The City's hidden treasures
November 30, 2010 5:45 PM
From the arches of the Golden Gate Bridge to the skyscrapers that engulf the city's downtown, locals and tourists alike marvel at the beauty that San Francisco encompasses.
Tourists and new residents of San Francisco are well aware of Alcatraz, the Ferry Building and Pier 39. One of the more unknown places in San Francisco with rich history and stunning scenery is Fort Funston. The 45-acre property was acquired by the US Army in 1900 and was property of the Department of Defense. The fort, equipped with Nike anti-aircraft missiles, was built to ward off any attack from enemies along the Pacific coastline until it was shut down in 1963. It was then turned over to the National Park Service and became a Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Today, the fort now is a place where dog walkers, hang-gliders and birdwatchers can come and enjoy Ocean Beach's most hidden gem. It is one of the city's very few no-leash dog parks and every day scores of unleashed dogs can be found running wild and free along the shores of the Pacific. At the Fort's most southern point is one of the best sites in America to hang-glide. Fort Funston is a Hang-III (intermediate) site with a launch area and wheelchair-accessible viewing deck.
The main attraction to the Fort is the no-leash dog policy. As one of the country's largest no-leash parks, Funston is a place where hundreds of dogs can be seen frolicking freely along one of California's most beautiful beaches. "I moved to the city a year ago, and this is by far my favorite place to take my dog," says Chelsea Gascon, 23, a recent grad from Sonoma State University. "I love that it is so big and there are never that many people here."
Along the five-mile stretch of beach, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Sunset District's coastline can be seen from miles away. The sounds of waves crashing and the sensation of sand beneath your feet make the landscape a serene, spiritual hideaway. Not only is it a place for reflection and leisure activity, but the fort also serves as a place of employment.
Dog walking has become a genuine profession for some folks, and Fort Funston is a site where dog-walkers can be seen with up to fifteen dogs at a time. Matthew Boitano, 27, graduated from the University of San Francisco with a Masters degree in Biology last year and has turned to dog walking for income while he searches for a job in the science industry. "There's not a better place to bring your dogs than Fort Funston," says Boitano. "It's a good way to relax and chance for the dogs to do some bonding."
Fort Funston isn't limited to just walking dogs or hang-gliding. Budding foliage and various species of wildlife, domestic and non-domestic, engulfs the area. There are over two hundred different types of birds, where birdwatchers can walk along the five-mile stretch along the Pacific and see hawks, gulls and pelicans. Equestrian lovers too are welcomed along the trails and the beach area. When the fort was controlled by the military, much of the foliage and greenery was not properly taken care of. It has taken decades for the wildlife and plant-life to return to its current state.
Brenda Trueblood, 54, has been coming to San Francisco for over twenty years and she was amazed by the beauty of Fort Funston and even more surprised that she had never heard of it.
"My daughter moved here after she graduated from college. She was always telling me about this place along the ocean that was unlike anywhere she'd ever seen, but I had never heard of Fort Funston," said Trueblood. "I have been a fan of nature and hiking all my life and this place takes my breath away."
The park's sanctuary-esque feeling attracts more than just the sightseers, hang-gliders and dog lovers. Gabriel McGahee, lead singer of San Francisco rock band NOVA, comes to Fort Funston because it allows him to get away from the recording, touring and the stress that is a constant burden on the shoulders of musicians trying to be successful.
"For me, it's a place to come and take my mind away from everything else that is going on around me, "said McGahee. "Being consumed with my band can take a toll on me physically and emotionally, coming here is therapeutic."
There are no standard paths in the area, so visitors are allowed to roam freely throughout the park. However, there are no bathrooms available for humans. Only the animals are allowed to pop a squat in the vicinity, though there is rumors abound that some visitors to the park have used the Pacific Ocean to 'relieve' themselves. . The fort is kept clean thanks to a group that meets monthly that combs the park and disposes of any lingering 'droppings'.
Nancy Beckett, 43, a longtime Fort Funston lover since she moved to San Francisco in 2003, helps with the monthly park touch-up. "This place wouldn't be what it is without the help of everyone that comes out and helps clean up any debris," said Nancy Beckett. "With all the animal traffic that goes through the park, it's intricate that we have a big effort to keep the area sanitized."
Possibly the only other negative thing about the park is the proximity of Pacific Rod and Gun Club. The vague sound of gunshots from the firing range can be heard along the fort's trails and could possibly scare some of the more jumpy visitors, furry and non-furry alike. Distant gunshots aside, the sights and sounds of the park dilute the distraction caused by the gun range.
Fort Funston may not have the notoriety and popularity of Alcatraz and Al Capone, but you don't have to wait months for tickets to see the park and it's free. It won't be at the top of any tourist guidebook, and there won't be brochures or commercials encouraging people to come see the sights, but the natural beauty has yet to be commercialized and rivals some of San Francisco's top attractions.
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