Timecapsule: October 15, 1863

The first Cliff House opened its doors on this date 145 years ago. The brainchild of a real estate speculator and a State Senator, this first of umpteen incarnations was a simple white clapboard affair. Despite its external modesty, it was a high-class joint, and quickly became the most fashionable destination in town. Presidents Ulysses Grant and Rutherford B Hayes would number among its many distinguished guests over the years, but we choose to look to Sam Clemens for an on-the-spot review, reported for the San Francisco Call just weeks after the place opened:

"Then there's the Cliff House, perched on the very brink of the ocean, like a castle by the Rhine, with countless sea-lions rolling their unwieldy bulks on the rocks ... Steamers and sailing craft are passing, wild fowl scream ... (and) the waves roll into breakers, foam and spray, for five miles along the beach, beautiful and grand ... the appetite is whetted by the drive and the breeze, the ocean's presence wins you into a happy frame, and you can eat one of the best dinners with the hungry relish of an ostrich.