Atlas Obscura is permanently book marked on my computer. It is my go-to-place for out of the way things to do whenever I hit a city and have some time to spare. They have taken me to the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, shown me the world’s smallest public park in Portland and made my car hum the William Tell Overture somewhere in California.
Today, however, they took me to a few spots in my very own backyard. Along with fellow Untapped writer Sarah Grimes we toured the Lands End area with a group of guides from Atlas Obscura. As these guides are all as curious about everything they see as I am, it made for great conversations about most everything “San Francisco” under the sun.
The tour gathered at the new Lands End Visitor Center. Designed by EHDD, its simple glass and concrete design, nestled into the sand dunes and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, pays homage to mother nature rather than architecture. This Green building offers one a chance to pick up tourist information, troll the gift shop and grab a cup of coffee before heading out to walk the Coastal Trail.
It was a gorgeous day by the San Francisco Bay as we left the visitor center. Led by Atlas Obscura’s Vice President, Annetta Black, our first stop was the Octagon House. With the increase of shipping after the discovery of gold in California, a warning system became necessary to guide the ships through the treacherous rocky area at the mouth of the bay. The Octagon House was one in a series of buildings that comprised the Semaphore Warning system that covered the Golden Gate in the 1800s.
Next stop, Fort Miley. Built as a part of the harbor defense system that operated between 1891 and 1950, this system included such well known sites as Fort Point and Alcatraz. We climbed throughout the bunkers of Fort Miley as skateboarders and hacky-sack players enjoyed the sun around us, and gazed down over the bay inhaling the gorgeous views.
A little farther along we all sat agape at the audacity of the government to turn a beautiful old lighthouse into a helipad at the most dangerous spot in the Golden Gate, proven by the three sunken ships at our feet. Sadly the ships were not visible during our stay, but if we are lucky Atlas Obscura will offer another tour at low tide.
We finished with the group wandering a very out of the way labyrinth designed by San Francisco artist Eduardo Aguilera. The Labyrinth sits on an unprotected outcropping with views that will take your breath away, and a drop to the sea that will do the same.
Atlas Obscura is user-generated and editor curated collaboration of amazing places that aren’t found in your average guidebook. If you’re looking for miniature cities, glass flowers, books bound in human skin, gigantic flaming holes in the ground, bone churches, balancing pagodas, or homes built entirely out of paper, the Atlas Obscura is where you’ll find them.
This venture into guides of the local obscura proved to be every bit as fun and interesting as their site. As Annetta explained, they aren’t out to give guided tours, as much as get you off your couch, into the fresh air, and discover something odd and unusual in your own back yard.
Get in touch with the author @PQPP3.