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Marine Drive, San Francisco, CA 94129
(415) 556-1693 (Information) (415) 673-5642 (Bookstore)
Free parking available on the site, although spaces are limited. See also our page on Golden Gate Bridge parking, which includes additional places to park for Fort Point. The National Park Service Website is here.
What’s that old building under the Golden Gate Bridge?
Hint — Here’s another question with the same answer: What is the major historical landmark that visitors to San Francisco are most likely to leave town without having seen?
The answer: Fort Point, which started life as a 1794 Spanish adobe fort and was then replaced with the Civil War era American fort that remains today. The old cannons may no longer be needed to defend San Francisco against wooden ships, but Fort Point is a fascinating “bonus level” to achieve on any visit to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Fort Point Hours, Fees and Parking
Access to Fort Point and all of its activities are free. Some National Park Service events at the Park require reservations so they can plan for the right number of visitors.
The Fort is open 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM Thursdays throufg Tuesdays, which is another way of saying it’s closed on Wednesdays and open the rest of the week. When the interior of the fort is closed you can still walk around the outside any time.
Dogs are allowed on leash outside the Fort, but are not allowed inside the historic building.
Insiders Tip: There is free parking at Fort Point, but the spaces can fill up. During the summer and on nice weekends try to get there early. If you’re up for a beautiful walk you can park at Crissy Field in San Francisco, where there is ample parking near the Bay. From there you can see the Golden Gate Bridge clearly and just walk towards it along the edge of the Bay, stopping at Fort Point en route.
How to Get Here
By Car: Take Mason St, past Crissy Field in the Presidio and drive towards the Golden Gate Bridge. Marine Drive joins Mason St. just before you reach Fort Point, and you’ll see the fort and parking lot.
By Public Transit: Muni buses serve the Golden Gate Bridge south parking lot, from which you can walk down the hill to Fort Point below.
Walking: If you are anywhere close to San Francisco Bay in the Presidio of San Francisco or in the Marina neighborhood just walk towards the Golden Gate Bridge. Fort Point is next to the water right below the southern (San Francisco) end of the Bridge.
What You’ll See
Insiders Tip: Walking up the stairs and in some of the corridors of the fort takes you through some narrow spaces. You don’t go that far, but if you’re sensitive to tight spaces you can see much of what’s cool from the central plaza of the fort, shown in a photo below. I’m normally OK with corridors but have problems in old, narrow circular stairways, and I’m OK with the steps at Fort Point. By way of contrast, at the Duomo in Florence, Italy, where the cathedral stairs go on and on and on, I was definitely not OK!
You’ll get to walk inside a Civil War era 19th century stone fort, the kind they needed back in the Pirates of the Caribbean days when wooden ships attacked coastal defenses with stone walls ten feet (3 meters) thick. You’ll see examples of the old cannons and other historical items (see photos below), and get to walk through the narrow hallways and look out the windows where the cannons once guarded the Golden Gate before the building of the Bridge.
Insiders Tip: They don’t date back to the Civil War, but sailboarders are drawn to the waters of San Francisco Bay off of Fort Point by the strong, relatively predictable winds. On some days they can put on quite a show and are fun to watch.
Fort Point In the Movies
Fort Point is the location for a major scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), where James Stewart rescues Kim Novak after she mysteriously leaps into the Bay here.
Fort Point Weather and What to Wear
Like the Golden Gate Bridge above it, Fort Point lies in a natural pathway between the Pacific Ocean and the interior Central Valley of California. That means it is usually windy and often foggy and cold. As with the Bridge, always bring layers and be ready for the cold and wind. Summer can be especially foggy and cold here, even if a few miles away everyone is boiling in hot weather.
Walking around inside the narrow stairways and alcoves of the Fort often feels cool and moist, even on a nice day (although the photo of a Park Ranger telling stories about the Fort below was during the summer so everyone was in shorts!), another reason to at least have a sweatshirt or sweater handy.
The bottom photo below shows a display of Civil War era cannons and paraphernalia.
Fort Point Videos, Tours and Events
When you arrive at Fort Point you can check at the book shop to see if docents or Park Rangers are doing tours that day. They’ll cover what it was like for the soldiers here, the design of the fort to defend the Bay and San Francisco, and about its history. The walkabout takes about a half hour.
They also show a video about the history of Fort Point (it’s about 15 minutes long) in the theater next to the bookstore. It alternates with a half hour video about the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, which was provided by the steel suppliers for the project.
Cannon Loading Demonstrations are held at some times of the year in the courtyard of the building underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, so check in the book shop to see if they’re being done the day you’re there. The Rangers and docents make it fun, and you can become a “certified Fort Point cannoneer”! This activity also takes about a half hour.
Spring through autumn they also have Pier Crabbing demos on Saturday mornings from 10:00 AM to 12:00 Noon. Reservations for these events fill up early each year as locals and visitors plan weeks or months in advance, and they start taking reservations for the following year each March 1. You can call (415) 556-1693 for reservations.
For November through February candlelight tours of the Fort (both very cool and very spooky) are held on Saturday evenings. They don’t recommend this for kids under age 10, and in our family we’d wait till they’re even older. Groups are limited to ten people and you can have only six people in your party. The same phone number as above works for reservations.