I don’t think your children will be able to break Fort Point. Nor will they be able to make enough noise to end up being forcibly removed. The entire fort was specifically designed to withstand persistent cannon-fire. And as parents of toddlers, I think we can all agree persistent cannon-fire is THE measure of whether something is child-proof. I’m not saying your kiddos CAN’T break the place…it’s just MUCH less likely. Fort Point’s impressive resiliency is enough to get us in the car to pay a visit but, once there, you’ll find so much more.
Built to prevent an attack on the resource rich San Francisco Bay and later to deter confederate attack on San Francisco during the Civil War, the Fort Point guards the Golden Gate Straight. The “choke point” separating the Pacific Ocean from the San Francisco Bay and her promises of fortunes-in-gold. Along with ships-of-the-line and soldiers manning the fort’s walls, the Golden Gate Straight is also patrolled by playful Sea Lions and dive-bombing Cormorants.
Set neatly on an outcropping of solid rock Fort Point, once a house made for war, is now a National Historic Site and playground. A monument to peace, having never been required to fire a shot in anger.
Address – Fort Point National Historic Site Building 999, Marine Drive San Francisco, CA 94129
Phone – (415) 556-1693. The Fort Point Bookstore can be reached at (415) 673-5642. If you can’t get ahold of anyone, leave a message. Like Muir Woods National Monument, Fort Point does not stand up a “phone watch.” Assigned rangers may be working elsewhere. They’ll get back to you when they can.
Hours – Days of operation change with the seasons. When the fort is open, it’s from 10:00a.m. to 5:00p.m. It’s best to visit their official website before your adventure. During the summer months (May – October) the fort closes on Wednesdays. During spring, fall, and winter, you can expect the fort to be open on weekends. Of note, they do close on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Suggested Stay: A few hours. We suggest arriving at 10:00am and staying until your kids are hungry or arriving a bit later in the afternoon and staying until close. If you’re there in the winter, you might glimpse a golden gate sunset! Anyway you decide, it’s a good idea to couple this with other sites in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. There are many, each as interesting as the last.
Getting There: You can park next to the fort but, we wouldn’t recommend it. If you are worried about mobility, simply input Fort Point 997 Marine Drive San Francisco, CA into Waze and you’ll arrive curbside. If you and your team can handle a bit of a walk, park at Battery East 956 Lincoln Blvd. San Francisco, CA and walk the very clearly marked Battery East trail to the waterfront. If you’re heading downhill and toward the bay, you can’t go wrong. Parking at Battery East will give you a nice family picture and a quiet parking area rather than slogging out the hustle-bustle closer to the water.
Our happening upon this parking lot came from a couple of wrong turns and an overly passionate desire to have a “Golden Tailgate Picnic.” Worked out!
While You’re There:
- Battery East Trail – The Battery East Trail sets you up with a dozen incredible picture opportunities and is shaded most of the way. From the Battery East parking lot, it’s one switchback and a set of stairs to the bottom. The trail ends with you and your family stepping into sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and to your relief…a clean, functioning restroom facility. Along the way, you’ll see the very best of hipster/punk fashion, cyclists in overly technical apparel, and tourists taking pictures with their iPads. A quarter mile to your left will stand Fort Point. You can’t miss it.
- Breezeway and Sutler’s Store – No proper visitor center but, we recommend spending some time in the breezeway and Sutler’s Store which together serve the purpose. Sutler’s was closed for a ranger meeting during our visit but inside you’ll normally find rangers competent to answer questions about the fort’s history, site specific merchandise, and a booth to get your National Parks Passport stamped. Additionally, you’ll find information on cannon loading demonstrations.
- The Fort – Fort Point is a maze of history. The whole scene is absolutely American and completely kid-friendly.Save a couple steep staircases, it’s a low-stress environment.
Our kids were particularly enthralled with the soldiers’ living quarters.
Even more captivating were the many cannons throughout the fort.
The kids would’ve stayed all day had we let them.
- Pictures, Pictures, Pictures – The Park Service has caught on that Fort Point is indeed a photographer’s dream. They’ve implemented policy to require a permit if your photographic exploits will interrupt the views or leisurely walking pace of your fellow visitors. If you have a family photo session in mind, call ahead for a permit. Not hard to get…just takes a bit of explanation and planning. Otherwise, click away! Iconic architecture and sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Straight, guarantee you won’t be the only one with a camera.
Ounces = Pounds:
We did well taking only our babes, our Manta 25 Osprey pack, and a couple snacks. We knew we’d only be there for a few hours and would never be more than a mile from the car. Might have planned differently if we were there longer but, you’re not exactly trekking through the wilderness here. There are plenty of places to eat if you don’t feel like carrying anything.
- Sea lions and cormorants along the walk to Fort Point.
- The fort really captivated the kids. Everything was hands-on. Not once did we utter, “Don’t touch that.”
- Climbing to the fort’s roof provides a great vantage point for pictures of Golden Gate Bridge and the bay.
- It was windy. Not a huge deal, but worth mentioning if you have little ones who haven’t mastered catching their breath after a big gust.
- The walk along the water to the fort goes…well…along the water. There’s a low stone wall but nevertheless nerve-racking when the kids tried to get a closer look at passing sea lions. Not much space for walking between the wall and the road. It’s wise to talk about expectations before heading toward the fort. We made our little ones hold the hand of a grown up or big kid at all times. Picking between falling into the icy water or meandering around moving cars as their drivers admired the Golden Gate Bridge was not a welcome set of options.
- Pack light! You won’t ever be too far from your car. There’s a huge grassy area called Crissy Field which is ideally suited to picnicking. We opted for our “Golden Tailgate”…but in hindsight, think Crissy Field would have been worth the half-mile walk. If your visit to Fort Point is a part of a larger road trip, Crissy Field is the perfect place to have your kiddos run the crazies out before hitting the road.
Let’s be Real:
This is a no-brainer. A MUST STOP and SEE. If nothing else, you’ll have amazing pictures for this holiday season’s cards.
Little Martha as performed by Jerry Douglas
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