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Crissy Field - Presidio National Park

We can't think of any better place to visit in San Francisco than the Crissy Field area of the Presidio. Bicyclists, joggers, and walkers love this flat place -- and rollerbladers do too! The views of the Golden Gate Bridge are incredible.

With sprawling picnic-ready fields, stunning vistas of Golden Gate Bridge, and seamless biking and jogging paths, Crissy Field is a dream destination for San Francisco visitors and locals, alike. Very few other places in the city offer such abundant wildlife and gorgeous glimpses into San Francisco’s past. But Crissy Field wasn’t always this pristine—First used as an airfield and later a military base, the area was decommissioned in the early 90s and left as “a jumble of asphalt and forsaken Army buildings” .
Now, Crissy Field is the gorgeous crown atop the Presidio—a premiere San Francisco neighborhood. No trip to the Bay Area would be complete without a stop by this fun area.
            Crissy Field is a community hub of environmentalism, providing ample space to appreciate local flora and fauna. This map is a great resource for newcomers. Pack a perfect picnic lunch to eat on the shore—just make sure to bring both a light jacket and a kite, as it tends to be quite windy. Still hungry? Head to the Crissy Field Warming Hut Bookstore and Café where you can sip fair trade coffee and organic treats, while browsing the selection of eco-friendly books and gifts. Another solid dining option is the Beach Hut Café, located at East Beach, where you can warm up with Winter Chicken Curry, eat a light Honey Ham & Swiss Baguette, or enjoy Sport Recovery smoothies. The Presidio Social Club is also a favorite among locals—nosh on everything from fresh local seafood to American classics like mac-n-cheese and hamburgers.

            Next up, take a stroll around the park—a 3.3-mile self-guided walk that takes participants through restored coastline and vista points with unobstructed views of the Golden Gate Bridge (perfect photo op!). Four-legged friends will love diving into the sand dunes and tumbling in the grass. For more information on what to expect on your walk, the Farallones Visitor Center on Marine Drive can provide details about the native plants and even features kid-friendly science programs, films, and even summer camp. Nearby Baker Beach is also a great place to explore—On this mile-long sandy stretch, you can see Serpentine (California’s state rock), ships sailing in the distance, and an influx of wildlife (especially at low-tide, when birds are feeding).
The Presidio is also home to quite a few unique museums and theaters. Spend an afternoon at the Exploratorium, where the whole family will love the interactive exhibits on the human body, astronomy, earth, and culture. Kids will also love checking out the Walt Disney Family Museum on Montgomery Street, where visitors can experience the rise of Disney first hand and even check out some of Disney’s first drawings. The San Francisco Film Society also calls the Presidio “home,” and will surely intrigue you with more than 300 indie film screenings annually. The Palace of Fine Arts Theater also hosts a variety of events, with something for everyone, each week.   As always, check each theater’s website to discover the latest events. 
Looking for more action? Bounce over to House of Air, a trampoline park in an old hangar. Be sure to make reservations in advance so you can fully enjoy aerial training and trampoline dodgeball. For a classic weeknight activity, challenge the family to a bowling game at Presidio Bowling Center where you can even try glow-in-the-dark bowling!
            Whether you’re excited for environmentalism, hungry for history, or just curious about culture, Crissy Field is a must-visit hotspot for San Francisco visitors. The incredible views combined with plenty to explore will make memories worth reflecting on. 

History:

The area has transitioned from marsh and dunes to racetrack, to airfield and back again to march & dunes. Indians, Spanish, Mexican, and Americans have used the Crissy Field / Presidio area for thousands of years. The Presidio was under Mexican control in 1821 until the Mexican-American war when the area transitioned to the United States. Crissy Field has always been a landing area -- for boats, and then for airplanes. In almost every major U.S. war, the Presdio's Crissy Field was involved in some way.

During Indian times, Crissy Field was a camp where 9 species of shellfish, 31 species of fish, 25 species of birds, and 20 species of animals could be found. The park housed sea otters, bears, seals, and elk. The California Poppy and other plants were cultivated for medicinal uses.

