the park or the city.
The Cliff House has been able to take advantage of the economic opportunities that the landscape has provided, and the opening of the Sutro Baths and Lands End made those opportunities that much more lucrative. Although the reason for people to come to the area has changed over the years, the fact is they still have a reason to come, give the Cliff House, as well as the gift shop, constant foot traffic. A nearby restaurant has been family owned since 1937, further proving the viability of this location.
That viability is further augmented by the busloads of tourists that are brought to Lands End Lookout as well as the memorial to the USS San Francisco. There are specially designated sections for these buses that ensures groups are always able to find a spot to drop off their visitors, regardless of where they’re coming from or how far they’ve traveled. Doing so has helped ensure Lands End is a stop for tour groups of all sizes that have traveled across the city or across the country.
As part of the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy, there isn’t as much of a push to take advantage of every economic opportunity that might be available to stakeholders, some of which are related to advertising that could appear at select positions in the park or on the free maps that are available at Lands End Lookout. That limitation has enabled the park to have a much different impact on the culture of the area, which is something that’s evident in the people as much as the landscape itself.
Representing the Spirit of the City
Lands End has played an important role in establishing and creating a culture in San Francisco that has seen the city recognize the cost of urban sprawl. With so many different parts of the city being developed and redeveloped in recent years, efforts to ensure Lands End preserves the natural beauty and history of the area have allowed city officials to put a face on the importance of their efforts to keep further developments at bay.
It’s easy to see that the residents of the city are taking advantage of the park, as bikers and joggers are a mainstay throughout the Coastal Trail. The two-mile trail offers residents a scenic workout as well as a means to escape the metropolis. Whether walking, jogging, biking or picnicking, it’s clear residents of the city have identified features of the park that they experience on a regular basis.
Tourists are naturally more inclined to take their time to focus on the many attractions throughout the park, and the ease associated with being able to navigate to all of them via a map or the many signs placed throughout the trail help in those efforts. Some are simply looking for a place to take a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge, while others want to enjoy the scenic views of the ocean and windswept shoreline. The variety of attractions and experiences has many visitors finding that their most enjoyable memory is of something they hadn’t even expected.
While different people have different reasons for visiting the park, one thing they all have in common is a desire to see and do things that can’t happen anywhere else. That fact is a testament to the experience that has been created and enabled with the setup of the park.
Creating an Experience
Regardless of how you come into the park or what you’re looking to find in it, being able to do so is a simple matter of following the signs that are displayed throughout. All throughout the park, signs point visitors to the nearest attraction and make it easy for them to figure out what direction they need to go to find what they’re looking for. That is an important part of an experience that can sometimes be lost in parks of all sizes, and make visitors less inclined to visit them.
The city seems to come to a stop right at the edge of the park, which only adds to the experience associated with entering it. This sensation means something different to residents and visitors, but the fact that it’s something each can see and feel in their own way only adds to the experience of entering and walking through the park.
There are various parks that are able to effectively highlight the natural beauty of a location, and some of those are located elsewhere in San Francisco itself. However, few are able to infuse the splendor of man-made attractions with this kind of natural beauty. The routes and sections that have been setup throughout Lands End have created a park that is just as appealing for residents as it is for tourists, ensuring it’s popularity and economic and cultural impact will only grow over the years.