Cliff House is at 1090 Point Lobos Ave. (at Great Hwy.). The first Cliff House opened in 1863, a modest building frequented by such prominent San Francisco families as the Hearsts and the Stanfords, who would arrive at Ocean Beach in horse-drawn carriages. Destroyed by a chimney fire in 1894, it reopened 2 years later as an elegant destination for dining, dancing and entertainment—only to burn to the ground again in 1907.
The third and present Cliff House opened in 1909. Renovations restored the original neoclassic architecture, and the recent addition of the Sutro Wing added a two-story dining room with a stunning view of the ocean. More than 200 autographed photos of various dignitaries and movie stars offer a glimpse back at the landmark's nearly 150-year history.
The building overlooks Seal Rocks; the guano-covered formations just offshore are the site of occasional sea lion sightings from May through October. The sidewalk approach along Great Highway and a walkway around the property are good vantage points to take in the coastline views. Window tables are popular at The Bistro, a casual walk-in restaurant; reservations are strongly recommended at the more upscale Sutro's at the Cliff House.
The Camera Obscura, on a lower terrace behind the Cliff House, was built in 1946. It produces 360-degree live images of the area around Seal Rocks through a series of mirrors and sunlight reflecting off a concave disk.