The Day I Hiked The Lands End Trail
And What I Learned From It
Three years ago a great friend of mine made a spontaneous decision to move from Iowa (where I live). He sort of dropped off the face of the earth for several months, then suddenly reappeared in San Francisco, California. We began talking again and I made the mention that I would come visit him sometime in the future. Well, the future ended up being the first week of August in 2016.
San Francisco hosts an annual music festival called Outside Lands, and so my friend and I planned around meeting up then. The festival was great, and we both had a blast. But that’s not what this story is about. This story is about my final day out there.
I flew out on a Wednesday, with my final full day set to be the following Tuesday. When Tuesday arrived, I requested two things of my friend: to go to the beach, and to see the Golden Gate Bridge. You see, up until last August I had never been to San Francisco, but always heard I should visit it. And until that fateful Tuesday, my friend and I were busy each day — three of the days were set aside solely for attending Outside Lands, thus limiting our time to visit the more iconic locations around the city. Therefore, Tuesday became the day we would fulfill my requests.
Tuesday morning rolled around and we decided to get an early start, that way we could fit in as much as we possibly could. To kick things off, my friend took me to Haight Street — notorious for its expressive shops and history with the hippie culture. What a weird and delightful street that was. I rather appreciated it. We then grabbed a slice of pizza and ventured into another portion of Golden Gate Park — Outside Lands Music Festival is held in a section of said park — and enjoyed the lovely weather and peaceful setting. But this was all brief, in the scheme of things. From here we went to the beach.
On the western side of the city lies the appropriately named Ocean Beach. Behind a shallow beach wall, littered with varied graffiti, was the almost vacant beach. I say vacant because the beach was nowhere near busy. People were there, but the bare minimum. But after spending almost a week in San Francisco, I was not all that surprised by how available the entire beach rested. San Francisco’s weather is fickle, and going to the beach when it’s sunny and warm could easily switch to gray and cold without warning. But we took the openness to our advantage. As we sat on the semi-warm sand, we watched the water drift inwards and then back out again. Slight cool breezes flowed our way, but it was nothing of deterrence. Actually, it made the scene all the better. While we watched the ocean, my friend and I recollected on the festival weekend, our time at college, places we want to visit, and much more. Living in Iowa, I don’t get the opportunity to go to an ocean beach — a quiet one, too — and reflect on life and ponder where everything might lead. There was something surreal about it; something I can’t quite describe. I’ve been to the beach before, but never experienced it in this exact fashion. However, the beach was only the beginning.
After a decent length of time at Ocean Beach, we decided to begin our adventure, starting with our hike towards the north. Once we swept away the sand from ourselves, our next stop was the Cliff House — a restaurant set atop cliffs that overlook the Pacific. This was where the spontaneity of the day found its hooks.
Approaching the Cliff House brought on sights you might find on postcards. Along the building’s left side sat an overlook that jetted out from the cliffside. Its furthest point reached out above the ocean waters, giving myself and my friend a view of rocks set about the shore. These were massive stone towers that rose above the sea, with constant waves crashing at their feet. In the daylight they resembled no signs of real treachery, but they brought on a spectacle that held my gaze. Soon after, my friend asked me to follow him.
Around the Cliff House’s overlook came an abrupt clifftop, with no guard rails, or sign postings. The overlook balcony ended, and after it came unleveled sand and rock that stretched back down to another beach below. From where we stood, I saw several groupings of people climbing down steep cliffs into a bowl of standing water and broken walls. I had no idea what I was looking at, but my curiosity piqued. Following my friend, and some other people, we climbed over the overlook’s barrier and made our way down a cliffside consisting of red dirt and sand, of which lacked any real spots for sure footing. Down and down the improvised trail went, and I was certain I would fall the entire time. But, we made it to the ground and looked upon the Sutro Baths.
