Fort Mason offers arts, culture for visitors

SAN FRANCISCO— On the San Francisco Bay lies a unique place where it is easy to fall back in time, explore the arts, delve into a mix of culture, and have a picnic, all in one place at the oldest former military base in the city.


The place is Fort Mason Center. Its rough militant exterior doesn’t do its residents justice.


A former army post, Fort Mason Center now houses an eclectic array of cultural festivals, art exhibits, three museums with galleries, six performance art theaters and a gourmet vegetarian restaurant named Green’s.

The view of lower Fort Mason from the park in upper Fort Mason (Photo by Jannet Jureidini).

In addition, there are two dozen nonprofit organizations, from all walks of life, which it houses as well. They also house a number of classes and workshops, from educational children’s classes to even Tai Chi.


It is important to note that many of the rooms are private spaces for organizations, so they are not open to the public. However, there are many events that take place within the different buildings which are available to the public.


Visitors lay reading in the grass, in the Great Meadow of upper Fort Mason (Photo by Jannet Jureidini).

For instance, the Herbst Pavilion may be rented for various events such as exhibits and festivals. Also, the theaters and museums are constantly hosting different productions.


“I recommend going to their administrative office and they’ll give you a monthly newsletter of what’s going on in the park,” Michael Feinstein, public affairs officer for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, said. “It’s an interesting place to visit, there’s something for everyone, even a Mexican museum.”


Fort Mason Center is also the headquarters for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a part of the U.S. National Parks Service.

Houses in the hills, seen from the park in upper Fort Mason (Photo by Jannet Jureidini).

Fort Mason’s history is visually evident today. Although in the 1850s the land was reserved as property of the U.S. Army, there was still no military presence. Thus, some of the buildings were built by civilians who moved there and claimed the land as their own, before the army established its post.


The buildings within Fort Mason were built spanning from 1855 through the 1940s. Many of those civilians built them according to their personal taste, from Colonial Revival style to Italianate style. This is attributed to the array of architectural styles within Fort Mason, still today.


In the 1860s, the Army constructed its first building, Building 240, as company barracks for the artillery troops in what was then known as Point San Jose.


Point San Jose was renamed Fort Mason in 1882. The warehouse buildings in lower Fort Mason that now house most of Fort Mason Center’s events and activities, were built in 1912 by the U.S. army to house army supplies and dock transport ships.


In the 1960s, the Department of Defense was assessing potential budget cuts and it decided that Fort Mason was no longer needed for military use. It was then that after a century of military occupancy, it became an urban national park and a part of the Golden Gate Recreation Area.

Emily Marie Gray, her boyfriend Justin Ott and his best friend Pat Huyett, enjoy a picnic in the Great Meadow (Photo by Jannet Jureidini).

Fort Mason’s aged walls are counteracted by the inviting cool aquamarine waters in the background and the endless greenery in upper Fort Mason’s park, where many visitors picnic or just take in the view. This area is known as the Great Meadow.


The long, uninviting hike up the stairway that leads to the Great Meadow in upper Fort Mason is welcomed by an abundance of trees adorning a green open space, seamlessly woven into the azure sky.


Shoes off and toes dug into the pillow-like grass, Emily Marie Gray, her boyfriend Justin Ott and his best friend Pat Huyett, enjoy a paper bag lunch and a bottle of wine from a nearby Safeway.


Gray is a California native and student at the University of San Francisco, who is also a part-time nanny. She brings the kids to the park to run around and also enjoys sailing from the bay at Fort Mason. She likes to bring the kids to Fort Mason for the diverse activities at the Fort Mason Center as well.

University of Miami classmates Valerie Reyes and Karunya Krishnan, converse with visitors Emily Marie Gray, Justin Ott, and Pat Huyett, with the view from the Great Meadow in the background (Photo by Jannet Jureidini).

“As a nanny, I take the kids out and they [Fort Mason] have this art exposé, you take the kids in to do art projects, they also have a gymnastics place and both places come to your house for birthday party functions so that’s very cool,” Gray said.


