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0 Layers
4.3
12 votes

Camera Obscura

1096 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, California 94121 USA

$
$$$$
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Closed Now
Opens Sun 11a
  • Chain
  • Credit Cards not Accepted
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“A gigantic camera on the beach!”

The Camera Obscura in San Francisco is a large-scale camera obscura and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located near the Cliff House restaurant perched on the headlands on the cliffs just north of Ocean Beach on the western side of San Francisco, California. The Camera and restaurant are currently owned by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 20, 2001.

Cameras obscura, devices which project an image of the surroundings onto a surface using only existing exterior light sources, usually sunlight, have a long history in San Francisco. The first recorded reference to one in the city is from the 1860s in an attraction called Woodward's Gardens. A previous incarnation of the Cliff House was noted to have had a camera obscura on its fourth floor in 1896. This camera obscura was destroyed when the restaurant burned down in 1907.

When the fourth Cliff House opened in 1937, the owner was approached by businessman Floyd Jennings with the idea of adding a camera obscura to the cliffs behind the restaurant. It was installed on the site in 1946 and has been in continuous operation since then.

The San Francisco Camera Obscura projects an image onto a horizontal viewing table via a reflected image from a viewpoint at the top of the building. A metal hood in the cupola at the top of the building slowly rotates, making a full revolution in about six minutes, allowing for a 360° view around the building.

The Camera Obscura was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001 for its engineering significance. While the exterior of the building was extensively modified in 1957 to appear as a giant camera, the internal workings of the camera obscura, the basis of its placement on the Register, have remained unchanged since its erection in 1946. The 1957 external architecture was due to be evaluated for historical significance upon reaching fifty years of age in 2007

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Reviewed by
Natalie Akers

  • Road Warrior
  • 371 Reviews
  • 113 Helpful
March 04, 2015
Rated 5.0

This is well worth it! Modeled after Da Vinci's concept of a camera room (where mirrors reflect light onto a matte white painted table), this place is guaranteed to make you think differently about photography and film in general. Heads up that it's $3 for most people and $2 for children/seniors. Id recommend heading there on an off day (mon/tues) with clear skies and plenty of sun. The image is so crisp it truly feels like you're observing life in a different way. I cannot say enough good stuff about this phenomenon. Insider tip: park at ocean beach and make the climb up the hill or park at lands end park and check out sutro baths before/after

2 people found this review helpful

Reviewed by
val.spencer

  • 6 Reviews
  • 8 Helpful
September 16, 2014
Rated 3.0

I went as a child and remember it being fun. We did it while we were waiting for a table at the Cliff House, a restaurant a lot of celebs have visited and left an autographed picture on the wall. I don't remember if the food was good or not but going outside to the camera and looking at the cliffs was beautiful!

1 person found this review helpful

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Camera Obscura

1096 Point Lobos Ave
San Francisco, California
94121 USA

Hours

Closed Now
  • Sun - Sat: 11:00 am - 5:00 pm

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  • Chain
  • Credit Cards not Accepted

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