Fort Point has guarded the Golden Gate since the Civil War. Today visitors come to Fort Point National Historic Site, managed by the National Park Service, for amazing Golden Gate Bridge views and to learn about Army architecture and history. Fort Point is a “must see” for military buffs and a great highlight to a day at Crissy Field.
Fort Point is open three days a week: Friday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is free. Many tours and events happen here, and they are listed on the sallyport program board at the entrance. Depending on the day and time of year, visitors may encounter Civil War re-enactors, a candlelight tour, or even a pier crabbing demonstration. Videos on Fort Point history and Golden Gate Bridge construction are shown in the theater. Rooms in the fort house exhibits on Buffalo Soldiers, women at war, and more.
Things to See, Do, and Learn
- Pick up a self-guided tour booklet and create your own experience
- Attend a demonstration to see how soldiers loaded and fired a Napoleon 12-pound cannon during the Civil War
- Hear the powerful waves of the Pacific crash again against the retaining wall
- Be awed by the amazing views to be had standing beneath the Golden Gate Bridge
Did You Know?
Parts of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 thriller Vertigo were filmed at Fort Point. It is here that Kim Novak’s character attempts to jump into San Francisco Bay.
Fort Point through Time
After the United States acquired California from Mexico in 1848, defending the west coast became a military priority. The rush to the gold fields was underway and San Francisco harbor was vital to the economy of the growing region. To protect these assets from foreign powers, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed Fort Point between 1853 and 1861 at the entrance to the bay. Given the location and sometimes severe weather, it was a complex and labor-intensive process.
Though part of a network of fortifications around the bay, brick and mortar Fort Point was unique in its construction. It was the only fort west of the Mississippi River built in the powerful “Third System” style of military architecture, like notable eastern forts at Sumter, Pulaski, Monroe, and Jackson. It has been called the “pride of the Pacific” and “one of the most perfect models of masonry in America.”
Though its cannons stood at the ready, Fort Point never had to fire a shot in defense during the Civil War.
As time went on, the defensive technology at Fort Point was surpassed. The Army’s next move was to build concrete gun batteries protected by sloped earthwork right into the Presidio’s coastal bluffs. Battery Marcus Miller, constructed in 1891, was the first of seventeen to be built at the Presidio, and Fort Winfield Scott was later established in the western Presidio as the coast artillery post.
Never again continuously occupied, Fort Point was intermittently used for barracks, unmarried officer housing, military trade schools, and storage.
While the dream of the Golden Gate Bridge was coming alive, Fort Point’s future was looking bleak: the bridge’s construction plans called for the demolition of the fort. Fortunately, Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss appreciated the history and architecture of Fort Point and redesigned the bridge to arch over it.
Support for the preservation of Fort Point rose and fell through the decades, and in 1959, a group of retired military officers and civilian engineers created the Fort Point Museum Association and lobbied for its creation as a National Historic Site. On October 16, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the bill creating Fort Point National Historic Site.