SAN FRANCISCO -- People who had never seen an ocean have seen one for the first time from its windows. Foreign dignitaries and Hollywood stars have dined under its roof. Millions have enjoyed the views of seals playing on the rocks and in the crashing waves.

The place is the Cliff House, one of San Franciscos beloved landmarks, which reopened this fall after a two-year, $18 million renovation.

Travelers again are visiting the restaurants and gift shop perched on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean on San Franciscos westernmost shore.

Its such a dramatic spot, said Laurie Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau. Its always been a favorite place to take visitors.

The Cliff House attracts an estimated 1.5 million visitors a year, and everyone seems to snap at least one photograph against the backdrop of ocean and sky -- and often fog.

The renovation has changed the structure radically inside and has enhanced the views.

The 1909 building contains a gift shop, banquet rooms, a bar and two restaurants, one a casual, 140-seat dining room called Cliff House Bistro with windows facing seals, rock outcroppings and the Pacific west and the city shoreline south.

Two hundred black-and-white photos of the famous people who have dined at the Cliff House decorate the walls.

The most breathtaking views are next door at Sutros, an elegant restaurant with grand, two-story picture windows that face north and west.

The 26,000-square-foot building brings back both the character and the dignity of the historic Cliff House, said architect David Robinson, who designed the modern look of the building, which was built with concrete, copper, slate and glass.

The buildings on the site have had a rocky history. The first Cliff House was built in 1863 but was destroyed by fire in 1894.

In 1896, the Cliff House was rebuilt in the style of a French chateau, with an observation tower that rose 200 feet above sea level. It survived the 1906 earthquake but was destroyed by a fire in 1907.

The third Cliff House was built in 1909 and was remodeled several times before the National Park Service purchased it in 1977.

Several elements of the Cliff House are gone, but plans are under way to have them reopen on or near the site, according to the park service.

The Musee Mecanique, a showcase of old amusement park arcade games, was moved to the citys Pier 45 during the renovation. Discussions are afoot with the museum owners to have the museum relocated to a new National Park Service visitor center above Sutro Baths near the Cliff House.

The Cliff Houses decades-old Camera Obscura, once part of a local amusement park and registered as a historical landmark, is scheduled to reopen after the renovation of the Cliff House terrace is complete.

An element missing from the Cliff House is suitable parking for motorcoaches. The lack of such parking has caused some deviation from city tour itineraries, which in the past typically featured a stop at the Cliff House, said Lanae Brown, operations managers for Gray Line of San Francisco.

Theres a place to park, but its up the hill and to park there and walk down would take too much time. We havent stopped driving the Great Highway past the Cliff House, but we dont stop there anymore.

For more information, visit or call (415) 386-3330.

To contact reporter Laura Del Rosso, send e-mail to [email protected].

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