New Visitor Center Opens At Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Visitors to Golden Gate National Recreation Area have a new facility they can head to to orient themselves on the NRA and what there is to do.

The National Park Service and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy on Saturday unveiled the Lands End Lookout, the newest visitor center within the Golden Gate National Parks. Located along San Francisco’s rugged Pacific coast, the new 4,150-square-foot “green” visitor center sits directly above the former Sutro Baths at the northwest edge of the City, and features a museum store, café, and educational and interpretive exhibits highlighting the natural landscape and cultural history of this remarkable site.

Work began on the visitor center in 2011, through a generous lead gift from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, with major support from the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, and additional funding from the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund. The Lands End improvement project also received lead support from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund for upgrades to the USS San Francisco Memorial overlook and parking area, a new wheel-chair accessible trailhead and overlook at Merrie Way, renovations and extension of the Coastal Trail, expanded bicycle and vehicle parking, and restoration of coastal views and natural habitat largely driven by Parks Conservancy and NPS volunteers. Additional funding came from the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation and the California State Coastal Conservancy.

“The Goldman Fund is so pleased to see how the community has responded positively to the improvements at Lands End. The Lookout will dramatically enhance the visitor experience and create more opportunities to enjoy this spectacular place,” said Amy Lyons, executive director, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund. “Lands End has always been special to Mr. Goldman as he used to walk there with his father as a young boy and continued the tradition with his grandchildren.”

Long before Europeans arrived in North America, Lands End was a seasonal home to the Yelamu Ohlone tribe. In the late 1800s, Adolph Sutro, a San Francisco entrepreneur, supported the building of the Cliff House Railroad to bring the general public to his ocean-side amusements—the Sutro Baths and Sutro Heights Gardens. In 1887, at Sutro's urging, Seal Rocks became a designated marine preserve—one of the nation's first. In its many reincarnations, the site has served as the Playland amusement park and a 1960s ice rink, but these early visitor amenities were destroyed by fire in 1966. In the 1980s, the land was purchased by the National Park Service and the recent improvements are the latest in a long line of innovative and sustainable projects made possible through their partnership with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

“The new Lookout showcases Lands End as an amazing piece of San Francisco history,” said Frank Dean, Golden Gate NRA superintendent. “With these improvements, visitors will be able to truly appreciate its fascinating natural and cultural legacy.”

Open daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., the Lookout presents visitors with stunning 30-mile views of the California coast, and provides the opportunity to explore the natural and cultural history of this beloved park site. The new Lands End visitor experience includes:

* Interactive Displays and Panels: Visitors will learn about the coast’s geology, the original inhabitants of Lands End, the Yelamu (Ohlone) tribe, Adolph Sutro’s role in developing this part of the City in the 1880s, and the archeological remnants of an early amusement park. Educational displays also reveal the many animals and plants that call the area home, and why native plants and habitat restoration are key to the endurance of wildlife.

* Interpretative Items and the Lookout Café: Visitors can take a peek into the future thanks to a fortune-telling machine from the Musée Mécanique, an old fashioned “arcade” at the nearby Cliff House, and choose from a selection of unique interpretative items for purchase. The new Lookout café features a selection of fresh, locally-sourced grab-and-go fare.

* Sustainability and Design: Designed with the surrounding natural landscape in mind, architectural components of the Lookout include reclaimed Redwood siding, natural ventilation and lighting, low-flow fixtures, native-plant landscaping and photovoltaic systems, and windows that showcase the panoramic view of Sutro Baths and the California coastline. The structure also offers storage space for the ongoing volunteer-driven stewardship efforts that will help sustain the maintenance and preservation of Lands End as well as the nearby California Coastal Trail.

“We are delighted to be able to reinvigorate one of the top visitor destinations in the Bay Area,” said Greg Moore, president and CEO of the Parks Conservancy. “This stunning—and sustainable—visitor facility would not have been possible without our partners the National Park Service, generous support from our donors, and active participation from our volunteers, neighbors, and members of the community.”