Last updated: November 7, 2021
Crissy Field is a stunning place to walk or bike along a flat, hard-packed promenade with iconic views of the San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. Yessir, Crissy Field has it all. Beaches, picnic spots, scenic overlooks and renowned conditions for windsurfing. Dog friends welcome!
From Seasonal Village to Pioneer Airfield
The Ohlone: Coastal Native Peoples
The Ohlone people lived in and around the vicinity of Crissy Field by 740 AD. They and their predecessors lived in seasonal villages that could be moved to accommodate migratory hunting, fishing and foraging practices. Crissy Field was one such seasonal site. The Ohlone's way of life remained largely unchanged for 10,000 years, until the late 18th century and the arrival of European colonists.
The Spanish arrived next, establishing a territorial presence alongside the Ohlone. They quickly adopted tactics to assimilate and systematically destroy the Ohlone culture and way of life. Yet the Ohlone continue to endure. The descendants of this pre-European society are still in the bay area, working to preserve and revitalize their culture. Revitalization happens in many ways, including language restoration, protection of ancestral sites and cultural revitalization through song, dance, storytelling and other traditional arts.
The Military at Crissy Field
This area was an anchorage for ships that supplied the Presidio soldiers during the Spanish, Mexican and US Army periods. After the US Army arrived, soldiers built stables, warehouses and refuse dumps in these damp lowlands. In the 1870s, the US Lifesaving Service (Coast Guard) Station opened at the west end of Crissy Field. The army always desired to fill the tidal sloughs to make the area more suitable for military activities.
Swamp to barracks via the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition
With a stroke of luck, the opportunity finally came with the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, when the city filled the marsh for the army. During the Exposition, this area housed state and international pavilions at the east end. The west end had livestock show areas and an automobile racetrack. After the fair closed and World War I commenced, barracks for 6,000 soldiers training at the Presidio covered the Crissy Field area. After the war in 1919, construction of the airfield began where the old racetrack stood.
From Post to Park
In the World War II period, temporary barracks were again built along Crissy Field and stood here until the Army turned the Presidio over to the National Park Service in 1994. By that time, the area was showing signs of neglect and had an industrial feel. Restoration of the area began and continues today.
Restoration in the 21st Century
At the tail end of the 20th century, the focus on Crissy Field turned to restoration. A 1994 National Park Service management plan made a commitment to preserving the area as a place for relaxing, where visitors could experience solitude and enjoy a natural refuge in an urban setting, dedicated to the protection of cultural and natural resources. The first major initiative was the restoration of both the historic airfield and wetlands at Crissy Field. In consultation with the Ohlone, efforts to plant native vegetation have proven successful. The tidal marsh re-opened in 2000 and is now home to countless birds, jack smelt, bay shrimp and crabs.
Protecting Snowy Plovers
The snowy plover uses the beach at Crissy Field to rest and replenish its food reserves. This shorebird friend is a federally threatened species with only about 2,100 individuals left along the Pacific Coast from Washington to Baja. Their diminishing numbers are largely due to habitat loss.
Plovers nest on nearby beaches and little things like walking dog friends near plover nests flushes protective parents out into the open, leaving eggs and chicks exposed to wind, sand, cold and predators. Leaving food scraps behind attracts opportunistic predators like gulls, coyotes, dogs, feral cats, skunks and raccoons, so please be mindful of your mess and pack out everything you bring.
Climate Change, Rising Seas
Burning fossil fuels like coal and gas releases carbon dioxide, which acts like a heat-trapping blanket around the planet, disrupting the climate. As glaciers melt and sea temperatures rise, so does sea level.
Rising seas, coupled with bigger storms and waves, are causing more flooding and erosion of low lying areas like the one here, and could affect how sand is distributed along the beach. These trends may cause future visitors to have a very different beach experience here.
A display at the bridge over Crissy Field marsh shows possible future sea levels, caused by global warming. The rate of sea level rise can be slowed by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.