Quick history lesson: the Sutro Baths were established as a public swimming area in the late 1800s. After many years of disparaging use, the Baths hit turmoil by lack of funding and usage to stay running. Before changes could be made to make the area into a living complex, the Baths were hit by a fire, diminishing all of it down to the rubble that still stands.
When my friend and I arrived, we did what everyone else was doing: walked on the ruins. With your own discretion, you can walk atop the crumbling structure and peruse the ruins, all while the Pacific Ocean resides mere steps away. Definitely something I had never done before. While, yes, not too much of the Baths remain, it was a neat sight to see and be around.
Another portion of the ruins drew the biggest crowd. After walking across the Baths, one finds an entrance into a small, naturally made, cave. From inside the cave lie two openings to look upon. The first is a hole that reaches the footpath inside the cave and leads back to the open waters of the ocean. This hole never stops thundering its sound of sea water clashing against the innards of the lower cave portion. Every 30 seconds seemed to bring the loud water, along with its mist. The second outcropping was a gated off rock window, overlooking the northern beaches and beginnings of the true Lands End Trail. A chain-link fence stood in the way, mainly because the very edge of the cave dropped straight into the ocean below. We wanted to stay here longer, but several tourist parties arrived on scene and caused quite the crowd. So, we picked up our trail and left the Baths behind us.
Out of the bowl loomed Point Lobos, which watched over the Sutro Baths from the northern side of the ruins. At this Point, we could see a 180 degree sweep of the Pacific Ocean and the rocky shore that lumbered on northwards, around and out of sight. Our journey from Ocean Beach to Point Lobos met overcast skies, but soon found their end when we stepped foot on Lobos. While we gazed upon the water, the gray skies opened up, and we were greeted by the warm sun and the accompanying blue skies. And through the immense bi-polar weather of San Francisco, the rest of our hike would never see grayness again.
The next leg of our adventure sent us north into Lands End territory. Trail signs of Lands End began springing up, each one containing distances to the next landmark any hikers should come upon. The further we walked, the further I realized how fitting the name Lands End was. On our entire course, the land did literally end to our left. Should one take the appropriate amount of steps, they could find themselves walking to and over rugged cliffs down to the crashing shore below. But the trail remained a safe distance from the brink, and instead gave us tremendous sights to observe while we maneuvered through inclines, declines, and curved paths that took us around bends that left only our imagination to wonder what would be next.
Along the trail, we first stumbled across Battery Lobos, an old bunker from the World War 2 era. Not much is left of it now, but as a history buff, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing something I’ve only ever read about.
We then found Lands End Labyrinth. Surrounded by massive rocks and water on three sides, this maze looks out towards the entrance to San Francisco Bay. The maze itself is comprised of palm-sized rocks that form a series of circles. There is only one true path to the center of the labyrinth, and despite its size and height, it is surprisingly fun to solve. Plus, look at that view; stretching skies, pristine water, the sea breeze, and a tease of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a simple place, but it provided an odd sense of serenity.
The next section of Lands End Trail weaved through trees that hid the coastline from our view, but then moved back into open landscapes, allowing for us to see the ever-continuing shore. I could not help but be delighted by how perfect the day was going. Not only were we given wonderful weather, but my friend and I were almost the only people walking this trail that day. Maybe because it was a Tuesday? Still, we had the entire path to ourselves.
From here, the trail kind of ended. Or at least the name of it ended. There’s still a trail, but it’s not specifically called Lands End. Actually, it’s not specifically called anything. So, for the sake of the story, we will continue calling it Lands End Trail.
After the foliage area came the Sea Cliff district. My friend and I passed through the more wealthier side of the district, and couldn’t help but be a little bit envious towards the homes we walked by. These houses were huge. Despite being crammed together, these homes looked clean, cut, and downright sexy. Plus, quite a few of them had large windows that overlooked the ocean. Throughout all my life I’ve wanted to own a house that situated itself on a gorgeous landscape; one option being an ocean view. This might be something that only makes sense to me, but walking among houses that I’ve dreamed about made me feel like a kid again. And I told myself: if someone can live in a place like one of these homes, than I could too.
