Caves are cool—literally and figuratively. So we’ve rounded up some of our favorite spots in the Bay Area underground.
San Francisco’s Lands End Cave
The Sutro Baths are among the Bay Area’s best known (and most visited) old ruins. The most popular view of the long-defunct bathing pools is from the nearby Cliff House, but a short hike to the north leads to the more isolated Lands End Cave.
Carved into the rocks near the old bath stairs, the cave is renowned for its acoustics. The only sounds it echoes most days are those of the Pacific Ocean, but it’s not unusual for musicians to perform impromptu concerts there.
If you go: Lands End Cave is accessible to anyone comfortable walking up and down stairs. From the Sutro Baths overlook in Golden Gate Recreation area, just descend the stairs and follow the obvious trail to the north to find the cave. Access to the area is free, and leashed/voice-controlled dogs are welcome.
Photo © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons.
Santa Cruz’s Empire Cave
You’ll want your headlamp and mud boots for this one. The caves outside UC Santa Cruz’s Porter College are deep, dank, and dark, and are populated by both cave spiders and pseudoscorpions. Yes, apparently pseudoscorpions are a thing.
The largest and most popular of the caves is Empire Cave, which has several chambers and is tall enough to stand up and walk around in. It’s much more comfortable than the nearby “Hell Hole,” which is tight, labyrinthine, and generally not friendly to anyone but experienced cavers (hence the name).
If you go: To reach Empire Cave, follow Empire Grade toward UCSC. About a mile after the turnoff to the campus’s west entrance, you’ll see a small dirt pulloff (there are usually cars there). A concrete structure with a hole in the top is about 20 yards away. This is the entrance to the cave.
Photo by Mike Fernwood.
The Secret “Cave” of Point Reyes
Really, the secret cave of Point Reyes National Seashore is more of an entryway. The opening in the giant rock arch is concealed by high tide, but in low tide it leads the way to a stunning natural amphitheater with walls hundreds of feet high.
Finding the entrance is tricky. It requires some crawling and some rock scrambling on the seashore’s Sculptured Beach, and of course any trip has to be planned around the area’s tides (take this tide chart for that).
If you go: The cave is on Sculptured Beach, which can be accessed by the Coast Trail. If you enter the amphitheater, be aware of the tides! The only entrance is also the only exit, so you can be trapped by high tide. A trail map is available online.
Photo by Miguel V. Words by Brian Krans.