Golden Gate Promenade — Best Walk in San Francisco
Why would you choose to take a hike when you’re in such a vibrant city with so many other things to do and see? Let me offer a few reasons. The Golden Gate Promenade is an easy-to-walk trail on the edge of San Francisco Bay. On a clear day, there are gorgeous views in every direction: the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, Crissy Field Marsh, beaches, and the San Francisco skyline.
Bits of History and Points of Interest Along the Promenade
Table of Contents
Golden Gate Promenade — Best Walk in San Francisco
- Bits of History and Points of Interest Along the Promenade
- Golden Gate Promenade Planning Information
- Pin Golden Gate Promenade for Later!
This wide, flat, Promenade is smooth enough to walk, jog, bike, or push a stroller. It’s also dog friendly and wheelchair accessible. You get beautiful views, fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and, amazingly, it’s free.
The 2-mile Promenade runs through Crissy Field between historic Fort Point, under the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Marina District, near the Palace of Fine Arts. Fort Point, Crissy Field, and the Promenade are all part or Presidio National Park. Yes, the Presidio really is a National Park, and, if it were on any other continent, it would likely be a World Heritage site too.
Presidio National Park
Strategically positioned at the entrance to San Francisco Bay, the Presidio served as a military installation for 218 years. The Spanish built a garrison on the site in 1776. After winning its independence from Spain, Mexico took control of the garrison in 1822. In 1846, the U.S. Army seized it from Mexico and occupied it until 1994. The Army base closed in 1989 as part of the 1989 military reduction program. Now the 1,500-acre site, located inside the city limits of San Francisco, is Presidio National Park.
In retrospect, it’s fortunate that the army occupied this 1500-acre site for 148 years. Otherwise, it would have become another San Francisco neighborhood completely covered with housing. And although the Army built more than 700 buildings, they built them in clusters keeping much of the acreage in its natural state.
Unlike most National Parks, there’s no entry fee. The park is free because it’s financially self-sufficient. The Presidio is operated by a Trust that manages the rehabilitation of the old Army buildings and then leases them as private businesses and residences. The Trust recycles the income back into the park to preserve its natural spaces and rehab more buildings. The Walt Disney Family Museum now occupies a former barracks building, and Lucas Films was built on the site of the old Letterman Hospital complex.
Just 3 years after seizing the garrison from Mexico, gold was discovered in California — the rush was on. People from around the country and around the world began streaming through the Golden Gate to get to the gold fields. The U.S. Army began building Fort Point to protect the entrance to San Francisco Bay.
The Army constructed the granite and brick fort between 1853 and 1861, just in time for the start of the Civil War. The point of land chosen for the fort was strategically perfect but elevation-wise, was way too high. The Army blasted the 90-foot (27 m) high cliff away until it was merely 15-feet (4.6 m) above sea level. This allowed the fort to be closer to water level making it possible to place artillery where cannonballs could skip over the water striking enemy ships at their waterline.
Even in the 1920s, when the golden Gate Bridge was being designed and engineered, Fort Point was considered so historically significant that rather than demolish it to accommodate the bridge’s southern footing, a special span was created so the bridge would arch over Fort Point.
Warming Hut Park Store and Café
The Warming Hut occupies a renovated former Army storehouse that was built in 1909. The Hut provides much-appreciated sandwiches, salads, soup, bakery items, hot and cold drinks, and, thankfully, restrooms. It also has a selection of gifts, gear, and locally made souvenirs. It’s near the west end of the Promenade by Torpedo Wharf.
In the photo below, notice that the sign calls the trail “Crissy Field Promenade” instead of “Golden Gate Promenade.” It’s the same trail. Both names are used, but “Golden Gate Promenade” is used more often on signage and maps.
NOAA Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center
The Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary is responsible for protecting 3,295 miles off the California Coast. It’s tasks include research, conservation, education, and protection of sanctuary waters. The Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary is part of the National Ocean Service (NOS), which is a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The visitor center offers educational resources about wildlife and conservation. The picturesque building it occupies is a historic former Coast Guard station.