Passing out of the Sea Cliff district, we journeyed onto another beach. Baker Beach, that is. This was a quiet locale. By the time we reached Baker, the sun labeled the day as late afternoon. While the sunset would not happen for a few more hours, the dazzling display it played along the beach waters almost blinded us. It seemed the sun’s stretch would never end across the ocean. But the beach held a calmness that we found rather rewarding during such a long trek. Once again, the beach was not busy. In fact, there were maybe 10 people there total, including ourselves. And from this location, we stood even closer to our end goal: the Golden Gate Bridge. However, there was still one more winding mile to go. Also, look at how far we walked based on the distance of the Bridge compared to the previous photo. And onwards!
Before reaching the bridge, the final span of trail followed several World War 2 bunkers situated in perfect vantage points along the coast. These contained much more remnants than the first battery we came across. While they were all unique to see, we spent the majority of our time at Battery Crosby.
Another little tidbit about myself: I love creepy locations. I grew up watching horror movies, paranormal shows, and reading scary stories. So visiting a place that looks like the photo made me giddy.
This bunker rested quietly along its own point, watching the waters. Most of the doors leading into the interior of the bunker were locked or chained shut, probably with good reason. However, we kept hearing eerie sounds coming from inside the buildings — although, my friend suggested it might have been someone homeless. Anyway, we stayed clear of the entrances and instead climbed all around the exterior walls. Several stair cases led up to the second level, bringing us to the open spaces where massive guns used to dwell. And while the entirety of Battery Crosby stood consumed by the grass and sand, the place still felt alive. As if those who used to monitor the bunker still roamed around the area. But only the sounds of the sea paraded between the stone walls.
After Battery Crosby, the subtle hints of tiredness crept up on my friend and I. And while we still headed to Golden Gate Bridge, we could tell our day was nearing its end.
30 minutes after the batteries, we came upon the Golden Gate Bridge. Our approach from the south gave us one of the most iconic viewpoints around the globe. All the trees, buildings, homes, sand, and rocks faded away, opening up the majestic wonder of the bridge. It’s two spires tore through the air, causing myself to look upwards even from a decent distance away. The early evening sun’s glow painted warmth across the bridge’s rusted red color, turning the structure into a vibrant picture. And the water underneath accented its own powerful blue. Until this moment, I had only seen the bridge in movies, television, or photos. But being there, seeing this creation, left me awestruck. And then we got closer.
Our feet were getting tired at this point, but neither of us cared. We had reached our destination, and all our worry, pain, and exhaustion evaporated. Initially, we intended on walking across the entire bridge, but felt that making it to the first spire would suffice. And it did. While the wind was rather intense, the view outweighed the breeze. All of San Francisco Bay laid out before us, and not a single speck of fog blocked our sight. The calm water extended its reach far past the city, continuing its cool palm beyond what was discernible. To our backs the water continued its journey out into the vast Pacific, only to be greeted by the setting sun. Ending my trip to San Francisco here, on the Golden Gate Bridge, at sunset, exceeded any and all expectations I had when I arrived a week prior. Not to mention finishing our long hike that lasted five to six hours (we took breaks, remember). It was all so picturesque and dreamlike, I felt the utmost satisfaction.
But the journey did not end here. Oh no. It got better.
Leaving the bridge brought belief that our day was winding down, and we would be well on our way for some dinner, and eventually back to my friend’s house. We made our way into a nearby neighborhood, allowing for Uber to pick us up in an easy manner. And then, something bizarre happened.
Walking into the neighborhood, a random car decided to pull up beside us on the road. My friend and I were confused by this, because neither one of us requested an Uber yet, and there’s just no way a vacant Uber happened to be where we were, at that exact time when we needed one, in all of San Francisco. We both wondered if this car might be some sketchy person, or maybe someone asking for directions. Then the back passenger window rolled down.
