After climbing the Lyon Street Steps, the next hidden gem in San Francisco I wanted to visit was the Wave Organ and because it’s only a half mile away, the Palace of Fine Arts. But that wasn’t quite how things worked out…
We parked at the parking lot adjacent to Gas House Cove at the east end of the Marina Green and walked to the shoreline to check out the amazing views of the Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island, Alcatraz, the East Bay, and San Francisco.
It was a gorgeous, clear day and the Golden Gate Bridge was calling to me. In all of the times I have visited San Francisco, I had never actually walked to the bridge, so we decided to first follow the Crissy Field Promenade toward the bridge.
The Crissy Field Promenade, also called the Golden Gate Promenade, is the northern two mile stretch of the San Francisco Bay Trail. It connects the Marina District, Crissy Field, the Presidio, and historic Fort Point. Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the trail passes by a reclaimed tidal marsh and wetlands area on one side and a beautiful sandy beach on the other.
We followed the promenade along East Beach, past the marsh lagoon and the expansive grassy Crissy Field, stopping several times to snap photos of the Golden Gate Bridge and read the interpretive signs dotting the trail. We poked around the small Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center, stopped in the Warming Hut, and walked to the end of the Torpedo Wharf Pier for the most incredible shots of the iconic bridge.
At this point, we were going to turn around, but the old brick building under the Golden Gate Bridge caught my attention and because we had already walked this far, I wanted to check it out.
Just after the Warming Hut, the Crissy Field Promenade ends at its intersection with Marine Drive. We continued walking along the shoulder of Marine Drive with the waves crashing against the rocky shoulder until we reached the three story Fort Point National Historic Site, which is free to visit.
After spending about an hour exploring Fort Point, we headed back the way we came. At this point we were starving, so we rushed the two mile walk back to our car for a picnic lunch before setting out for our original destinations, the Wave Organ and the Palace of Fine Arts.
When the United States Army took control of the Presidio in 1846, the tidal wetland was considered a wasteland, filled in, and used for an airfield named Crissy Field. Crissy Field played an important role in history as part of the first flight to Hawaii, the first Transcontinental flight, and the beginning of the United States Air Mail service.
Today the former dump, turned airfield, has once again been transformed into a public recreation paradise thanks to the National Park Service. Crissy Field’s more than 100 acres include a pristine sandy beach, a marsh habitat, a grassy picnic area, miles of trails, and stunning views.
Crissy Marsh is a habitat for more than 120 species of birds, making it a popular destination for nature lovers and birdwatchers.
The wetlands area is a beautiful preserve enjoyed by all who visit Crissy Field, but it wasn’t always an oasis. It originally was a dump, then during the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was filled in to make room for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and eventually it was paved over for Army and industrial use. Beginning in the late 1990s, the National Park Service reclaimed the marsh, removing more than 40 acres of pavement, and restoring the wetlands with almost 100,000 plants spanning 110 native species.
Crissy Field’s East Beach is a long stretch of gentle sloping soft that is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. With the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge in the foreground, people flock to the beach to run, bike, skate, picnic, play fetch with their dogs, build sand castles with their families, read, relax, swim, and kite surf.
Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center
The Farallon Islands, located 27 miles west of the Golden Gate Strait, are a National Wildlife Refuge. The 3,295 square miles of open ocean, bays, and estuaries that surround them make up the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. The area is home to 250,000 breeding sea birds, 25 endangered species, 38 species of marine mammals like humpback whales, and one of the largest white shark populations in the world.
The Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center is housed in a historic Coast Guard station and provides guests an introduction to the sanctuary’s wildlife.
Warming Hut Cafe And Park Store
On a cold, foggy, windy day, the Warming Hut offers a respite from the weather and hot beverages to get warmed up. On beautiful, sunny, clear days, it is the perfect spot to grab a bite to eat, get a drink, and pick up some souvenirs.
Managed by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the Warming Hut is a historic 1909 wood-frame building that was turned into a cafe and gift shop in 2001. The cafe offers soup and sandwiches, teas, fair trade coffee, hot chocolate, baked goods, light snacks, and a variety of drinks, and the gift shop features locally-made souvenirs, park gear, books, toys, and San Francisco souvenirs.
Torpedo Wharf is the absolute best spot to photograph the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge. Located across the Crissy Field Promenade from the Warming Hut, the Torpedo Wharf Pier is a popular spot for crabbing, fishing, and taking in the majestic views of the San Francisco Skyline, the bay, and the bridge. Licenses are not required for fishing or crabbing at Torpedo Wharf.
While the current pier dates back to 1941, there has been a pier in this same spot since 1854! It became known as Torpedo Wharf when the Army constructed a submarine mine depot here around 1907-1909.
In 1853, Fort Point was established at the entrance to San Francisco Bay to protect the harbor from foreign attack. The brick fortress features seven-foot thick walls and three tiers of arched casemates for 126 10,000 pound cannons. Even thought it was equipped with 500 infantry men, a cannon was never fired in combat from the fort. Eventually the fort was abandoned and a movement began for its preservation. It became a National Historic Site in 1970 and today is free to visit.
Know Before You Go
- Crissy Field is located in the Marina District between Fort Mason and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA 94129.
- The Wave Organ is a 0.5 mile walk, 1.0 mile round trip, from the Crissy Field parking area.
- The Crissy Field Promenade, also called the Golden Gate Promenade, is a section of the larger Bay Trail stretching 2.0 miles, 4.0 miles round trip, from the Marina Green to the Torpedo Wharf Fishing Pier, the Warming Hut, and Fort Point National Historic Site.
- The Warming Hut Cafe And Gift Shop is located at 983 Marine Drive, San Francisco, CA 94129.
- The Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center is free and open Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
- Visiting Crissy Field is free.
- There is lots of free parking at Crissy Field, which is central to everything you may want to explore in San Francisco’s Marina District.
- Restrooms in the area can be found at the Marina Green, the Farallon Islands Visitor Center, the Warming Hut (outside), Fort Point, and the Palace of Fine Arts.
- The wind usually picks up by mid-day. If you want a quiet walk, go during the early morning hours.
- Dogs are allowed on the trail but must be on leash. You may take them off leash on the beach. This is one of the best beaches in San Francisco for dogs!