When a strong breeze blows off the San Francisco Bay, it can feel as though you’re up against an entire defensive line. Luckily, I’ve picked a windless, 65--degree Tuesday afternoon to bicycle out to Crissy Field, a 100-acre park along the city’s bayside waterfront that occupies a prominent stretch of land in the southeast shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s the time of year when cherry plum trees along the sidewalks and in backyards sprout pink and white flowers, coaxing hummingbirds and bumblebees with their slight almond scent; when the dense fog that often envelops the city — a fast-moving cloak that can turn a T-shirt afternoon into winter-parka weather — lies in remission, leaving blue skies to shine like Kodachrome. These are the days when the city is at its liveliest, and those of us who work from home flock outdoors to catch whatever rays we can. Cycling along the park’s wide dirt path toward one of a dozen picnic tables, I catch a glimpse of Alcatraz, the famous penitentiary, on my left. From the shore, it looks almost welcoming. Before me stands the city like a European postcard painted in pastels. It’s one of my favorite views, and Crissy Field is among my most beloved of San Francisco haunts. How amazing to think that just over a decade ago, this park didn’t even exist.
Local sketch-comedy troupe Killing My Lobster perfectly captured the city’s ambience with their recent Twilight Zone–inspired YouTube short, “Why Is Everybody Here?” — a parody on the fact that in San Francisco, nobody seems to work. But this has more to do with the large number of self-employed folk, service-industry workers and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who reside here than the city’s unemployment rate. Walk into any one of San Francisco’s hundreds of cafés and coffeehouses on a weekday afternoon and you’ll see the tables buzzing with caffeinated patrons typing away on laptops. The same sort of high energy exists in the city’s parks, whether it’s impromptu musicians performing at the statue of President Garfield in Golden Gate Park, or a group of students from the Circus Center practicing their tightroping skills in the nearby Panhandle. According to San Francisco’s Department of Recreation and Parks, the city has more green space than any other municipality in the United States, with more than 200 parks and open spaces — with more to come.
When the National Park Service (NPS) first took over the Presidio — a centuries-old, deactivated U.S. Army post — as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1994, Crissy Field was declared a “derelict concrete wasteland.” For years, the former airfield had served as the ideal spot for the Army’s dumping and draining. But in 1996, Congress created the Presidio Trust to help preserve the park’s nearly 800 historic structures and restore its interior open spaces (the NPS manages the outlying coastal areas). To accommodate the Presidio’s unique citylike infrastructure- and its associated costs, though, Congress devised a first-of-its-kind management model: In order for the park to remain open for public use, it had to become financially self-sufficient by 2013. The Presidio Trust achieved this goal eight years early.