The new Cliff House

After a huge renovation, San Francisco's oceanfront icon is wowing diners again

Harriot Manley

Perched on Point Lobos, waves banging at its base, Cliff House restaurant has always boasted some of San Francisco's best real estate. But over time the 1909 building had taken on a dowdy air.

No more. Working with the National Park Service (the property stewards), owner Dan Hountalas has transformed the landmark with an $18 million renovation. Now wide public terraces ― great for seal- and whale-watching this month through March ― sweep around three sides of the Cliff House. The refurbished original building houses a bistro and to-go counter, and a new, ultramodern north wing encloses the posh and excellent Sutro's restaurant. Feeling nostalgic for the way things were? Camera Obscura still hunkers outside. Besides, the Cliff House's main attraction hasn't changed: As Hountalas says, you can "stand out here, watch the waves and fog, and never get bored."

INFO: Cliff House Bistro ($$$) serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch; Cliff House ToGo ($) offers sandwiches and coffee; and Sutro's ($$$$; reservations recommended) serves lunch and dinner. Parking is free along the street and in nearby lots. 1090 Point Lobos Ave., San Francisco; www.cliffhouse.com or 415/386-3330.