Crissy Field, once a wild coastal wetland, evolved over a century to meet the needs of the military. Today, through an extraordinary and ongoing restoration, it is the most visited area of the Presidio and a haven for wildlife, especially migrating birds taking a break along the Pacific Flyway. No visit to the Presidio is complete without a stroll along the northern shoreline, one of the most recognizable landscapes in America.
A Brief Look Back
In the Civil War, the cannons at Fort Point shielded the Golden Gate against foreign invaders. The Panama Pacific International Exhibition graced the waterfront in 1915, welcoming millions from across the globe. As the era of flight dawned with World War I, the Army built an active airfield with an impressive complex of hangars and support facilities. Named Crissy Field in honor of a daring Army pilot who died during a 1919 transcontinental race, the site became the center of west coast aviation, welcoming the first around-the-world flight in 1924. The Golden Gate Bridge spanned the bay in 1937, and Crissy Field evolved from an airfield to a busy industrial area.
In the years before the Army left, activity at Crissy Field waned and the area declined, though many San Franciscans remember it as a popular place to catch the Fourth of July fireworks.
Making a Great Public Recreational Space
Crissy Field was born as a great public recreational space in 2001 through a project led by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service, with the generous support of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. Asphalt gave way to a 20-acre tidal marsh, beaches, trails, and a 28-acre re-creation of the historic grass airfield.
Thousands of people supported the restoration with their donations and time. More than three thousand volunteers helped planted 100,000 plants over many months through the “Help Grow Crissy Field” program.
Over the last decade the Presidio Trust and its partners have taken on the revitalization of Crissy Field’s historic hangars and support buildings, most dating from the era of aviation. Today a variety of organizations have opened their doors as recreational and learning destinations. These include a children’s swim school, a rock climbing gym, a trampoline house, a bike shop, and a sports retailer. The University of San Francisco has also opened a satellite campus – USF at the Presidio – inside a former aircraft motor repair shop.
Return of the Birds
The restoration of the marsh and wetlands at Crissy Field has laid out the welcome mat for dozens of bird species, many of whom are enjoying a much needed feeding break as they travel along the Pacific Flyway. Grab the binoculars…nearly 100 bird species have been seen at the marsh and nearby beaches. These include the Great Egret, the Great Blue Heron, the Caspian Tern, and the Brown Pelican.
In the next few years additional improvements will come to Crissy Field, notably the completion of the Presidio Parkway, which replaces outdated Doyle Drive as the western connection to the Golden Gate Bridge. Crissy Field will be reconnected to the historic Main Post via a bluff featuring ten acres of new parkland just west of Halleck Street. The bluff will feature public places to gather with views of the bridge, the bay, and the Presidio’s forested ridges.
The National Japanese American Historical Society will rehabilitate an historic warehouse where Japanese Americans were trained in strategic and tactical operations as military linguists prior to World War II. The new facility will be called the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center.
Additionally, an 850-foot length of stream that currently runs through a culvert before discharging to Crissy Marsh will be “daylighted” and the surrounding area will be restored as wetland habitat. This area will be known as Quartermaster Reach.
See, Do, Learn, Explore
- Grab the binoculars and catch a glimpse of Western Gull at Crissy Marsh.
- Get a hot chocolate at the Warming Hut Cafe.
- Look with awe at an enormous cruise ship or cargo ship as it passes beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.