The High Road

The new Presidio Tunnel Tops park debuts with 14 acres showcasing the glories of the Golden Gate

Renderings and animation by James Corner Field Operations courtesy of The Presidio Trust. Above Image: Animation of Presidio Tunnel Tops park.

By Lydia Lee

Seven years ago, the Presidio Trust hired James Corner Field Operations, the landscape-architecture firm responsible for the High Line in New York City, to design a new 14-acre park showcasing San Francisco’s signature panorama: the Golden Gate Bridge. Opening July 17, Presidio Tunnel Tops welcomes visitors to feast their eyes freely on this monumental vista (there is no admission fee) from a series of spectacular open spaces,  paths, and gardens.

“This is one of the most special views in the world,” says Richard Kennedy, director of James Corner Field Operations’ San Francisco studio. “The project was also a chance to work on some of the key themes of our time: equitable access to parks, environmental education, and adaptation of infrastructure to create healthier cities.”

Photo-like graphic of a beautiful park with Golden Gate Bridge in background.

A rendering of an aerial view of Tunnel Tops.

The $118 million park, funded mainly through private donations, is located on the former site of an elevated freeway. The late landscape architect Michael Painter had the vision for undergrounding Doyle Drive, which was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, allowing the Presidio’s Main Post to connect to Crissy Field. The park sits above the two tunnels of the new Presidio Parkway, completed in 2015 for roughly $1.1 billion. To find a designer, the Presidio Trust launched an international competition and selected five firms to develop concepts. The winning James Corner Field Operations proposal features a cliff walk with a view that encompasses the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline.

Graphic map of planned development.

A map of the site.

The delight of the High Line, an elevated railway repurposed as a park, lies in its intimate vantage points of the surrounding city and unexpected encounters with nature. For Presidio Tunnel Tops, the design team worked to choreograph a journey, creating a sequence of events that accumulate into a powerful experience. Artful gardens and sheltered environments lead to the full unveiling of the view, and distinctive driftwood-inspired benches made from Presidio cypresses are an invitation to linger. From the quarter-mile-long Cliff Walk’s three overlooks, you can take a staircase or ramp to Crissy Field, or lounge on one of the lawn terraces that step down the bluff.

For Presidio tunnel tops, the design team worked to choreograph a journey, creating a sequence of events that accumulate into a powerful experience.

Two lifelike renderings.

At the top of the site is a visitor center, designed by venerable architecture firm EHDD, which doubles as the welcome center for the whole Presidio. Down by Crissy Field is the Field Station, an environmental-educational center—with intimate wood-lined interiors by San Francisco–based Studio Terpeluk—that encourages interaction with the natural, cultural, and historical collections of the area. Notes Michael Boland, chief park officer of the Presidio Trust, ”So much of our history and ecology is tied to the Golden Gate.” 

Photo of happy kids interacting with a variety of hands-on exhibits.

Field Station, the environmental education center.

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