Archive for February, 2010

Other public spaces: Cliff House, San Francisco

February 8, 2010

Strictly speaking, San Francisco’s Cliff House is not a public space, but a privately owned restaurant. 

Nonetheless, it’s one of the top tourist destinations in the city, is located on public land — the Golden Gate National Recreation Area — and styles itself the “crown jewel” of the GGNRA. Safe to say that many, many people visit it every year.

As eating establishments go, it’s fairly pricey. I don’t know how many people actually wind up eating there. But anyone who just takes a walk around the outside is confronted with a blank, boring, and unwelcoming exterior. The side that fronts on Pt. Lobos Avenue, aside from the actual entrance, is featureless and grim.

Proceeding clockwise and down the hill, you come to a cul-de-sac with no apparent purpose.

Then you come to the back side, facing the sea. Passing the Camera Obscura on your left, you are confronted with another blank wall where, before the most recent renovation several years ago, the Musee Mecanique was located.

Farther along the back side is another unwelcoming blank wall there once was a friendly National Park Service visitor center.

Note the big windows. Everyone dining inside has a great view. Outside, the non-paying casual visitor gets to hang out next to some big air vents.


Completing your circuit of the building, you climb some stairs at the side and end up in front of the gift shop and another blank wall facing Pt. Lobos Avenue.

What bothers me about it, I think, is the juxtaposition: fabulous location and beautiful views vs. a blank, boring, unwelcoming, and in places outright ugly public space. What were they thinking?