A Phoenix on the San Francisco Coast: The Cliff House celebrates 150 years

Cliff House San Francisco

Dramatically perched on the western edge of San Francisco, where the city meets the Pacific, stands the Cliff House. Over the course of its existence, the Cliff House has endured fires, earthquakes, and the coastal elements to remain a San Francisco landmark, and this year, special events will be held to commemorate the 150th anniversary of this long-lasting icon.

On July 17 and 18, the Cliff House hosts free "history day" events, where visitors can take a look at historical memorabilia and join discussions with local historians. The big anniversary party takes place on July 19, and in honor of the Cliff House's opening year, tickets are priced at $18.63. In addition to these events, from July until the end of the year, the Cliff House restaurants will offer history-inspired culinary specials alongside regular dishes. And on the second Saturday of each month from July through October, visitors can join one of the Cliff House and Beyond walking tours which include a continental breakfast followed by a tour led by an expert on local history.

Originally constructed in 1863, the Cliff House has since been rebuilt three times. While the building is not the original, the Cliff House establishment has outlasted many of its neighbors including an amusement park that once existed to the south, and the Sutro Baths to the north, where you can still see the bath ruins.

The first installment of the Cliff House was built by Senator John Buckley and C. C. Butler. Its location was remote and expensive to reach at the time, so when it first opened, it was a place where mainly wealthy and famous patrons gathered for meals. As transportation improved, it became less exclusive and gradually morphed into a hangout spot for prostitutes and gamblers.

Thirteen years after mayor Adolf Sutro purchased it in the hopes of turning it back into a family-friendly establishment, it was destroyed in a kitchen fire on Christmas day in 1894. Sutro had it rebuilt, and it reopened in 1896 as an elaborate and much larger eight-story Victorian building that appeared to hang precariously on the edge of the cliff.

The Cliff House survived the 1906 earthquake, but burned down again in a fire the following year. Its next reincarnation was overseen by Sutro’s daughter, Emma Merrit who hired the same architects who designed Nob Hill's Fairmont Hotel and turned the Cliff House into a more humble neoclassical building that reopened in 1909. This is the building that still stands today, and it has undergone several renovations since then. In 1977, it became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and just over ten years ago, the Park Service restored the building to its original neoclassical style.

Today, anyone can swing by the Cliff House for breakfast, lunch, dinner, Sunday brunch, or a cocktail in one of the building's multiple dining spaces and bars. Each room provides a classy but relaxed environment and excellent panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.

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