Fort Point National Historic Site: Tips to Visit this Free Attraction

Jill on a windy day at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

Updated: February 18, 2024

Fort Point National Historic Site is a fun place to visit for those interested in the rich military history of San Francisco.

This historic gem is just underneath the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge in the Presidio. It is one of several free SF attractions.

A visit to this old army building offers you the chance to learn more about its history with memorabilia and films.

During your visit, you also get the chance to learn more about this building's place in the history of San Francisco.

I have had the chance to visit many times. It's fun to walk around the courtyard and climb the stairs to the top for gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

If you like history, this is one of the San Francisco tourist attractions you will really enjoy!

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History of the Fort Point National Historic Site

The location of the Fort Point National Historic Site under the Golden Gate Bridge.Fort Point is the brick building just underneath the Golden Gate Bridge

Fort Point was built in 1861 by the US Army. They built it as a way for the Army to protect the San Francisco Bay from unwanted visitors and anyone looking to attack.

This building was used as a fort only until 1900. As weapons became more powerful, the army thought its structure was too weak.

They feared it would be destroyed under any sort of major attack.

After this, the army mainly used this building as a barracks. Some people called this place home for many years.

Looking at the Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point.

In the early 1930s, the building was almost destroyed. Engineers determined it needed to be demolished to make way for the Golden Gate Bridge.

After a review of the structure itself, it was deemed a high value historical site and should remain standing.

The Golden Gate Bridge engineers went back to their plans and figured out a way to build around it.

The architecture of the building is unique, which is why there was so much interest in preserving it over the years.

Finally, in the fall of 1970, it became a national historical site.

Fort Point Today

Today, the building stands tall under the monstrous Golden Gate Bridge.

The parking lot is a great place to see how the engineers worked the bridge around this amazing building.

The map of the Fort Point Historical site located at the entrance to the attraction.

Again, it's free to step in and look around. You enter through an archway that leads to the main courtyard. In the courtyard, you will find some old cannons that were installed when the fort was originally built.

You are welcome to wander around the Fort Point National Historic Site on your own. Free guided tours are also available. They start near the entrance of the building.

The fort is about four stories high with a great open area on the top floor. You can walk in and out of the rooms on all of the floors. Many have historical items that were used at the fort by the military while it was open.

The top floor is also a great place to get amazing photos of a variety of San Francisco attractions. Since the fort is right under the Golden Gate Bridge, you can get great close-up photos of the bridge from below.

You can also see Alcatraz Island, downtown San Francisco, and more from the top floor of the building.

Before you leave, make sure to step in and watch the free historical movie about the fort. It's a short, 20 or so minute film that gives you detailed information on this amazing structure.

There is a second video in the same room that gives a historical account of the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Each of the movies plays a couple of times a day.

The schedule for the films is in the arch when you first enter, so you can plan your trip around the different activities at the fort that day.

This is a great, free attraction to add to your itinerary when other popular sites are a little more crowded. You should also visit at a time when it's not too rainy.

The interior is an open courtyard, so your visit is mostly outside. If it is rainy, then make sure you to bring your rain gear inside for your visit.

When is Fort Point National Historical Site Open?

The Fort Point National Historic Site is open five days a week, from 10 am to 5 pm. From fall to spring, they may only open from Thursday to Monday. This varies year to year so confirm your dates on their website.

The site is closed on Juneteenth, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.

Every day that Fort Point is open, a ranger leads a 15-minute talk about the history of the site. These talks are offered at 11:30 am, 1: 30 pm, and 2:30 pm.

Cannon Demonstration

The last time we visited the Fort Point National Historic Site, we stayed to watch the cannon demonstration. One of the rangers on duty showed us how the military set up, loaded, and fired these huge cannons.

The fun part about this demonstration is the audience participation. When we visited, about five people from the audience each took a role in the process.

This demonstration is located on the main level of the fort and I recommend participating since it was a lot of fun.

Events at the Fort

The Fort Point National Historic Site also has a few fun events during the year.

Candlelight Tour

Their Candlelight Tour is the most popular. It is conducted at night, in the dark.

A ranger will lead the 90-minute tour, providing each visitor with a lantern. You will get a feel for what it was like to live in the fort, especially at night, back in the day. It's a really cool experience and is fun for anyone who enjoys history.

This tour is only on Saturday nights at 6:30 and 7 pm, during the months of November through February. It is by reservation only. It fills up quickly, so make your reservation as soon as possible.

Tickets are available on this website two weeks in advance. The cost is $20 per adult and $12 for youth (recommended for ages 12 and up).

Living History Weekend

Twice a year, Fort Point comes alive with a reenactment of Union soldiers marching to the sounds of Fife and Drums.

Guests are welcome to participate in activities and see for themselves what the site looked like during the American Civil War and the 1860s.

This is a free event that takes place one weekend in February and one weekend in August.

How to Get to the Fort Point National Historic Site

There are a few options to get to the fort for your visit.

Driving and parking

Unlike many other San Francisco sites, this one has parking right out front. If you are driving from San Francisco, take Highway 101 North and exit right before at the Golden Gate Bridge Toll Plaza.

Do not get on the bridge—you want to exit right before. Turn right at the end of the exit ramp.

Then turn left onto Lincoln Boulevard in the Presidio. Take the first left onto Long Avenue and then Marina Drive. Fort Point is at the end of this road.

After you take the exit, you should also see signs that will help you find the fort.

On Foot

The other option is to bike or walk down from Crissy Field. There is a beautiful walking and biking path along the water.

It's about a mile from the Crissy Field parking lot.

It's a gorgeous walk and a great way to take some pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge as you walk along the water.

Public Transit

Take the Muni 28 bus and get off at the Bridge Toll Plaza. Then follow trail signs to the fort. The city also offers a free Presidio Go Shuttle to get from downtown to this district.

Even though it does not stop near the Fort, it's a short hike from the Presidio Transit Center stop or the northernmost stop on the South Hills route.

I highly recommend a visit to the Fort Point National Historic Site for those that love history. It's a quick and easy visit. It's also free and is such a huge piece of San Francisco history.

More San Francisco Attractions You Might Enjoy

Alcatraz History & Visiting Tips: Want to learn more about the history of San Francisco? Read on to discover the facts on the infamous Alcatraz Island -- and the prisoners that called it home.

Golden Gate Bridge: The Golden Gate Bridge is another popular San Francisco attraction. When did it open? Why was it build? How many cars cross it each day? Find the answer to these and more of your questions on this beautiful landmark.

Haight and Ashbury District: Another place that bursts with history is the Haight Ashbury district. It was the home of the 'Summer of Love' in 1967. Uncover the truth of this small, but very colorful San Francisco neighborhood.

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?

I would love for you to join me in my private Facebook group

It's a great place to interact with me and others who know the area well.

You can ask questions, get advice for your upcoming stay, and then share your photos and advice with others when you return home. It's a great community and the fastest way to get answers to those nagging questions about your visit!

Come join the fun here!

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