Stretching three miles along the northwestern edge of San Francisco, the Presidio Coastal Trail and Overlook is a multi-use accessible trail and public parkland that reveals San Francisco’s rich coastal edge landscape and dynamic military history. This trail and parkland connects the Presidio, a designated cultural landscape and an integral part of San Francisco’s history, with the northern coast and another Bay Area icon, the Golden Gate Bridge. Providing an accessible trail and a series of overlooks, destinations, and park amenities, the parkland is a place to enjoy and recreate within the rugged coastal bluffs, which form a unique edge to an otherwise dense urban setting.
The Coastal Trail is part of a greater 1,100-mile California Coastal Trail. This three mile section extends from the Golden Gate Bridge to Baker Beach. While the project site traverses a rich mosaic of natural habitats and coastal bluffs—and sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean—it also includes an engineered military landscape of large concrete coastal defense fortifications. These fortifications, or batteries, were built in the 1890’s as defense sites for the neighboring Presidio military base. Abandoned after World War II, the batteries and the larger Presidio area were then transferred to the National Park Service in 1994. Much of the project design dialogue thus focused on the balance of the historic Presidio’s existing materiality and new interventions that were subtle yet distinguishable in the landscape. The project’s design goals included the following:
– Invite public access to this historic landscape through the adaptive re-use of the military fortifications and accessible connections.
– Provide structures and amenities to frame iconic views of the Pacific coastline and the Golden Gate Bridge.
– Develop multi-use, accessible, and enjoyable circulation along three miles of new trails for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers.
– Restore the native plant habitats unique to the Presidio coastal landscape.
Working with both the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the Presidio Trust, the design process was driven by over two years of planning design workshops with the public and associated agencies. In so doing, the landscape architect prioritized the visitor’s experience, maintaining the Presidio as a refuge from San Francisco’s urban core, and immersing the viewer within the trail network and overlook areas. The design was carefully modulated so as not to overpower the existing beauty of the coast, instead providing the viewer a sense of discovery and wonder around the bluffs and fortifications with quiet and timeless insertions into a greater landscape.
The Presidio Coastal Trail and Overlook is a product of a collaboration between multiple public and private agencies in which the landscape architect was the primary point of communication and design leadership. To guide the design process in a thoughtful and efficient manner, the landscape architect was the point of contact for two federal agencies and one non-profit that constituted the core stakeholder group of over forty-five people. The design required a team of engineers, national park historians, biologists, and the community-at-large in defining the project’s programming and phased implementation. The project’s development was embedded in community workshops, outreach and consensus building and focused heavily on “Choosing by Advantage”, a process in which design alternatives were vetted and measured utilizing specific design, feasibility, and financial parameters. The project was also donor-driven, so in addition to meeting specific donor criteria and objectives, the design had to respond to the local and communal values embedded in the Presidio site.
Since its opening in 2015, the Coastal Trail has been heavily used for its connections between the waterfront, the Golden Gate Bridge, the surrounding Richmond and Presidio neighborhoods, and the communities north of the Bridge. As a destination within the trail system, the Golden Gate Overlook is immensely popular with recreationalists. It is often used as a backdrop and destination for “Instagram” moments and wedding photos, as well as the Presidio’s and GGNRA’s public programs and events. As a historic site, the trails have provided spontaneous and informal access to the city’s history, a common spot for groups looking to find a different perspective of the City and the Bridge.
The trails have also been popular as a close retreat from San Francisco’s city life, now a favorite hike and bicycle ride for nearby residents. Its new ADA-accessible features invite all visitors and allow safe and direct access to the Coastal Trail, previously prohibited by the landscape’s rugged terrain. Now, the subtle interventions in the coastal landscape bring residents and visitors closer to the city’s edge while respecting the iconic landscape of the Presidio’s coastal bluffs and historic military fortifications.
Entrant office name: Marta Fry Landscape Associates
Role of the entrant in the project: Landscape Architect and Project Prime Consultant
Other designers involved in the design of landscape: Campbell Grading (General Contractor), Sherwood Design Engineers (Civil Engineers), Rutherford & Chekene (Structural Engineers), Fehr & Peers Inc. (Traffic Engineers), John A. Martini (Cultural Resources), Urbain Design Inc. (Graphic Designer)
Project title: Presidio Coastal Trail and Overlook
Project location (Street, City, Country): Presidio, San Francisco, CA
Design year: 2007-2014 (Phased Implementation)
Year Built: 2012 (Overlook and Trail), 2016 (Bridge and Trail)