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Photos: Ravers sneak into Sutro Baths in secret, party in a tunnel till dawn

A dimly lit cave features four people gathered around electronic equipment on a table, illuminated by colorful lights, including a disco ball and a glowing red light.
Party people surround the DJ at the secret cave rave. | Source: Zara Stone/The Standard

Last Friday night, around 11 p.m., around 70 people snuck down the steep stairs to Sutro Baths, situated at the shoreline of Lands End and the northernmost tip of Ocean Beach, to experience the magic of the “rave cave.”

“PLEASE do not park in the main parking lot as this will get us shut down earlier,” wrote the event organizer on Instagram. “Find street parking.”

Attendees used torches and their phone’s flashlight to navigate down the Sutro cliffs, the beams tilted downwards to avoid detection. A heavy fog coated the steps in mist and made it hard to see. Halfway down the sandy trail, one partygoer stopped. “Are you sure this is happening? I don’t hear any music.”

The image shows a coastal scene with rocky cliffs, sea caves, and ocean waves crashing against the rocks under a partly cloudy sky. A path and stairs are visible on the cliff.
A daytime view of the Sutro Baths tunnel, devoid of partiers. | Source: Carol M. Highsmith/Getty Images
The image shows people walking at night on a foggy path, illuminated by a few distant streetlights. One person stands out by holding a flashlight, casting a blue glow.
The scene at Sutro Baths at 2 am last Friday, when some ravers were just getting started. | Source: Zara Stone/The Standard

I shrugged. I’d bought my $15 ticket a week earlier, but the address had only been revealed Friday afternoon.

As we got closer to the lip of the rave cave, it was still eerily silent, though we could see a red light blinking at the end of the old 132-year-old quarry tunnel. It was once used for hauling rocks to reinforce the breakwater of Sutro Baths, a seven-pool public bathhouse, encased under glass, that opened in 1894. 

Halfway through the cave, around the point where the metal barricade separates people from plunging into the crashing waves below, I could hear a beat, which grew louder with every step. At cavern’s end, roughly 90 dancers bounced around as two disco balls whirred and strobe lights flickered, freezing people in random beams of color.

Partygoers dance to music at a "cave rave" in San Francisco's Sutro Baths on July 5, 2024. | Source: Zara Stone/The Standard

Encircled by the crashing breakers of Lands End, a DJ stood in front of a makeshift booth—essentially a picnic table loaded with laptops and a mixer, and connected to giant speakers. I have no idea how they got any of the gear in there.

People danced, hips shaking, arms waving. Some snapped photos on 2000’s-era digital cameras. A guy in a trench coat and sunglasses bopped his blond head, emitting Lost Boys vibes. A dude in his early 20s raised his arms in bliss, his T-shirt printed with, “Is it rude to toss Xanax in someone’s mouth while they’re talking?” Attendees ranged from teens to boomers, the majority falling somewhere in the college-age set—but all uniformly stoked.

Of course, raves are not a new thing in San Francisco, which has an eclectic party scene and a vast array of amazing venues—The Midway in the Dogpatch is especially great. But, like any planned event, the legal parties lack spontaneity. You know how much it will cost, where it will be, even the kind of people who will attend. 

People are gathered in a dimly lit cave decorated with colorful red and blue lights casting shadows on the rocky ceiling, creating a vibrant, lively atmosphere.
People party during the secret Sutro Baths rave on Friday night. | Source: Zara Stone/The Standard

The secrecy of an illegal rave, and the mystique surrounding it, harks back to the rave culture of the 90s and 2000s, an era currently being repurposed, nowstalgia-style, in fashion, music and art. Now, as then, the parties are minimally advertised, the location a closely guarded secret to avoid police shutdown. Some parties only promote themselves via text message, and you can only get on that list by messaging a secret number. Others require party people to DM a certain Instagram account at a specific time to get the full deets. Costs are generally low, or non-existent, a perennial key to rave culture, which values inclusion over profit.

On Friday, Sutro Baths pulsed with a heady mix of ghetto tech and techno, courtesy of three DJs who took turns commanding the beats. When DJ Marquez began her set, she blasted the crowd with haunting church-like chamber music, which reverberated eerily around the cavern. Dancers held up their arms in thrall. Then, with expert precision, Marquez dropped the beat, and the dance floor exploded. Feet stamped, bodies swayed, and the party kicked into high gear. Later, Marquez would sum up the night with a single word on Instagram: “Epic.”

The music was still blasting when this reporter left at 2:30 am, and though the official end time was set for 4 am, I have no idea how late they went.

A group of people stands in a cave-like setting, illuminated by intense, red light. The rocky ceiling is visible, while the individuals appear engaged in conversation.
People dance inside the Sutro Baths secret cave rave at Lands End. | Source: Zara Stone/The Standard
People gathered in a dimly lit, colorful underground party, with vibrant lights, a DJ wearing a cap playing music, and attendees dancing and socializing around.
DJ Marquez amps up the crowd at the secret Sutro Baths rave. | Source: Zara Stone/The Standard

If you’re desperate to know about the next party, know this: a couple of breadcrumbs are sprinkled throughout this story. I’ve remained deliberately vague about how to find info about the party, even though I know that gatekeeping sucks. But part of the magic of the underground San Francisco rave is the secrecy, the convoluted text chains and insta accounts. It’s the promise of something new and exciting. For those willing to go down the rabbit hole (or into the cave), the thrill is in the discovery.