High above San Francisco's western edge, where the continent ends in a rocky plunge to the Pacific, the Cliff House occupies a unique spot in the affections of the City by the Bay. Since 1863, three incarnations of the restaurant (one resembling a French château) have watered and fed admirers, including U.S. presidents, Hearsts, Stanfords, and just plain folks who have come to gape at the transcendent meeting of land, sea, and sky.
The third version was built in 1909 after the château burned down. Sadly, in recent times, visitors to this neoclassical Cliff House—1.5 million of them a year—have found it in shabby condition, its concrete exterior eroded by salt air and cluttered with clunky additions.
This past October, after 21 months and $18 million, the landmark was reborn yet again. Architects restored the 1909 structure and paired it with a light-filled, modernist building whose two-story glass walls overlook the ocean, the Marin headlands, and the ruins of Sutro Baths, a 19th-century pavilion of six saltwater swimming pools. The blend of vintage and modern has brought fresh energy and new generations to the old gathering place.
GETTING THERE Take Geary Blvd. west until the right lane merges with Point Lobos Ave. at 39th Ave. The Cliff House is at 1090 Point Lobos. Enjoy ocean views from its white-linen restaurant, bistro, and fireside lounge. Open daily. (415) 386-3330.
Photography by Terrence McCarthy
This article was first published in September 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.