October 31, 2012 by Deborah W. Trotter
Looking for something to do in San Francisco? Want to step back into the 1800’s? Want to see the Golden Gate Bridge from underneath? Then you should make a visit to Fort Point.
I know this is a departure from my usual posts in that there is no hiking involved, and this is a totally urban experience. But Fort Point sits within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area which turned 40 years old last weekend on October 27, 2012; and Fort Point joined the National Park System as a Historic Site 42 years ago, also this month, so I decided to make it my focus this week.
When you look at how Fort Point is situated under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge, you might think it was a very strange place to build a fort. But the fort came first. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began to build Fort Point for defensive purposes in 1853 – three years after California became the 31st state – and finished it in 1861. The Golden Gate Bridge was begun and completed much later in the 1930’s. In fact, the plans for the Golden Gate Bridge called for removing the fort, but the project’s Chief Engineer, Joseph Strauss, redesigned the Bridge to save it, noting that the old fort “remains . . .a fine example of the mason’s art . . . It should be preserved and restored as a national monument.” It took a while, but on October 16, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon created Fort Point National Historic Site.The fort is a fabulously fun place for children. I mean, don’t kids love to build their own forts to play in? Well this is the real thing. Three stories to explore, with very few restrictions about where you can go, cannons, a lighthouse, and a top tier open to the fresh ocean air. You can look up at the bottom of the Golden Gate Bridge, out to the Pacific Ocean, or down at the Parade Ground and imagine the bustle of activity there when soldiers at Fort Point were ready for the Civil War that never really came to the West Coast.
We took our four kids to Fort Point in 1999, and they had a blast. It was a beautiful November day, and they enjoyed climbing up and down the stairs to visit the exhibits on various floors, playing a little bit of hide and seek, running around on the top of the Fort underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. A highlight of the visit was getting to take part in loading (but not firing!) an old cannon, after all of the steps were explained and demonstrated by a Park Ranger.This past summer when my husband and I were last in the vicinity of Fort Point, just a few hundred yards away at the Warming Hut near Crissy Field, the fort and the entire Golden Gate Bridge were invisible, hidden behind a thick curtain of fog. If you didn’t know they were there, you wouldn’t have believed it if anyone had told you. So make your visit on a clear day, if you can. It will be easier to see the big picture.