The wait is over! After nearly 30 years of planning, the Presidio’s massive new Tunnel Tops will open this Sunday. It’s the biggest new park space in San Francisco since the Presidio itself opened to the public in 1994.
Now it's time to party. The Presidio’s three management organizations, the Presidio Trust, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Parks Service, are pulling out all the stops for the grand opening celebration July 17.
DJs, musicians, dancers, art workshops for kids and ranger tours are all on the program. And social justice activist Favianna Rodriguez will share a temporary mural installation that honors the interconnectedness of the species that have called the Presidio home for centuries. Get the full calendar of events here.
Most exciting of all? Food! There will be 10 food carts, trucks and tents located around the Tunnel Tops on opening day, serving everything from poke to empanadas to curry to cookies. This lineup represents the first rotation of more than two dozen food and drink vendors that will appear regularly in the park, showcasing the breadth of the Bay Area's culinary wonders.
What is "Tunnel" Tops?
Even after Sunday’s party subsides, there will be a lot to love at Tunnel Tops. When we watched families from APA Chinatown, Edgewood Center for Children and Families and the Rafiki Coalition test out the new playground on June 10, it became immediately clear that the park will be a must-hang for city dwellers and tourists alike.
The 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.
“The Tunnel Tops finally knits back together the two pieces of the Presidio that we all love, Crissy Field and the Main Post,” Jean Fraser, CEO of the Presidio Trust told The Standard in an interview last month.
Designed by the firm that created New York’s High Line, 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 ten years of community input, 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 will represent 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.
The park's opening also marks the completion of a long line of major renovation projects that transformed the Presidio from a military base to an urban national park. So if you haven't been to the park lately, plan a day to explore the other new spots around the Presidio when you make your first trip to Tunnel Tops.
Read on for a sneak peek at the other features of the Tunnel Tops park, playground and gathering areas.
A Guide to the Presidio's Tunnel Tops
The Outpost Playground
On June 10, families from APA Chinatown, Edgewood Center for Children and Families and the Rafiki Coalition were the first to test out Tunnel Tops' expansive playground, The Outpost. 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, including the centerpiece 250-year-old white oak tree trunk sculpted into three pieces. 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 Adventure 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. 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
The Tunnel Tops flows from the Main Post parade grounds directly north, across the meadows, down to The Outpost playground and beyond to Crissy Field. A transit center sits next to the Presidio Visitor Center, which reopened in late June 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 spot for nightly ranger talks you would find around other national park campfires. The Campfire Circle and underlit benches along walkways will offer a new nighttime destination for park visitors, replete with Golden Gate, bay and city views and one of the best places to stargaze in town.
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. As detailed above, 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 and a food hall is on deck a few years out. 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.
Maryann Jones Thompson can be reached at [email protected]