Among the warehouse-like buildings in the lower part of Fort Mason, there is a distinct restaurant. Green’s Restaurant, the award-winning gourmet vegetarian restaurant, is one of Gray’s top spots to grab a bite to eat.


“I’m a vegetarian and it’s one of my favorites,” Gray said.


Feinstein, a public affairs officer for the area, also suggested Green’s.


“I enjoy Green’s, it has a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge and sells vegetarian-based food, I highly recommend it,” Feinstein said.


Gray also mentioned she loves getting take-out from Green’s and bringing it up to the park for a picnic.


“From up here you can see the fog come in and it’s really cool because it literally rolls in from under the Golden Gate Bridge,” Gray said.


The three friends walked from the Marina, where her boyfriend Justin Ott lives.

The organizations housed in Building B, with the San Francisco Bay and the Marin Headlands in the distance (Photo by Jannet Jureidini).

“My friend’s visiting from Colorado so we decided to take a leisurely day and walk around the city,” Ott said. “We came up to Fort Mason because it’s a great view of the city, we can see the hills along with the Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of Fine Arts in the distance.”


His best friend, Pat Huyett, was visiting with him over the weekend. Huyett is originally from outside of Philadelphia and now lives in Denver.


“It’s my birthday today and he’s one of my best friends, I got a bunch of good friends in the city, so I decided to fly to San Fran for the weekend,” Pat Huyett said.


Huyett was captivated by the view from the park in upper Fort Mason.


“I live in Colorado now and we have sick mountains, but then I came out here and just the fact that you’re looking across the bay at the mountains is unreal and then the Golden Gate is right over there,” Huyett said in awe.


Visitors picnic at Fort Mason, where an old military battery used to be. Many of the army buildings were removed since they were no longer in use and in the 1980s the Great Meadow was created for residents and visitors to enjoy.

Valerie Reyes and Karunya Krishnan walk towards the entrance outside of Green’s Restaurant in Building A, while a visitor walks his dog. On the right is a view of the San Francisco Bay and the Marin Headlands (Photo by Jannet Jureidini).

Weddings are also a part of the culture within the park. Visitors can get married in the chapel at Fort Mason or they can take wedding photographs in the park, with the city and the Golden Gate Bridge as their backdrop.


“There are special groups for weddings that people need to get permits from and plan ahead,” Feinstein said. “The Office of Special Park Uses provides permits for commercial pictures taken in the park, also.”


A walk away from the three friends picnicking in the grass, an older couple sat down to rest at a bench, taking it all in. The gentleman had on dark onyx sunglasses and a russet cigar in hand, while his wife sat clutching his hand and admiring the view. They were visiting from Germany and she didn’t speak English very well. Tourists from all over the world visit the park as well.


“We’re sight-seeing and we wanted to look at the Golden Gate,” Olaudo Meunecke said.


They didn’t have to say much, to show how absorbed by the experience their minds were. They seemed so at peace miles away from home, on a calm Friday afternoon in San Francisco overlooking the city, the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge.

If You Go…


Fort Mason Center

Landmark Building A

San Francisco, Calif. 94123


Hours: daily, 8 a.m. to midnight.


Directions: There is no street address for Fort Mason Center, but it is located at the intersection of Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street.


For more information on the activities at Fort Mason Center call: 415-345-7500 or visit


For information on aspects of the Golden Gate Recreation Area, visit The Pacific West Region Information Center, the headquarters for the Golden Gate Recreation Area at Fort Mason in Building 201 or call 415-561-4700. The Pacific West Region Information Center, also houses the Fort Mason Visitor Information Center.


The Pacific West Region Information Center, hours: Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.


Food: There’s a small shop that sells hot food, sandwiches, and drinks in the main building (Landmark Building A). Also, Green’s Restaurant is adjacent to this shop in the same building. For more information on Green’s Restaurant, call 415-771-6222.


Facilities: There are public restrooms within Building A, in the vicinity of the food shop.

Comments are Closed