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Space is hard to come by in San Francisco. Prices are high. Land is scarce. You make do with what you’ve got. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. So when I heard the newest national park space was being built on top of a busy SF highway tunnel, the Presidio Parkway, I was skeptical.
A little ingenuity, though goes a long way. And this new park, the Presidio Tunnel Tops, utilizes creative solutions and the natural landscape to bring us something new and interesting to add to our SF bucket list, despite the unorthodox location.
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What Is The Presidio Tunnel Tops?
The Presidio Tunnel Tops park is envisaged as a combination of green space, nature sanctuary, children’s play structures, and community center. Kids of all ages can come and enjoy the two-acre play area constructed of fallen logs. boulder and other items found outside. Free family-friendly events will be held regularly at the picnic areas. Food trucks will provide refreshments and local cuisine. Community organizations will congregate at the campfire circle. Classes and events will be held on the lawns.
In total, the National Park Service added 14 new acres to the Presidio of San Francisco, a former military base in the north-east of the city. The national park site has 1.8 miles of walking paths and sits on the bluffs overlooking the San Francisco Bay with stunning views of Angel Island, Alcatraz Island, and Crissy Field. City views of downtown San Francisco can also be spied from the overlooks, providing first-time visitors to the Bay area with a 360-degree view of the area’s most iconic destinations.
How Did The Presidio Tunnel Tops Get Built?
Under the watchful eye of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, $98 million was raised in a capital campaign for the Presidio Tunnel Tops project. Often cited as being built “by the community, for the community,” the Presidio Tunnel Tops wouldn’t have been possible without the generous donations of many local community organizations.
Their mission, in a nutshell, was to create a green space where kids of all ages and backgrounds would have the opportunity to enjoy unforgettable national parks experiences, and I think it’s safe to say the Presidio Tunnel Tops achieves that goal.
Groundbreaking began in 1999, and construction lasted until July 17th, 2022 when the park was finally unveiled to the public. In the end, the total cost of the park was $118 million.
The national park was designed by James Corner Field Operations, the design firm (and geniuses) behind New York City’s popular High Line. As with their previous work, the designers have paired modern solutions with the natural landscape, blending elements of the Presidio into the construction process.
For example, over 180 pieces of the park are made out of reclaimed wood native to the Presidio. The seats that line the scenic overlooks are made out of reclaimed Presidio cypress tree trunks. Also, over 100,000 native plants have been planted in the park, which amounts to 50% of the total! Walk up the Presidio Steps that lead to the park, and you’ll find rows of native flora stretching as far as the eye can see.
What Are The Must-See Features Of The Presidio Tunnel Tops?
So now you’re pumped about the Presidio Tunnel Tops but aren’t sure what to do when you get there. Keep reading, and we’ll show you the top 7 must-not-miss things you’ll want to visit when you take your kids to the Presidio Tunnel Tops.
The Presidio Plaza
At the peak of the Presidio Tunnel Tops is the Presidio Plaza, the perfect jumping-off point for the start of the day’s adventures. Located near the Presidio Visitor Center and Presidio Transit Center, the plaza is a convenient place to gather and plan for the day’s adventures.
We enjoyed popping into the Presidio Visitor Center on first arriving at the park. Not only does it have really good info about the history of the Presidio, but it’s also a great place to grab a quick snack and drink before heading out.
If that weren’t cool enough, it’s also a visitor attraction in its own right! Kids will find a ton of exhibits about the history, flora, and fauna of the region in the back of the center just waiting to be explored. Our girls love coming here, exploring the different exhibits, and marveling at the enormous map of the San Francisco Presidio.
The Cliff Walk
Thirty feet above Crissy Field and the San Francisco Bay rises the Cliff Walk, the new best place to take a selfie in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. Three scenic overlooks offer unique views of some of San Francisco’s most iconic attractions. The Bay Overlook shows off Alcatraz Island; the Crossroads Overlook boasts lovely views of Angel Island; and the Veterans Overlook provides a front-row seat to amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the National Cemetery.
Benches, carved from Cypress trees native to the Presidio, line the walkways, providing a comfortable and unique place to rest, relax, and take in the stunning views.
