At San Francisco's northernwestern tip, this forested, windswept park is perched on steep bluffs overlooking the Golden Gate and Pacific shoreline. 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...
At San Francisco's northernwestern tip, this forested, windswept park is perched on steep bluffs overlooking the Golden Gate and Pacific shoreline. 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 1880s 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.
Begin your visit at the park's western end, Point Lobos Overlook, where you can orient yourself at the new visitor center. 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 with benches 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.
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.
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 (see "Other Things of Interest," below).
Land's End Coastal Trail
Trailhead: Northwestern end of the Merrie Way parking lot
Length: Under one mile total
Typical Width: 4 ft. & above
Typical Grade: Gentle
From the plaza and seating area at its entrance, the broad paved trail winds up through a native plant garden that blooms thickly with wildflowers in the spring, 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.
The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.
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.
At Land's End Lookout Visitor Center. 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.
Other Things of Interest
Across the street from the Point Lobos Overlook, wide and level decomposed-granite paths lead through Sutro Heights, a formally landscaped 18-acre park that was once the grounds of Adolph Sutro's mansion. It is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. 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.
Near the California Palace of the Legion of Honor art museum in Lincoln Park, an overlook perched atop Eagles Point offers views of the Marin Headlands, Golden Gate Bridge, and on a clear day even Point Reyes. 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.
Reviewed by Eileen Ecklund, June 27, 2012