In 1915, the Panama–Pacific International Exposition was held in San Francisco, and many of the structures built for the Expo were built on the dunes along the waterfront. It was a World’s Fair, which celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and symbolized San Francisco’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake. In World Wars I and II, the waterfront became the airfield for the Presidio Army base and was named Crissy Field. When the army left, it was a dilapidated, asphalt-covered mess.
It took nearly 20-years, $35 million, (mostly from private donations), and thousands of volunteers to transform Crissy Field from an abandoned airfield to a pristine wetland. It was the largest community project ever undertaken in San Francisco, but it was certainly worth the effort. Now Crissy Field has a tidal marsh, a grassy meadow, sand dunes, a beach, and picnic areas.
Crissy Field Marsh
Crissy Field was once a wetland and part of the Pacific Flyway for migrating birds. The restoration included adding a tidal lagoon to restore part of the marsh.
East Beach at Crissy Field
East Beach is the most popular Crissy Field Beach and is a favorite spot for children and dogs to play.
Crissy Field Center
Crissy Field Center has classes and programs for youth to “encourage new generations to become bold leaders for thriving parks, healthy communities, and a more environmentally just society.”
Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is not part of Presidio National Park. I’ve included it because you’re likely to walk past it or through it if you take the #30 bus to Broderick and Beach to get to the Promenade’s east end.
The Palace of Fine Arts was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition — A World’s Fair, which celebrated both the completion of the Panama Canal and San Francisco’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake. The faux Roman ruin is a very popular photo op, especially for wedding photos.
Golden Gate Promenade Planning Information
Presidio Trails Map and PresidiGo Schedule and Routes
The National Park Service provides two really useful maps on their Presidio website, and you can view and/or download both as PDFs. One is the Presidio Trails Map; the other is the PresidiGo Route Map and Schedule. The Presidio.gov website conveniently has both documents combined into one 2-page PDF. It’s the website I prefer because I can view both documents on the same browser page on my iPhone (see photo above). Collectively, the two documents provide these details:
- Presidio National Park Map, including trails
- PresidiGo route map, stops, and schedules
- Locations of interest, including the Golden Gate Bridge and Welcome Center, historic Fort Point, Crissy Field, and the Warming Hut. (The Palace of Fine Arts is on the map too, although it’s not part of Presidio National Park.)
Getting to the Golden Gate Promenade
My visits to the Promenade are usually one-way treks, so I prefer taking public transit, but you can also drive and park:
Crissy Field Parking Options
Here are four options for parking at or near the Golden Gate Promenade:
- Near Crissy Field Center and East Beach. It’s a free, large lot (about 300 spaces). The entrance is on Mason Street.
- Warming Hut/West Bluff parking is free on weekdays; fee on weekends
- Fort Point where there is a small, free lot
- Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center lot is metered, and often full.
Crissy Field Public Transit Options
There are several ways to get to Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Promenade using public transit. This Reflections Enroute post San Francisco Excursions Using Public Transit provides the following details and options:
- Fares and ways to pay
- Apps and maps
- Getting to the Golden Gate Bridge provides two options to get to the Welcome Center at the Bridge: one using the free PresidiGo Shuttles and one using Muni buses. From the Welcome Center, follow the trail downhill to Fort Point and then to the Warming Hut. The PresidiGo shuttle has two advantages: 1) it’s free, and 2) it makes several stops after the Welcome Center, including four stops on Mason Street where you can walk directly into Crissy Field and onto the Golden Gate Promenade. You can exit Crissy Field this way too. The PresidiGo map shows where the stops are located along Mason Street.
- Getting to the Palace of Fine Arts, Crissy Field, and the Golden Gate Promenade provides a Muni bus option that will get you to the Palace of Fine Arts and near the east end of the Golden Gate Promenade. From the Palace, follow Baker Street toward the Bay. Continue through Little Marina Green and turn left on the Promenade.
Crissy Field Weather — Be Prepared
One of the big attractions to the San Francisco Bay area is the weather. In the summer, when it’s 100+ degrees inland, it can easily be 30-40 degrees cooler in San Francisco. Even warm, sunny days in the city can get really chilly, really fast if/when the fog rolls in. Bring extra layers. Don’t forget to bring along your day trip essentials bag!
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