In 1915, San Francisco celebrated its recovery from the 1906 earthquake by hosting the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The Expo included a Grand Prix raceway. In the 1920's, the army used the field for aviation including the first dawn-to-dusk transcontinental flight in 1924. As the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed, the high winds began to make the runway into a yard for the army personnel to enjoy.

Crissy Field has incredible shoreline access and views of the San Francisco Bay. The Golden Gate Promenade is a perfectly flat asphalt surface for bicycles, wheelchairs, strollers, and rollerblading. No surprise that it is extremely popular. The East beach includes picnic areas and great views of sailboarding and sailboats. The tidal marsh is a gathering place for many beautiful birds including herons, egrets, grebes, willets, gulls, and killdeer. Near the marsh, the sand dunes include many natural plants and are a favorite place for sunbathers. You can even fish and crab at Torpedo Wharf without even obtaining a fishing license.

Crissy Field is anchored by Marina Green on the east side, and Fort Point on the West. The park is home to a multitude of uses and has many public amenities. The Presidio is an island of green within San Francisco's urban jungle. The park was originally an army base to protect the country. Today, the park instead protects many endangered species.

The restoration of Crissy Field to its original condition was a huge project for the park service. Our editors participated in some of the early stages of this recreation. Parking in the Crissy Field is far easier than almost any other part of San Francisco. Public transit is encouraged, however the huge space of the park makes it an easier place for cars than many urban sections of San Francisco.

Originally, Crissy Field was a 130 acre marsh with coastal dunes. Almost one-third of San Francisco was covered by coastal dunes similar to the recreated ones at Crissy Field. The Mediterranean style climate of mild, wet winters and dry summers supported native grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs. However, in the late 1800's, the army paved over the marsh as it was considered a wasteland. The transformation of the area into a city devastated the natural habitats. Over forty species have been replanted in San Francisco that grow in distinct bands parallel to the shoreline. Around 11 million birds of 100 species migrate along the Pacific Coast -- 75% of them stay in the region's tidal marshes. Once the Crissy Field wetland is restored, it will be a key refuge for these birds as they migrate.

Crissy Field Center - Highlights

Crissy Field Center is located in a historic building near the marsh and is a wonderful new addition to the park area. The building was a commissary in the 1930's, but now serves as a community environmental center. There are many environmental programs and classes for children and adults alike. These include workshops, family adventures, cultural events, and educational programs. The center features ecology, art, media labs, a library, a cafe, and a store with maps and information on the area. We highly recommend that you spend a few minutes visiting Crissy Field Center during your visit to the park.

Enjoy great books and a brief snack at the Presidio's Warming Hut...

Crissy Field Ecology

Many people have worked to reestablish the wetland at Crissy Field. There goal is to restore the bayfront's diversity and work to restore the ecological system that feeds and breeds birds, fish, animals, and waterfowl. San Francisco Bay once had 200,000 acres of perimeter wetlands, but 90% of them were lost in the 1960's. Receding tides uncover the mudflats twice per day, where shorebirds eat from what is found in the mud. The different bird species prefer different foods, so they rarely compete for food.

Alice Waters' Warming Hut is a busy cafe, but the same food is available at Crissy Field Center...

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Baker Beach Information:

Baker Beach is one of the most popular beaches in San Francisco. Unlike windy Ocean Beach, Baker Beach is more protected. The beach is best known for its small nude sunbathing area at the far end. However, nudists tend to stay in their own private area for the most part.

The beach's view of the Golden Gate Bridge, and smooth sand makes it a favorite place for San Francisco locals to visit. Make it a part of your tour of the Presidio and you won't be disappointed!

The views across the Bay to the Marin Headlands are incredible from sunny Baker Beach. The many native plants and grasses also make this an interesting place to birdwatch. If you love beaches, check out Baker Beach in San Francisco. Remember however, that this isn't Hawaii. Outside of the main summer months and the fall "Indian Summer", you should always plan on bringing a few extra layers of clothes.

For the true park lover, we've created a detailed itinerary to enjoy a full week of the San Francisco and Bay Area parks.

 

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