During his three-year voyage, Sir Francis Drake and his crew on the Golden Hind became the second group of Europeans to circumnavigate the globe — and likely the first to spy Lands End as they sailed past the Golden Gate in 1579. At the same time that Drake single-handedly launched the era of piracy on the western coast of the Americas, Ohlone Indians were setting up seasonal camps to fish and hunt for seals in the area that would one day become the site of the world’s largest indoor swimming pools: the famed Sutro Baths.
As an official part of San Francisco beginning in 1867, Lands End first served as the Golden Gate Cemetery. The onset of the Spanish-American War of 1898 prompted the U.S. Army to designate the area as the Point Lobos Military Reservation. To watch over the Golden Gate, gun batteries were built to defend all three channels of approach. In 1900, the Army renamed the site to Fort Miley, which remained in service as a coastal defense until 1943. In the early 1930s, it became home to the San Francisco Veterans Administration Hospital.
Today, much of Lands End falls under the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This historic treasure will serve as the first focal point of Walk San Francisco’s members walk on Sunday, May 28, led by cartographer Ben Pease.
Join Pease for a scenic, moderately strenuous three-mile walk to explore Lands End, Sutro Heights Park and the western-most leg of the California Coastal Trail in The City. The route will include a mix of sidewalk, uneven dirt paths, stairways and hillside trail climbs.
Your walk will take you from Geary, the main commercial drag of the Richmond District, beyond the Avenues into the wilds of Lands End, and then south along the coastal shore of the great Pacific.
Today, the only way to reach Lands End quickly from downtown is by car, bus or bicycle. But at one time, Adolph Sutro, the eponymous founder of the Baths, established the Ferries and Cliff House Railroad to take San Franciscans through the Richmond to his family-friendly resort.
Before rail service ended in the late 1940s, Geary became an important commercial corridor with some of San Francisco’s earliest and most trafficked streetcar lines, the A-Geary and B-Geary, which terminated at Playland-at-the-Beach, one of the walk’s planned stops.
When buses replaced Geary’s streetcars, San Franciscans were promised an improved rail-based public transportation system. There was even a plan to extend the Bay Area Rapid Transportation with a subway branch under Geary in the 1960s. As late as 1974, planning documents still referenced a Muni Metro Geary subway.
Today, sadly, Geary is one of The City’s notorious high-injury corridors, the most dangerous 12 percent of streets where 70 percent of serious and fatal crashes are concentrated. Poorly designed intersections make Geary a safety hazard for neighbors, including children at nearby schools and seniors at local aging centers. Moreover, traffic congestion keeps the 38-Geary moving at a crawl, making daily commutes for nearly 60,000 passengers (the highest number of any Muni route) slow and unreliable.
Thankfully (after a decade of delay), a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plan for Geary has been approved. Starting in downtown, safety and transit improvements are scheduled to begin by the end of 2017, returning Geary to a more traffic-calmed, transit-friendly and walkable street. Imagine how the BRT will afford travelers almost the same level of access to the natural delights at the western shore that Sutro offered in 1866! (Learn more about the Geary BRT Project at http://www.sfcta.org/geary-corridor-bus-rapid-transit-home.)
Your walk begins at the Art Bistro on Geary Blvd., heads north across the Lincoln Park playground, and then finds the old railroad grade. Next, it crosses Camino Del Mar and continues west on the Coastal Trail. Highlights include Lands End, Sutro Baths, and Sutro Heights Park. Various trails lead to the proposed pedestrian plaza at La Playa and Judah, at the N-Judah turn-around.
The walk ends at Judahlicious for an optional lunch.
IF YOU GO: Beyond the Avenues
When: Sunday, May 28, 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Where: The Art Bistro, 6900 Geary Blvd.
Info: Walk space is limited; $10 minimum donation to Walk SF; RSVPs required at walksf.org/event/beyond-the-avenues
Ben Pease is a cartographer and author of “The Walker’s Map of San Francisco” and was a contributor to Rebecca Solnit’s “Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas.” Ben is long-time Richmond District resident, member of the Sutro Stewards and has been a walk leader of the annual four-day San Francisco Bay Coastwalk for the past 22 years.