Behind the Cliff Walk stretch the Presidio Tunnel Tops Meadows: three green spaces dedicated to fun and fitness. I can’t imagine a more perfect place for some sunrise yoga or afternoon rumba than high up atop a bluff, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Our girls loved kicking their shoes off and just running around on the soft grass, a rare experience for kids growing up in a big city.
The Picnic Areas
No park would be complete without a place to host a summer picnic party, and the Presidio Tunnel Tops is no exception. The picnic area features 16 to 23-foot tables quietly nestled beneath a grove of trees. Pop Up food vendors add a nice variety to the usual picnic fare, as well as reservable grills for those looking to start a feast.
Lights hanging around the trees ensure the fun doesn’t have to end as evening falls. Grab a sweater and some hot cacao, and enjoy the sight of Karl (San Francisco’s infamous fog) as it drifts by.
One of my favorite things about the Presidio Tunnel Tops is its diversity: Not only does it boast rolling meadows, phenomenal views, cozy picnic areas, and informative learning centers, but it also has an incredible playground for kids to enjoy! This is the Outpost, a two-acre outdoor play structure that promotes creativity, exploration, independence, and imagination with its unique layout.
Many of the playground’s structures are built from natural elements such as wood, rock, and water, increasing in difficulty from east to west, creating a fun, engaging challenge for kids to figure out. Needless to say, this was our girls’ favorite part of the Presidio Tunnel Tops: A place where they can get off their insulating screens for a while and have unforgettable adventures just being kids.
The Field Station
This is the kind of place I would have LOVED as a kid: a center entirely dedicated to helping kids learn about the natural world.
As soon as you walk in you’re confronted with the Cabinet of Curiosities, an area dedicated to sparking your kids’ imagination and curiosity with objects found all over the Presidio, such as wildflowers, pinecones, bones, and shells.
Further inside the new field station, you’ll find places for your kids to draw and record what they saw that day at the park. They even have a place on the wall where these can be hung, so you can see what other people have spotted out in the field. Microscopes are also available for kids who want an up-close view of their finds.
The staff are knowledgeable and more than happy to answer any questions your little ones might have. One guide was so generous with her time, she sat my daughters down and gave them an in-depth look at some of the wildflowers and insects she’d collected that day.
The Campfire Circle
The summer day has come and gone; the sun has set behind the horizon. But before you go, why not indulge in one more summer time activity? Nothing screams cozy summer evening like a crackling campfire, and that’s exactly why the Presidio Tunnel Tops decided to add one!
Stunning views & BBQs are just a couple of the things worth seeing this summer at the Presidio Tunnel Tops! The newest national park space in the US!
With seating for over 75 people, the Campfire Circle is the ideal place for small family and large community social gatherings. It’s a central place where people of all ages can congregate, relax, and recount everything they’ve seen and enjoyed while visiting the Presidio Tunnel Tops. In other words: Grab your s’mores gear and a nice, long stick, and get to chilling!
Getting To The Presidio Tunnel Tops From LA
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The best way to get to the Presidio Tunnels Tops from the city is by public transit. San Francisco has an excellent bus system (called the Muni) that can take you anywhere you need to go.
Driving to the Presidio Tunnel Tops is also an option. Thankfully, San Francisco is less of an automobile-centered city, meaning there’s less traffic to deal with. However, the streets are narrower than those in LA and apt to turn into a one-way without rhyme or reason. I highly recommend relying on Google or Apple maps to help you get to your destination.
Where To Stay In San Francisco
Quaint, family-run, historical, these are just a few of the words that describe the Marina Motel in San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood. Located two blocks away from the Presidio on world-famous Lombard St, this inn guarantees you’ll have access to all the city’s sights. From the Marina Motel’s front door, it’s only a 17-minute walk to the Presidio Tunnel Tops.
A few blocks away is the Travelodge by Wyndham Presidio, which is situated even closer to the Presidio Tunnel Tops. This excellent budget hotel is perfect for families looking to save a little during their trip to the Bay.
Nothing gets you closer to the Presidio though than by staying in it! And that’s exactly what you’ll do when you book a room at the Lodge at the Presidio. From the steps of this historic hotel, it’s less than a five minutes walk to the Presidio Visitors Center and Presidio Tunnel Tops. It’s unique location ensures you a front-row seat to any and all Presidio events that happen throughout the year.
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