Seal Rock Inn

Seal Rock Inn
seen from the west
545 Point Lobos Avenue  •  San Francisco, CA 94121  •  Phone: 415-752-8000  •  Toll-free: 1-888-732-5762

Nearby Attractions

Home > Places to See > Cliff House and Camera Obscura

Victorian Cliff House
Victorian Cliff House

 The Cliff House

Adolph Sutro, a self-made millionaire, philanthropist and later, mayor of San Francisco, built the Victorian Cliff House in grandiose style in 1896. It was the most popular of the five buildings that have stood on this location.

Fashioned after a French Chateau, it had eight stories, spires and an observation tower two hundred feet above sea level. Though never a hotel, it served as an elegant site for dining, dancing and entertainment.

Unfortunately, this structure survived the famous 1906 earthquake only to be destroyed in a fire one year later.

Today’s Cliff House
Today’s Cliff House;
Camera Obscura visible on the left

The Cliff House was rebuilt in a neoclassic design in 1909 by Sutro’s daughter Emma and it carried on the tradition of sumptuous dining. The Sutro family sold it in 1952 to George Whitney. It has undergone numerous renovations and remodelings and was acquired by the National Park Service in 1977. Today the Cliff House is preserved as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

In 2004, the Cliff House celebrated the reopening of the restored 1909 structure. The new Sutro Wing is attached to the 1909 building and houses Sutro’s, the two-story main dining room (open seven days a week for lunch and dinner). The 1909 structure is now the Cliff House Bistro, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. A champagne buffet is offered every Sunday in the Terrace Room. The Cliff House is a short walk from the Seal Rock Inn. (See web site: for information and to make reservations.)

Giant Camera
Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura

The Giant Camera (Camera Obscura) behind the Cliff House has been billed as “the world’s largest camera” and the ancient technology was the foundation of modern photography. (The oldest surviving sketches of the camera are those of Leonardo da Vinci from the late 15th century.)

The camera’s viewing aperature pivots 360° every minute to display a live-action panoramic image on a 5-foot-plus parabolic screening table. Inside the darkened room you are literally standing inside a giant camera. A unique experience and a great way to view the Seal Rocks. (See web site:

The present-day camera may have had a predecessor in the Victorian Cliff House—blueprints show a “Camera Obscura Room” in the NW tower. (See

  (photo © Chee-onn Leong)

Baker Beach, San Francisco