San Francisco is known for its spectacular scenery and proximity to some of the country’s most beautiful recreational areas. One of the city’s secret gems is located along its rocky northwestern edge at Lands End.

The largest urban park within the National Park Service and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Lands End offers stunning views, modern architecture and architectural ruins, a rich maritime history and a variety of vegetation.

For me, Lands End is a perfect example of a cultural landscape. The evidence of past uses are still partially visible today and the layers of obvious and discreet interventions and development provide ripe opportunities to open the public’s eyes to this constructed landscape.

Some parts of Lands End may appear to many as a natural landscape, but it’s not. Visitors a hundred years ago would have experienced Lands End as a sandy dunescape filled with grasses and Willow trees. Accumulated overtime, carefully constructed intentions have shaped Lands End from its small details – like locally harvesting plant seeds for new plantings that have all the evolutionary adaptations they need to survive in this rugged place – to its larger context – like the understory management of the mature and declining cypress forest that was introduced at Lands End generations ago.

Recently, I led a walking tour of this stunning cultural landscape with colleagues Jennifer Herbert Devlin of EHDD and James Lord of Surface Design who designed the park’s latest development, the Lookout Building and Visitor Center. We were also joined by National Park Service curator and ranger Bob Holloway who recounted the history of the site from recreation to maritime to its military role.

You can download the half-hour tour here. There is an audio-only and an enhanced version (also available on iTunes) which is accompanied by photos and is divided into short chapters:

1.         Cultural Landscape

2.         Visitors Center

3.         Citizen Involvement

4.         Constructed Landscape

5.         History of Development

6.         Vegetation

7.         Wind and Water

8.         Maritime

9.         Role of the Military

Lands End is constantly being shaped by the natural elements of water and sand and wind. The site gives hints to the stories of San Francisco’s past, while our present-day use and interpretation make up its current form, but is forever evolving.  I hope you’ll take a listen to realize the complexity behind what you see at Lands End.


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