A gaggle of pint-sized San Franciscans tested out the Presidio’s massive new playground on Friday, providing a first glimpse of the Presidio Tunnel Tops, a 14-acre wonderland that will immediately become a must-hang for city dwellers and tourists alike.
The eagerly-awaited park sits atop two of the new Presidio Parkway tunnels and unites Crissy Field with the Main Post for the first time since the 1930s. Its wide lawns, picnic areas and trails will give visitors sweeping bridge-to-downtown views when it officially opens to the public on July 17.
Designed by James Corner Field Operations, lead designers of New York’s High Line, the Tunnel Tops creates another next-level “urban nature” destination in the Presidio. The Presidio Trust, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Parks Service brought the project to life after three years of construction, $98 million in donations to the GGNPC and a $20 million gift from Presidio Trust.
Opening on the heels of Russian Hill’s Francisco Park and its Presidio neighbor, Battery Bluff, Tunnel Tops represents the pinnacle of a long line of impressive new parks to open recently around San Francisco—welcome news given the SF Standard Poll found parks and green space to be the No. 2 reason residents enjoy living in the city.
Though families from APA Chinatown, Edgewood Center for Children and Families and the Rafiki Coalition were the first to play there, Tunnel Tops will play a special role in lives of many San Franciscans to come.
Read on for a first look at the other features of the Tunnel Tops.
The Outpost Playground
Designed by Earthscape, the space aims to give a sensation of being lost in nature, with meandering paths that lead to tunnels, climbing walls and art spaces that evoke the Presidio’s natural surroundings. Most structures were built with natural materials found in the National Park, including the centerpiece Monterey cypress trunk. The Outpost faces Mason Street, just east of the Sports Basement parking lot. Above the playground, a stairway follows a terraced hill with space for lounging, picnicking and keeping an eye on young ones adventuring in The Outpost.
The Field Station
Imagine the coolest science classroom you’ve ever known merged with Doc Rickett’s Monterey Bay lab, and you’ll have the new Field Station. Rather than a museum-type park visitor center, the Field Station is packed with maps, magnifying glasses, specimens and young guides to help families touch, feel and smell the flora and fauna of native San Francisco. Right next to The Outpost playground, the station will be open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday when Tunnel Tops opens in July. Behind the station, the expanded Crissy Field Center will host more than 500 kids for day trips and summer camps in the next few months alone.
Meadows & Trails
Heading up from the playground area on Mason Street, the park expands to cover its namesake tunnel tops. Six lanes of traffic in two tunnels flow beneath the grassy Golden Gate Meadow, with drop-dead gorgeous views of the bridge, the bay, Alcatraz, the Palace of Fine Arts and the downtown skyline. The Cliff Walk winds through the entire area, lined with benches made from reclaimed cypress and designed to mimic the profile of the Marin Headlands in the distance. The downed wood was cured in a hangar on Crissy Field and hewn into the benches on site. It will be possible to book the East Meadow and Western Lawn for private events.
Presidio- and City-Wide Access
For the first time in nearly a century, the Tunnel Tops makes it easier to move from the Main Post area to the beaches and trails of Crissy Field. The park flows over the Presidio Parkway from the Main Post directly north, across the meadows, down to The Outpost playground and beyond. A transit center sits next to the Presidio Visitor Center, which reopens Wednesday for the first time since the pandemic. Limited street parking will be available in the Main Post area.
Behind the visitor center, a large communal bonfire will warm chilly evenings and offer a nighttime destination for park visitors, replete with Golden Gate, bay and city views.
Though there have been no confirmed reports of visitors starving during a day on the Presidio’s trails, the area has long been a BYO nourishment zone. Aside from the restaurants in the Main Post and near the Letterman Center, the only option for food and drink is the aptly named “Warming Hut” at the east end of Crissy Field.
The paths and meadows of Tunnel Tops will be host to carts from food trucks scattered throughout the site, seven days a week. The old Burger King drive-through from the Presidio’s Army days was razed to make space for more open space, but a woodfire pizza grill will open later this fall. Still, if picnicking is your thing, there are new picnic tables around the site that offer city-to-bridge views. And the nearby “transportation center” will offer a glass-enclosed space to eat if the hilltop is too blustery.
Correction: A prior version of this article incorrectly identified Kyanni and Ky-anna Hogg-Lawson.
Maryann Jones Thompson can be reached at [email protected]