Should you see a battalion of Union soldiers march by, don't worry – your eyes aren't playing tricks on you. You've probably stumbled upon a Civil War reenactment group in the midst of a living history demonstration, one of many events that happen at Fort Point National Historic Site, managed by the National Park Service. Fort Point is a "must see" destination for military enthusiasts, but there's much to enjoy here for fans of history, architecture, and phenomenal views.
At the height of the Gold Rush in 1853, Army engineers established Fort Point at the entrance to San Francisco Bay to protect the priceless harbor from foreign attack. The massive brick and mortar building was built in the "Third System" architectural style, an impressive design featuring three tiers of arched brick casemates for 126 cannons and seven-foot thick walls. Revered for its strength and beauty, Fort Point was called the "Pride of the Pacific" and was the only fort of its kind west of the Mississippi.
Although equipped for battle with 500 infantry men, a shot was never fired in anger from the fort. Over time, it was stripped of its original formidable purpose and used as barracks, housing for unmarried officers, and storage. Eventually, the fort was abandoned and fell into disrepair. A movement began for its preservation later began, and it became a National Historic Site in 1970.
Fort Point's location is another reason to visit. Set right below the Golden Gate Bridge's southern approach, it offers a striking vantage point of the bridge, most notably of the arch designed by chief engineer Joseph Strauss to save the fort from being demolished during the bridge's construction.
Speaking of close saves – if Fort Point strikes a familiar chord, perhaps you recognize it from Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. The dramatic scene when Kim Novak's character jumps into the bay and is rescued by Jimmy Stewart was shot here.
Visit Fort Point
Fort Point National Historic Site is free to the public. Hours vary, so check the National Park Service website. Self-guided tours are always possible and periodically guided ones are offered as well. The seasonal programs – particularly the candlelight tours and pier crabbing demonstrations – book fast.
Parking can be challenging. Alternately, park at Crissy Field near the Warming Hut. Even better, finish your walk along the Golden Gate Promenade with a visit here, or take the PresidiGo Shuttle to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center and stroll down the Bay Trail. Dogs are not allowed in the fort. It's likely to be breezy, so layers are a must.