Lonely Planet review
Populist millionaire Adolph Sutro imagined this place as a working-man's paradise, and in 1863 it was a much-needed escape from Downtown tenements. After an 1894 fire, Sutro rebuilt the Cliff House as a palatial eight-story Victorian resort with art galleries, dining rooms and an observation tower. It miraculously survived the 1906 earthquake, only to be destroyed by fire the following year. The 1909 stark neoclassical replacement built by Sutro's daughter Emma remained popular for its saloon and restaurant.
In 2004, a $19 million facelift turned the Cliff House into an upscale (read: overpriced) restaurant with all the charm of a fast-food outlet. But two popular attractions remain: sea lions barking on Seal Rock and the Camera Obscura , a Victorian invention that projects the sea view outside onto a parabolic screen.