Thursday, August 16, 2012

TGIF: the Sutro Baths, San Francisco

On the tippity tip of San Francisco by the Pacific Coast, beneath tall coastal trees, and down a cliff-side maze of sandy trails and staircases, sits the modern-day ruins of the Sutro Baths. I'd heard about the Baths a long time ago when I had a wee childhood obsession with the neighboring Cliff House, but I had never actually ventured down from the top of the cliff for a visit. So, in a continuation of my exploration of the City by which I live and of which I know very little, a few old college friends and I went out a couple weekends back to poke around. (before heading to dinner at B Star Bar, which is--as I discovered that night--one of the few restaurants in the area that serves ochazuke, a Japanese comfort food dish that's a particular favorite of mine. The B Star version was terrific, with salmon, poached egg, pickled veggies, and crunchy genmai, all hot and soupy and perfect for the wintery and foggy San Francisco summer weather... but I digress.)

It turns out that the Sutro Baths were a magnificent engineering achievement of the late 1800s, built by a former mayor of San Francisco (who was a very rich man). The Baths encompassed numerous swimming pools of various temperatures--all fed and replenished by tide waters of the Pacific Ocean--, diving platforms, stadium seating, private dressing rooms for hundreds of people, and a museum. Later in its life, part of it was even converted into an ice skating rink. I had no idea of the grandeur of the place (or that such a place could even exist!) until googling to find out more led me to sites featuring really cool old photos and memorabilia from the heyday of the Baths. Then, in the 60s, the entire site burned down to almost nothing, and what remains today are bare outlines of the pools that the Baths once contained, reclaimed by algae, murky waters, and seagulls.

Visiting the Baths was pretty cool, because you can walk along the edges of the pools (being very careful not to fall in or get swept into the sea) and imagine what it could have possibly been like in the late 1800s. I've always imagined ruins to be ancient sorts of places, like the marbled columns of Ancient Rome or the wheel-carved cobbled streets of long-buried Pompeii, so seeing more recent ruins is quite surreal. You can also walk through the tunnel that used to feed ocean waters into the pools and marvel at the engineering it must have taken to make and maintain such a large operation--back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, no less. It's an interesting walk through a slice of San Francisco history that you don't often hear about.

Anyhow, I hope everyone has a wonderful upcoming weekend, full of adventures into the unexplored corners of your hometowns (or whatever towns you happen to be in, for that matter!). Happy Friday!


  1. These photos are literally breathtaking. New goals: Practice my own photography. Learn my camera. Explore my surroundings.

  2. Great photos...what a place!

  3. Thank you so much for this post. I have long been fascinated by the mysterious Sutro Baths, and you have satisfied my curiosity.

  4. Oh my gosh, it's Andrea! I knew her from when we went to Berkeley. Such a small world, but I guess it makes sense, the two of you being linguistics people and all. :)


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