May 27, 2013 by Deborah W. Trotter
There’s nothing like discovering treasure under your nose, right? That’s what I did last weekend when I had a few hours to spend in San Francisco, and set out westward on the Coastal Trail from the Lands End sign on El Camino del Mar in Lincoln Park.
I hadn’t known anything about this trail before that day, but I had seen the sign on another visit, and I was looking for new National Park miles to hike for my 2013 goal (explained here). What more incentive did I need?
I liked the wide, dirt trail as soon as I set foot on it. It hugged the southern coast of the Golden Gate, high above the water, with spectacular views of lighthouses (three!),
shipping traffic, sailboats, the Marin Headlands and Point Reyes National Seashore beyond, as well as the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay. A stiff ocean wind buffeted plentiful wildflowers, constantly tugged at my hat and rearranged my hair, but the day was gorgeous. Patches of deep shade and sunlight alternated at just the right intervals along the trail to make two layers the perfect amount of upper body clothing for me.
Mostly level or gently sloping, the trail did present a challenge to fitness and old knees in the form of a series of stair steps (more than 100) that climbed up and up through a eucalyptus grove, then out into the sun again and down, down the other side of the hill past yellow lupine and poppies.
As the trail got closer to my destination—a mile and a half from where I started—observation areas appeared, with places to sit and informational signs. Amazingly, from 1905 until 1925 an electric streetcar line wound along these same cliffs taking passengers eight miles from San Francisco out to the Pacific Coast and back again. Imagine what a trip that would have been, with fabulous views – or fog so thick you might not have been able to see the front of the trolley from the back! During the 20 years the line operated, landslides and washouts along its path required constant repairs. In February 1925, heavy rains caused damage so severe that the fix would have been too expensive to undertake, and the line was abandoned.
Lands End sounds like a remote and desolate place, but it is not. You can actually drive to the area.
The new Visitor Center overlooks what remains of the Sutro Baths , and a large parking lot that will never be big enough (at least on weekends) was bustling that Saturday.After checking out the Visitor Center, which also houses a café, I started my return hike.
The Coastal Trail is popular, so if you want to hike this portion, I recommend starting where I did at the Lands End sign on El Camino del Mar near 32nd Avenue. On street parking was plentiful there, and the three-mile round trip hike gives you the full experience with all the views, no matter at which end you start.