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Fort Point San Francisco - Exterior

Visit Civil War-Era Fort Point in San Francisco

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Stand in the center of San Francisco’s Civil War-era fortification Fort Point and look up into its multi-tiered system of brick arches. It isn’t difficult to imagine soldiers preparing for duty, even walking the top levels while scanning the waterways to spot Confederate and foreign threats.

The problem is that you’d be picturing something that never transpired. While artillerymen stood guard at Fort Point, ready to defend the area during and after the U.S. Civil War, they watched and waited for an enemy that never came. Thirty forts like it were constructed on the east coast, while on the west coast Fort Point always was and remains one of a kind.

Now protected by the National Park Service, Fort Point is impossible to miss today. It’s tucked into one of the arches underneath the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge.

It’s amazing that the fort is still here. Early plans for constructing the bridge called for its removal. Luckily Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss deemed it “a fine example of the mason’s art,” and redesigned the now iconic bridge to save the fort. Thanks to that foresight, you can take your kids to Fort Point to walk through history, marvel at the fort’s architecture, and experience incredible views of the underbelly of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Fort Point San Francisco - Arched structure

The multi-tiered arches of Fort Point in San Francisco.

Costumed docents take visitors through the fort’s maze-like architecture, directing them to points of interest such as barracks, cells and a gunpowder storage area. Military buffs in your crew will enjoy the small museum where guns, cannons and swords are among the artifacts on display.

Our most recent visit to Fort Point was for Civil War Day. As we came through the structure’s cavernous entrance and out into the central plaza of the fort, it was as if we’d stepped back in time. Civil War soldiers, many of them who appeared teenaged, were marching in formation with their guns slung over their shoulders. A band played in the corner. Women and young children dressed from the Civil War era filtered through the crowd of visitors from present day. We had found our way back to the 1860s somehow.

Fort Point San Francisco - Civil War Days troop formation reenactment.

Civil War Days troop formation reenactment.

It would be easy to convince your imagination of that fact if the Golden Gate Bridge, built in 1933, weren’t right overhead. Personally I found it to be one of the strangest juxtapositions of histories, somewhere Joseph Strauss must be enjoying the historical intersection he created.

Movie buffs as well should take note. As you approach Fort Point, the setting may look familiar to Alfred Hitchcock fans. In 1958’s Vertigo, Kim Novak’s character Madeleine parks her car at Fort Point before jumping into the San Francisco Bay in an attempted suicide.

If you’re interested in visiting the Fort Point area and immersing yourself in San Francisco’s Civil War history, check the website for the latest information on tours, activities and hours of operation. Hilton San Francisco Union Square and Hilton San Francisco Financial District are both within five miles of Fort Point and other popular San Francisco attractions.

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Kristine lives in Mountain View, California, where she is the mother of a gifted girl athlete and a special needs charmer. Like almost everything in her house,…

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