As if San Francisco doesn’t already have enough to trumpet, especially when it comes to views, a new national park destination opening on July 17 promises the most amazing views of all.
The Presidio Tunnel Tops, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is a brand-new outdoor space in the historic Presidio neighborhood, created by the designers of New York’s High Line. “It’s the same idea of creating green space over derelict infrastructure,” Presidio Trust’s Lisa Petrie says. Built over two freeway tunnels leading to the bridge, the 14-acre outdoor space looks out on the Golden Gate Bridge seemingly so close you can reach out and touch it. The panorama of San Francisco Bay, dotted with Angel Island and Alcatraz, unfurls before you, and to the southeast, the views of the city skyline, framed by the neoclassical Palace of Fine Arts, are just as breathtaking.
All that said, it’s not just about pretty views. The parkland’s aim is to bring the national park experience to urban dwellers. “It encompasses the democratic ideal that the park is for everyone,” Petrie says. “The goal is local. If you can’t go to one of the big national parks, you can get a little taste of national parks in the city with a ranger talk and a campfire chat.”
You enter Presidio Tunnel Tops past a visitor center housed in a restored guard center. From there, pathways lead to cypress- and Torrey-pine-shaded picnic tables and grills, grassy fields where you can spread out blankets or fly kites, gardens and meadows that include 180 varieties of plants native to the Presidio, a boulder-surrounded campfire circle, and a field station with hands-on exhibits. Several wheelchair-friendly and accessible trails include the cliff walk and bluff walk.
There are plans for ranger walks, campfire chats, and simply taking in the glorious views as part of the national park experience. A food hall has both dine-in and take-out options.
A 2-acre playground called the Outpost will have adults wishing they were kids again. Kids can swing, crawl, and climb on play structures fashioned from fallen trunks, boulders, and other natural materials. “It’s part of the natural playground movement,” Petrie says.
“The overall theme is connections,” she adds. It’s a chance to connect with nature, a place to connect with family and friends, but also a place to celebrate different cultures. “We will be providing space for Carnival and the Korean Chuseok Festival, for example.”
Tunnel Tops also physically connects the Presidio with Crissy Field on the San Francisco waterfront. “You’ll be able to walk from the Presidio down to the waterfront. You haven’t been able to do that since 1936,” Petrie says.
That’s when the busy, above-ground Doyle Drive was built on the approach to the newly built Golden Gate Bridge, bisecting the Presidio—the U.S. Army base dating from 1776. When Doyle Drive was considered seismically unsafe in 1993, sending a new road beneath the Presidio through tunnels, the Tunnel Tops idea was born.
Overseen by an all-women team, the project has come to fruition over the past 10 years thanks to a partnership between the Presidio Trust and National Park Service. It was made possible by generous funding from donors to the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy through a $98 million capital campaign.
Sunday, July 17, 2022, is opening day, kicking off a season of free family-friendly events and activities from July through October and a lifetime of national park experiences in San Francisco’s urban heart.
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