The forthcoming Presidio Tunnel Tops project will connect the park to the bay.

Courtesy of the Presidio Trust

If you’ve ever visited San Francisco and strolled the Presidio—a former military base turned national recreational area—you’ve experienced the magic of this outdoor oasis. One thing the sprawling green space has long lacked, however, is a direct connection to the beautiful bay it overlooks—you can see the water from the park, but you can’t actually get to it.

That’s about to change.

Today, the city broke ground on the Presidio Tunnel Tops project, a 14-acre park that will feature scenic overlooks, gardens, and a drop-in environmental learning center where you can listen to ranger talks or discover the history of the area. But most importantly, when the project is completed in fall 2021, it will link the waterfront Crissy Field park with the main grounds of the Presidio for the first time in 80 years. That’s how long it has been since the connection was severed when the former Doyle Drive was constructed and split the landscape in half.

“One of the biggest virtues of this project is that it will tie [everything] together as one park — allowing people to walk, cycle, and stroll from the bayfront into the Presidio and vice versa,” explained James Corner, whose firm James Corner Field Operations designed the Presidio Tunnel Tops as well as New York City’s High Line.

Tunnel Tops will be created atop highway tunnels that currently cover a portion of the Presidio Parkway. It is another example of a city transforming old transportation infrastructure into open space, much like Corner did in designing the High Line, a project that turned an abandoned light-rail line into a vibrant outdoor walkway in New York’s Meatpacking District.

Because Tunnel Tops will be a raised plateau with 360-degree vistas, Corner hopes it will be a centerpiece of the city where visitors and locals alike can see “everything that is essentially San Francisco”—the city skyline, the forests, the bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

“Tunnel Tops is really intended to be the first spot people [go to when they] arrive. It’s by the transit center. It’s easily accessible, and you get a great orientation to everything that’s around,” Corner said.

Once finished, the Tunnel Tops project will have three acres of play space for kids.

Courtesy of the Presidio Trust

According to the Presidio Trust, a federal agency that manages the Presidio together with the National Park Service, the plans for the new park take into consideration input from more than 10,000 community members. The result is an area that will eventually consist of ample green space, a campfire circle, picnic areas, and a three-acre play space. Tunnel Tops will be adjacent to the Presidio Visitor Center, which opened in 2017, and a new transit center that is planned for the park.

The project is a philanthropic one with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy hoping to raise $98 million of the $118 million required to complete its construction.

>> Next: AFAR’s Ultimate Guide to San Francisco

Cassie Shortsleeve

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