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Posted by Laurie Isola on December 08, 2015

San Francisco's Great Highway

Posted by Laurie Isola on December 08, 2015
  • Ocean Beach and the Great Highway in San Francisco, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Jorg Hackeman/Shutterstock
    Photo caption
    Ocean Beach attracts sunbathers, surfers, and dog walkers.
  • Lucien Labaudt’s New Deal–era mural, San Francisco Life, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Laurie Isola
    Photo caption
    Lucien Labaudt’s New Deal–era mural, San Francisco Life, graces the downstairs at the Beach Chalet.
  • head of green-winged macaw, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: jeep5d/Shutterstock
    Photo caption
    The green-winged macaw is a colorful resident at the San Francisco Zoo.

Flanked by two stunning open spaces—Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park—the Great Highway marks San Francisco’s westernmost border and stretches from the Cliff House to Lake Merced. In between, you’ll find historic gems, great eats, and breathtaking panoramas.

The Great Highway is all about great views, and that’s exactly what you’ll find at Sutro Heights Park. This prominent hill was once home to the private residence of Adolph Sutro—the self-made millionaire and one-time San Francisco mayor who built Sutro Baths. The park sits atop a bluff and offers sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands.

Synonymous with Mother’s Day brunch and romantic anniversary dinners, the Cliff House has long been a favorite spot to celebrate special occasions. And it’s no wonder why—the 152-year-old destination is perched above the Pacific so nothing gets in between diners and sherbet–hued sunsets.

Located upstairs from the Golden Gate Park Visitor Center, Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant brings together modern American cuisine, craft ales, and ocean views. The Spanish colonial–style building is also home to Lucien Labaudt’s New Deal–era mural, San Francisco Life, which covers the walls of the first-floor visitor center.

Next to the Beach Chalet stands a Golden Gate Park icon, the 75-foot-tall North Dutch Windmill. The windmill, along with its younger sibling, the adjacent South (Murphy) Windmill, once pumped up to 1.5 million gallons of water into the park everyday. Though no longer functioning, both are worth a visit, especially the North Windmill. The grounds around its base are home to the colorful Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, which blooms in February and March.

The San Francisco Zoo is home to more than 1,000 creatures. See if you can spot a green-winged macaw or an emerald tree boa in the renovated South American Tropical Rainforest and Aviary, which reopened in July 2015. The zoo’s residents aren’t its only draw. There are gardens to tour and an historic Little Puffer miniature steam train to climb aboard. Prefer merry-go-rounds? Choose a lion, giraffe, or bejeweled horse form among the carved, ornate animals on the 1921 Dentzel Carousel.

See San Francisco: Like a Local for more to do and see in the city.

This blog post was first published in December 2015. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.