I love love love visiting the Sutro Baths at sunset. Cheesy, sure, but you really have to be a cold, soulless individual to take in the view without being moved, and as scenic as San Francisco is, I can’t think of a spot that more perfectly encompasses the Western landscape tradition more perfectly than the Sutro Baths.
It’s all kind of a no-brainer when you consider the combination of large, still bodies of reflective water, the mist off the crashing waves, rocky outcroppings, and introspective people silhouetted against the setting sun. We’re pretty squarely in David Casper Friedrich territory with this stuff (tell me this painting couldn’t have taken place at the site of the Sutro Baths). Everything becomes noble, evocative and nostalgic.
Of course, nostalgia is an idealization of the past, as if the Sutro Baths embody a gentler, more civil time, even in their devastated state. But when I did a wee bit of looking into the history of the spot, I came across a couple videos from the turn of the (18th to 19th) century that kind of undermine this idealization. They’re videos shot by Edison that show just what a zoo the Baths actually were. Quite honestly, it looks like a blast. I can only imagine rolling around the place sporting a stripey, full-body wool swimsuit and waxed mustache.
Skulls must have cracked like coconuts with all this action going on:
Check out all of the folks lined up to shoot down the slide head-first just a few feet away from the previous swimmer.