Fort Point San Francisco – National Historic Site



Few monuments evoke the image of a city as does San Francisco's iconic Golden Gate Bridge. But less well-known is the bridge's guardian that has been nestling at the narrows for over 150 years. Today, Fort Point is a must-see destination for military enthusiasts, and visitors searching for majestic views over the bay. Bit it's not just about the views. Fort Point also offers much to enjoy here for architectural and engineering fans as well as history buffs.

Fort Point's location is another compelling reason to visit. Located just below the Golden Gate Bridge's southern approach, Fort Point offers a striking vantage point to view the epic span of the bridge, particularly the arch designed by chief engineer Joseph Strauss to save the fort from being demolished during the bridge's construction.

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Fort Point – Tours & More

Fort Point

Today, Fort Point is frequently the setting for Civil War re-enactments. And, if you are a movie fan and love 1950s thrillers, Fort Point may seem eerily familiar. Alfred Hitchcock's used Fort Point as a location for his iconic 1958 classic movie Vertigo. The dramatic scene when Kim Novak's character jumps into the bay and is rescued by Jimmy Stewart was shot on location at 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. There are seasonal programs including candlelight tours and pier crabbing demonstrations.

Self-Guided Tour
Explore Fort Point at your own pace guided by a booklet available from the fort that outlines the Fort Point's history.

Fort Point History Tour
Learn about the soldiers' lives at Fort Point, the Fort's unique architecture, and discover the role it played in defending the Bay approaches. Tours typically last 30 minutes.

Fort Point Candlelight Tour
Available on Saturday evenings during November through to February. This atmospheric tour transports you to the tumultuous 1800s, experiencing first-hand the tall tales that once graced the halls of this guardian of the Golden Gate. Due to limited space, reservations are required for this tour. Reservations are limited to no more than six per group.

Cannon Loading Demonstrations
Learn the intricacies of Fort Point's canons. Afterwards, demonstrate your new-found expertise and become certified Fort Point cannoneer! Drills usually take about 30-minute

Pier Crabbing Demonstrations
On Saturday mornings join Fort Point's Rangers to learn about the mysteries of crabbing! Meet at the entrance of the Warming Hut to learn how to capture San Francisco's most elusive crustaceans during a hands-on program. Try your luck with nets and bring a bucket if you would like to keep any legal crabs you catch. 10 AM to noon, March through to October

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Gold Rush Security Fears

Fort Point

The idea of Fort Point was conceived during the height of the California Gold Rush in 1853 when concerns were raised about the security of the rich gold shipments leaving San Francisco. Army engineers established Fort Point at the entrance to San Francisco Bay to protect the strategic harbor from foreign attack. Subsequently, Fort Point was planned as the most formidable deterrence America could field to deter a naval attack on the Californian coast.

Built between 1853 and 1861 by the U.S. Army Engineers, Fort Point formed part of an interlocking defensive system of forts protecting San Francisco Bay's important commercial and military installations against intruders.

The massive brick and mortar building was constructed in the "Third System" architectural style, an impressive design featuring three tiers of arched brick casemates and seven-foot-thick walls, behind which were housed 126 cannons. Appreciated for its strength, durability, and beauty, Fort Point was called the "Pride of the Pacific" and "the Gibraltar of the West Coast," and was considered to be "one of the most perfect models of masonry in America." Fort Point was the only fort of its kind west of the Mississippi, illustrating just how strategically vital the military viewed San Francisco and the gold fields during the 1850s.

Fort Point in the 20th Century

Fort Point

Although equipped for a garrison of 500 infantry, Fort Point never fired a shot in anger. In the years after the Civil War, Fort Point became underutilized and was gradually stripped of much of its original defensive purpose and used as barracks, housing, and storage. The pre-Civil War cannons, so prized when they were originally installed, became obsolete and were eventually removed. During World War I, the Army remodeled Fort Point for use as a detention barracks, though the building was never used for that purpose.

During the 1920s, the property was used by The Presidio for housing unmarried officers and for various military trade schools. During World War II, Fort Point was once again used for military purposes. Soldiers stationed at Fort Point guarded the entrance of the Golden Gate against German submarine attack at a time when Japanese submarines sank some American shipping off the Californian coast. Eventually, the fort was abandoned by the military and fell into disrepair.

The Golden Gate Bridge & Preservation Plans

Fort Point

In the late 1930s, initial plans for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge also involved plans for the demolition of Fort Point. Fortunately, Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss recognized the architectural value of the Fort and created a special arch, which allowed the bridge construction to progress right over the top of Fort Point.

After World War II, the movement to preserve Fort Point for its historic and architectural value began to grow. Over the next 20 years, support for the preservation movement waxed and waned. 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. Finally, on October 16, 1970, Fort Point was declared a National Historic Site.

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Fort Point Resources

Fort Point National Historic Site is located in the Presidio, at the end of Marine Drive. Just head towards the bridge!

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