James Corner Field Operations’ Presidio Tunnel Tops opens to rave reviews from San Franciscans

Top This

James Corner Field Operations’ Presidio Tunnel Tops opens to rave reviews from San Franciscans

Initially slated to debut in October 2021 following a fall 2019 “groundmaking” event, the Presidio Tunnel Tops, a 14-acre elevated park within San Francisco’s sprawling Golden Gate National Recreational Area, at long last opened to the public this past weekend on July 17 to considerable fanfare from locals, critics, pint-sized parkgoers, and the city’s tech elite alike. (Naturally, Karl the Fog also blessed the park with his presence over opening weekend.)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi presided over a July 16 ribbon-cutting ceremony, referring to the much-anticipated new park as a “majestic new public space” that will serve as a “beautiful beacon of recreation, education and community in our city.”

“The unique outdoor recreation and exploration space of the Presidio Tunnel Tops may be the first introduction to the national park system for many visitors,” proclaimed Carey Feierabend, acting superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. “We’re delighted to welcome them to this community-crafted space, especially as we look toward celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area this fall.”

The Western Lawn adjacent to the Presidio Visitors Center. (Courtesy Presidio Trust)

The $118 million project at the Presidio, a former U.S. Army outpost-turned-park that encompasses 1,500 acres of the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula, was borne from a collaboration between the Presidio Trust, National Park Service, and the nonprofit Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (together functioning as the Partnership for the Presidio) along with the San Francisco office of James Corner Field Operations, which was selected to serve as design partner in 2014 via an international design competition. (Other shortlisted teams included CMG Landscape Architecture, OLIN, West 8, and Snøhetta). Swinerton Builders served as project contractor.

As detailed by AN earlier this year when the park’s opening date was formally announced, Presidio Tunnel Tops does indeed top a vehicular tunnel—a pair of tunnels, to be exact. The Presidio Parkway tunnels were constructed to replace Doyle Drive, a seismically unsafe 1930s-era highway viaduct that for decades cut through the heart of the Presidio on its approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. With the disruptive, aging highway finally moved underground, the next step was to blanket the concrete tunnels with a rolling expanse of green space in a remarkable feat of engineering. Just as impressive was the fundraising prowess that brought the project to life—the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy raised a whopping $98 million for the project from private donors via its Tunnel Tops capital campaign.

View of the Main Parade Lawn with the Western Lawn and Campfire Circle just beyond. (Courtesy Presidio Trust)
view of golden gate bridge from a park path
Stunning view abound from various points in the park. (Presidio Trust)

Among other elements, visitors to the newly opened Presidio Tunnel Tops will find winding cliffside trails, grill-equipped picnic areas, extensive gardens and meadows filled with native vegetation, sizable open lawns, a two-acre natural play area for children dubbed the Outpost that ranks as the largest in the Bay Area, and several elevated overlooks offering sweeping city and bridge views. The new swath of infrastructure-topping parkland, which was shaped by countless hours of community engagement sessions, fuses back together the waterfront and Crissy Field, a former airfield that now serves as a popular recreation hotspot, with the Presidio’s bustling historic Main Post.

As noted by AN in 2019, Field Operations’ design makes use of the steep slopes required to clear the tunnels with the inclusion of seating steps molded from the lawn (the grassy amphitheater at the park has appropriately been named as the Presidio Steps), viewing terraces, and an open plaza with a large unprogrammed platform.

At two acres, The Outpost is the largest play area for kids in the Bay Area. (Courtesy Presidio Trust)
a campfire circle with rock seating
The Campfire Circle. (Courtesy Presidio Trust)

In addition to the aforementioned tunnel-topping park features, adjacent amenities and attractions realized as part of the revamp include a spacious pavilion, campfire circle, and the freshly revamped Crissy Field Center and the Field Station, a new indoor experiential learning center for kids where the hands-on offerings change seasonally. Both attractions are located directly next to the Outpost, which features play elements created from boulders, fallen tree trunks, and other natural materials. On the opposite side of the park are the Presidio Transit and Visitors Centers.

“We’re thrilled Presidio Tunnel Tops will offer even more green space for relaxation, for reflection, and especially for play,” said Jean Fraser, CEO of the Presidio Trust, in a press announcement. “We’ve added an amazing nature play area, many more picnic benches, food trucks, carts, and tents, rangers with campfire talks, and so much more.”

aerial view of a park in san francisco
View of the Presidio Parkway Tunnels and the new park that blankets them. (Courtesy Presidio Trust)
Site plan of the 14-acre Presidio Tunnel Tops. (Courtesy Presidio Trust)

Public art is also on view at Presidio Tunnel Tops, with the opening season kicking off with Ancestral Futurism: Looking Back to Repair the Future, a temporary outdoor mural installation by local artist Favianna Rodriguez. A robust slate of public programming is on tap for the coming weeks and includes large festivals and the Sunday Afternoons series.

The new park also boasts an outdoor food and beverage program dubbed Presidio Pop Up that features a sizable brigade of mobile vendors—trucks, tents, and carts—offering everything from borscht to vegan tacos to artisanal donuts to craft cocktails. As noted by Tessa McLean for SFGate, the bevy of food and booze vendors operating daily at Presidio Tunnel Tops remedies a longtime dearth of places to dine and imbibe in the area.

Much more on Presidio Tunnel Tops can be found here.