Marina Green, the historic Palace of Fine Arts, and Fort Mason plus Chestnut and Union Street shopping and dining avenues all make the Marina District a must visit. It’s also a nice area to watch the famous San Francisco fog roll in through the Golden Gate.
San Francisco’s Marina District is bordered by the Presidio to the west beyond Lyon Street, Pacific Heights to the south beyond Vallejo Street, Fisherman’s Wharf and Russian hill to the east beyond Van Ness Avenue and San Francisco Bay to the north. While rubble from the 1906 Earthquake had been dumped in the area, most of the Marina District north of Lombard Street was swampland before being drained and filled in for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
Liquefaction of this area during the 1989 earthquake caused some buildings to collapse.
Palace of Fine Arts
This sole surviving building from the 1915 Exposition, tucked into the northwest corner of the Marina District and home to the Exploratorium, is covered in more detail on my Palace of Fine Arts page. A tunnel below Fort Mason was constructed for the State Belt Railway to service the 1915 Exposition and the tracks were later extended along the south side of Marina Green to Crissy Field to serve the Presidio. Although use of the tunnel was discontinued there is a chance that the F-line will be extended beyond Fisherman’s Wharf through the tunnel at least as far as Fort Mason.
A large green expanse along the bay that was the North Gardens during the 1915 Exposition is now Marina Green. An annual Family Day Kite Festival, and plenty of room for soccer and other sports, dog walking or just sunbathing combined with the incredible view makes Marina Green one of The City’s favorite parks. The panoramic view includes the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, Alcatraz and Angel Islands and streets climbing to Pacific Heights.
Marina Green is part of the San Francisco City park known as the West Harbor. Also included in the park are the Golden Gate and Saint Francis Yacht Clubs and inner and outer harbor basin slips for 343 boats. The St. Francis and Golden Gate Yacht Clubs are on a jetty protecting the inner harbor.
At the end of the jetty is a Wave Organ.
Lombard Street—the same street that crosses Russian Hill to become the “World’s Crookedest Street” on the way down into North Beach—is the main thoroughfare through the Marina for people on their way to Marin. Six lanes of traffic from Van Ness Avenue turn right at Broderick Street becoming Richardson Avenue passing the Palace of Fine Arts on the way to the Golden Gate Bridge while Lombard continues straight to its western end in the Presidio. Packed with traffic much of the day, Lombard St. in the Marina is lined with motels and motor inns—some with free parking, a real rarity in SF—and typically less expensive restaurants such as Mel’s Drive In
Parking will be much harder to find one block north on Chestnut Street than it is on Lombard.
What you will find though, from Webster to Divisadero, is a more energetic street scene with young professionals enjoying the many dining and shopping options that are a good compliment to nearby Union Street.
Union Street and Cow Hollow
One of San Francisco’s favorite shopping streets, this Victorian lined former trail through dairy farms is covered in detail on my Union Street and Cow Hollow page.
Known as Punta Medanos under Spanish rule and Bateria San Jose and later Point San Jose under Mexican Rule the area was renamed Fort Mason after the war with Mexico in 1846. Fort Mason served as the headquarters of the San Francisco Port of Embarkation during WW II. Prime San Francisco real estate restricted to military use was eventually transferred to civilian control after the advent of air transportation made the facility obsolete. Turned over to the City, 13 acres were included in the newly formed Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) to preserve open space in the early 1970s.
A nonprofit organization, Fort Mason Center, partnered with GGNRA and opened a cultural, educational and recreational complex in 1977 in the Lower Fort Mason warehouses, an area designated as a National Historic Landmark. Upper Fort Mason, connected by paved accessible trails and steep steps with Lower Fort Mason, features a Great Meadow for sunbathing, sports or picnicking with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco’s skyline. There are several historic buildings in this area including the former Port of Embarkation Headquarters, a Mission Revival-style Chapel, officers’ quarters, a youth hostel and more. There is also a large open grass field with a statue of Congressman Philip Burton, sponsor of legislation in 1972 creating the Golden Gate National Parks.