Secret San Francisco: The Camera Obscura


What began in 1913 as a collection of privately owned amusement attractions above Ocean Beach, quickly became one of SF's signature destinations after the ride owners combined forces under George Whitney. It was named "Playland at the Beach," and at its peak in the 1930s and 40s, the park encompassed three blocks, had 14 rides, and was owned and operated in conjunction with The Cliff House and Sutro Baths.

In 1946 the "Jennings' Giant Camera" was constructed by Floyd Jennings and became the newest addition to Playland. Shaped like a giant camera the size of a one-room cabin, the "camera" allows visitors to step inside and see a 360-degree view of outside. Quirky and not completely logical (why wouldn't you just LOOK outside?), it was the crowning addition to Whitney's Ocean Beach empire.

Sadly, Playland was closed in the 1972 to make way for condo construction, just few years after the Sutro Baths burned down in 1966. But luckily for us, the Camera Obscura was saved and relocated next to the Cliff House for posterity.

Admission will set you back $3, but the reflection of the waves inside the camera is worth every penny for a history-loving San Franciscan. Happy exploring!

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