Crissy Field Loop
Crissy Field was named after Major Dana H. Crissy, who was killed in October 1919 while participating in a U.S. Army transcontinental demonstration flight. He took off from the Presidio airfield that now bears his name with the goal of landing in New York, but died on the first day out while trying to land his plane near Salt Lake City, Utah. The army honored him by giving its airfield his name.
Crissy Field remained a military air field until 1936. It was subsequently used for a variety of other military purposes and in the years after WWII it was almost entirely paved over. It’s hard to believe, looking at this beautiful park and lagoon today, that twenty years ago Crissy Field was little more than a dismal parking lot, bordered by cyclone fencing. There was a helipad near the west end that was used by medical and Coast Guard helicopters. The restoration of this area to multi-use public green space has been one of the Park Service and Presidio Trust’s most dramatic achievements.
On this walk we will visit Fort Point and then walk along the shore to the eastern end of Crissy field. From there we will visit the Wave Organ and the newly renovated Palace of Fine Arts, then return to our starting point. If you're on a bicycle you can combine this walk with the Fort Mason walk. Bikes are available for rent in front of Fort Mason and at the Sports Basement. To get oriented, locate your starting point on this map.
Take the Muni 28 line from downtown. Get off at Richardson Blvd and transfer to the PresidiGo’s Chrissy Field Route. PresidiGo offers an express service on weekdays from points downtown. From the Crissy Field stop walk straight ahead to the Warming Hut, our starting point.
Locate the intersection of Mason Street and Crissy Field Avenue. Turn onto Mason Street, then at the intersection turn left. At the roundabout turn right on Marine Drive, which is essentially just a parking lot for the Warming Hut.
There is limited parking in the area. At the end of Marine Drive, next to the Warming Hut and on the side of building 937 nearby there are some free spaces. From 9:00 to 5:00 there is a 3-hour limit. Along the route in and behind many of the buildings there is pay parking, for $1 per hour or $6 all day. The self-service machines take cash and credit cards.
A bike is an excellent way to see this area. The nearest bike rental is at the Sports Basement on Mason and you can park free in their lot while you rent!
Distance: 5 miles round trip.
Note: If you time your visit for Friday through Sunday before 4:00 pm, you can see both Fort Point and the Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association's Visitor's Center.
Our walk begins at the Warming Hut at the end of Marine Drive. Here you can get salads, sandwiches and drinks, including espresso drinks. Hot dog vendor Let's be Frank sets up a cart on weekends and holidays from 11:00 am to dusk, offering sausage sandwiches. Marine Drive is closed to vehicular through-traffic at this point. Walk past the Warming Hut, west along the water and you will see Fort Point ahead of you. Fort Point was completed just before the American Civil War to defend San Francisco Bay against hostile warships. It is the only fort of this era on the west coast. During construction of the Golden Gate Bridge there were proposals to tear the fort down, but it was saved when Joseph Strauss designed a graceful arch to go over it, allowing the Bridge to be safely constructed without demolishing the fort. Today it is a National Historic site and is open free of charge to the public, Friday through Sunday from 10:00 to 5:00. From its roof there are fantastic views of the underside of the bridge, as well as good views looking back at the San Francisco skyline and out to the Pacific Ocean. Don’t miss them.
When you have finished viewing the fort return to the Warming Hut. Take a moment to walk out onto Torpedo Wharf, a long fishing pier jutting into the Bay. Besides watching the fishermen, this is a great spot for a picture. From there you can walk on the beach, but our route will take us along the San Francisco Bay Trail. Crissy field will be on your right. You’ll notice several large sculptures by Mark Di Suvero, sponsored by SFMOMA as part of the museum’s community outreach during its 2013-14 construction closure. They’ll remain here until May 26, 2014.
On your left notice several buildings, and behind one of them a pier. At one time this complex was a station of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, a precursor to the Coast Guard. Today one restored building houses the Ocean Climate Center operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as part of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Next door is the office and visitor center of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association, offering hands-on educational exhibits about local marine life. The visitor center is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm and is free of charge. On the pier behind the visitor center (closed to the public) is the oldest tidal gauge in the western hemisphere, opened in 1854. According to the gauge, the ocean at this point has risen 8 inches in the last 100 years.
Continue walking; you will shortly come upon a pair of well-placed benches where you can sit and enjoy the view. When you are ready, continue on the path, now named the Golden Gate Promenade. As you follow the Promenade (by the rest rooms), you will reach a stretch of beach popular with wind surfers and kite boarders. Dog walkers also use this stretch of the beach to provide a wonderful experience for their charges. At the end of East Beach is the Crissy Field Center, an urban environmental education complex with classrooms, labs and a gathering space for students and school groups. They also offer summer camps. In the building you’ll find the Beach Hut Café, offering a selection of light fare and drinks, the proceeds of which help support the center. Crissy Field Center is one of the greenest buildings in the National Park System, featuring solar panels on the roof, five state-of-the-art wind turbines for power and four electric car charging stations in the nearby parking lot . You can see the power being produced from the Frog Dashboard web site. On a nice day the Adirondack chairs in front of the café can’t be beat. The vibe here is a bit quieter than the Warming Hut.