From behind the tinted glass appeared a younger gentleman, who peered out of the window and proceeded to ask us, “Do you guys like to party?”
Yes, you read that right.
My friend and I paused, then looked at one another with the most confused look on our faces. Now, how we looked at the time might have warranted his question. My friend‘s hair was long and wind-swept, he wore his festival-style hoodie (can’t explain it, really) and trippy pants, and held a very laid back demeanor. I was wearing my concert hoodie (a little roughed up, and super comfortable), Xbox pajama pants, colorful sunglasses, and carried a disheveled look from our hike. In hindsight, we did look like partiers, or at least weird folk.
We decided to answer this bizarre question with, “Yeah. Sure.” How confident, right?
Then this man tells his driver to let them out, and him and his friend proceeded to leave their taxi/Uber and start walking with us. Soon after, they asked us a question that was so exact and relevant to the two of us, I still can’t believe it happened.
He asked, “Do you two like Griz?”
Now, Griz is a rather popular artist in the electronic music scene. He is known for blending jazz, blues, rock, and especially funk with straight-up electronic sounds and beats. He also is particular to the saxophone, which he can make sing. Needless to say, he’s dope. And my friend and I are huge fans of his. So once again, we said, “Yes.”
His response was, “Awesome. Well my friend here is part of his fan club and has learned that Griz is hosting an album release party on the beach just over this hill.”
Note: my friend and I were NOT initially walking towards this Griz party, because we had no idea it was even happening. We were, indeed, heading towards food and a future ride back to where my friend lives.
These two random, kind souls invited us to this album release party, and we gladly accepted the invitation. I am not ashamed to admit that I was kind of sketched out by this, for how I could have really known this was legitimate? So, they led us down this steep hill, through thick trees and rough bushes, and then we stepped foot on flat land. That’s when we heard the incoming sounds of Griz’s saxophone.
This was happening. It was actually happening.
For the next two hours, Griz played an intimate show right along the beach. No more than 200 people showed up throughout the two hours, adding to the exclusivity. And while he did livestream part of the set on Facebook, being there was one of the most euphoric feelings ever. All of us in attendance were getting down on that beach. And our backdrop was the Golden Gate Bridge undergoing the warmth and colorful sight of a sunset. During that concert, I let the setting and the music take me to new heights with myself, all while watching Griz do his thing and have such a blast surrounded by his fans. Those two hours still feel like something that never happened — something you could only dream about — but truly did.
When the set ended, I felt as if I was floating in the clouds. I couldn’t believe what just happened. I couldn’t believe how we began our journey nearly eight hours earlier on Ocean Beach, and how we ventured all over the northern coastline of San Francisco — seeing Sutro Baths, the Labyrinth, some of the coolest homes, World War 2 bunkers, and venturing onto the Golden Gate Bridge — ending up at the right place, at the perfect time, at the END of our hike, and getting rewarded by a secret set of one of our favorite musicians of the day. It was so serendipitous, my friend and I still relive it to this day. The chances of this happening were so astronomical that after the set finished, and we walked towards our destination, we could not fathom how any of that Tuesday lined up so perfectly. It was the perfect ending for my trip out to San Francisco.
So, why the hell did you just read this? Why in the world did I take the time to write about this? Why do I want people to care?
This is why: Enjoy life to the fullest. These are words we have all heard before, but do we follow them? There are experiences everywhere around you, just waiting to scoop you up and take you to places only your dreams and imagination roam. I realize that I was on a designated vacation with this story, but even on all other days, take those chances you hesitate to take. Life rewards and surprises us all, and the memories created will never let you down. On that fateful Tuesday, the only thing I requested of my friend was that we went to the beach and visited the Golden Gate Bridge. Both of those things we could’ve done in under an hour, and by car. Instead, we took a hike that neither of us will ever forget, and ended on a beach at sunset, dancing our asses off to Griz at the controls.
No one can predict where each day takes them. It’s impossible to know. But, every single one of us has the capability to find out what awaits us, just by simply doing.