Why Fort Point Needs to Be Added to Your San Francisco Bucket List
Fort Point, a Civil War-era fortress straddled by the Golden Gate Bridge, rose in 1861 on the site of an abandoned Spanish fort beside the chokepoint of the Golden Gate Strait. Its mission: protect San Francisco from Confederate warships. The red brick fortress was formidable, bristling with 140 soldiers manning 65 cannons behind 7-foot-thick walls. All to no purpose; the Rebel raiders never came.
Fort Point made a dramatic sight (hence why it's so photogenic today), sitting in splendid isolation at the water’s edge just inside the Golden Gate for decades afterward. But by the early 20th century, Fort Point was antiquated. In the early 1930s, it faced demolition to make way for the new bridge. Enter Joseph Strauss, the influential chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge. Strauss admired Fort Point as a classic piece of military architecture. Rather than knock it down, Strauss tweaked his bridge design, planted a massive metal arch over Fort Point and preserved the venerable fortress intact for future generations. In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed legislation creating the Fort Point National Historic Site, laying the groundwork for today’s meticulously maintained fortress and popular museum. The entire site, managed by the National Park Service, is admission-free, and includes amenities such as parking, restrooms, a café and a gift shop.
Things to Do
Fort Point’s attractions are many and it fairly radiates history. Tours of interior courtyards, stairwells and rooms give a vivid sense of the no-frills Civil War soldier’s life. The tours can be guided or self-guided. They include walk-throughs of enlisted men’s barracks and officers’ quarters, the fort’s kitchen and powder magazine. There are rifles, uniforms, period photos and cannon on display. Occasionally, Park Rangers demonstrate how to load a cannon, short of actually firing it. There are also Ranger-led candlelight tours; these tours, too, are free but must be reserved in advance and are limited to 25 people.
Fort Point is beautiful, thanks both to its location just under the Golden Gate Bridge and its finely wrought masonry. Brick-clad stairs, walkways, brick-framed windows and even the outdoor parking sites provide stunning views of the bridge, the bay, Alcatraz and the San Francisco skyline. Instagram opportunities abound. From the fort’s breezy rooftop, one can gaze up at the intricate metal latticework of the bridge’s great arch close overhead, snap a selfie or just breathe the fresh salt air. Hours vary by season; best to check the website for operating schedule.
How to Get There
By car from San Francisco and points south, take Highway 101 north and exit right at the Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza before getting on bridge. Turn right at end of exit ramp and then left onto Lincoln Boulevard. Take the first left onto Long Avenue and follow onto Marine Drive. Fort Point is located at the end of Marine Drive. By public transit, San Francisco Muni 28 and PresidiGo buses stop at bridge toll plaza. Follow trail signs northeast of plaza area to Fort Point at base of bluffs.