Continue on to the Wave Organ, an acoustic sculpture, erected by the Exploratorium. It’s located on the tip of the spit of land that defines the harbor. Walk east along the beach. The only place you cannot walk along the shore is behind the St Francis Yacht Club. Walk through their parking lot in front of the club. They’ve provided a small paved path. The club is private, but they extend member benefits to other yacht clubs. Their dining room (open Wednesday through Sunday) has fantastic views of the bridge. At the end of the parking lot there is a stone tower that at one time you could climb. As you continue along the shore you will come to the Golden Gate Yacht Club on your right, the current home of the America’s Cup. The races will be held in San Francisco in 2013. For the races the harbor has been recently renovated. At the end of the point you will see the wave organ on your right. On both sides of the spit there are small beaches. When you have finished, retrace your steps. if you need a pickup stop at Dynamo Doughnuts; they have a kiosk at the end of the harbor open from 8:00 to 4:00 Tuesday through Saturday and 9:00 to 4:00 on Sundays.
When you’re ready to move on, go out to the intersection of Baker Street and Marina Boulevard and cross Marina Boulevard to the Palace of Fine Arts. This is the only building left from the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco. The Palace underwent extensive restoration in 2010 to the lovely parks and gardens. Swans love to swim in the lagoon. The building houses the Palace of Fine Arts Theater. The Exploratorium used to be here, but it recently moved to new quarters on Pier 15 downtown. The San Francisco Park Service is responsible for the Palace and is working with residents of the Marina District to find a suitable tenant for the building.
Walk back towards the Warming Hut on the Golden Gate Promenade. On your left is a gate that takes you through the Lagoon. Dogs are not allowed. Cross through and come out on the sidewalk running along Mason Street. Walking along you’ll come to the Sports Basement housed in the old PX, or commissary. SB is a great place to find deals on sporting equipment and they give a 10% discount to AAA members. Even if you don’t need anything stop in and look for the old PX grocery signs, which - for the time being - still adorn the walls. However, changes are happening here. The Park Service has accepted three bids for a museum in this location and they plan to make a decision in late 2013 or 2014. The three finalists are The Bridge/Sustainability Institute; The Lucas Cultural Arts Museum; and the Presidio Exchange. Sports Basement is working with the Presidio Trust to relocate their store in a nearby building. Visit the SB website for details.
Further on you will see Building 640, undergoing renovation and expected to open in the fall of 2013. This building housed the first class of the Military Intelligence Service Language School. Starting in November 1941 American soldiers of Japanese decent were trained as military linguists. The National Japanese Historical Society is renovating it as a museum.
When you get to the intersection of Mason and Mason, notice the small building at the intersection of Mason and Crissy Field streets. When the Presidio was an army base the paratroopers were located in this building. There was once a sign in front that said "Try Jumping Without Us." From this building walk to your left, up McDowell a bit. Notice the Pet Cemetery. It's closed now because of the Presidio Parkway construction. Military families buried their family pets here and the inscriptions are very touching. Return to Mason Street.
As Mason Street hooks left you see a series of buildings offering options for further exercise. The second one is Planet Granite, a climbing gym, fitness center and yoga studio. Next is the House of Air Trampoline Park, where you will also find a café called The House of Snacks offering Blue Bottle Coffee. After that is Roaring Mouse Bicycles. They sell and service bikes, but no rentals are available. Behind is the Petite Baleen Swim School offering lessons for all ages in their Crissy Field pool. This finishes the walk.
From Fort Point there is a half mile trail that connects with the Walking Across the Bridge walk at the Bridge Plaza.
From the Beach Hut Café you can connect to the Fort Mason to Aquatic Park walk. Start at the west end of the Marina Green, a San Francisco public park located between the Presidio and Fort Mason. On a weekend you’ll see scores of people playing various games and flying kites. During the week the green is used by schools for soccer practice. Continue walking around the small craft harbor. You will see one of the stations of the fitness court that starts at the east entrance to the Marina Green parking lot. Just before you reach Marina Blvd there is a handicapped ramp down to a small beach. Notice the houses across the street and the dome of the Palace of Fine Arts beyond. At Christmas most of these houses have elaborate decorations. Turn back into the park when the harbor ends. The Oceanic Society's whale watching boats leave from here May through November during the Farallones Islands season. You will pass the harbor’s office which has public rest rooms. Turn right and continue along the shore. You will pass a small statue dedicated to William C. Ralston , given by Major Edward Bowels in 1941. Notice the abandoned U.S. Navel Magnetic Silencing Range. SF Park and Rec. would like to turn this abandoned building into a small seafood restaurant serving beer and wine by the glass. Some Marina residents have objected, notice the signs in nearby windows. Just before you come to this building there is a small obscure set of steps leading down to the water. Continue walking, the path will turn to the right. This is the second harbor in this area, known as the east harbor. Turn left at the end of the harbor. Look across the parking lot here and you will see the start of the fitness court mentioned earlier. In 1979 Wells Fargo erected this as the first in a series of such Gamefields designed to promote nationwide fitness. This has been upgraded by the bright blue Fitness Court. SF Bay Whale Watching tours leave from the east side of the harbor. The sidewalk continues into Fort Mason.
In the Area
Check out the attractions in the Presidio.
To reach the Chestnut Street shopping district, walk up Fillmore Street and turn right on Chestnut. For the next several blocks you will find restaurants, shops and a couple of movie theaters. Fillmore is across from the Marina Green.
Four more blocks to the south and you will come to Union Street another favorite walking street and its octagonal Haas-Lilienthal House.
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