Fort Baker and the Bay Model
On this tour, we'll visit Fort Baker, Sausalito and the Bay Model. Fort Baker is a historic army post located immediately north of the Golden Gate Bridge, on the east side of highway 101.
From Fort Baker we'll go to Sausalito, the closest town in Marin County and a favorite tourist spot with lots of shops and restaurants. At the northern end of town we'll visit the Bay Model. This is not a toy - it's a huge physical simulation of the entire Bay and Delta area, covering 1.5 acres located in a large warehouse which was once a ship yard. Locate our starting point on this map.
At this time there is no convenient public transportation directly into Fort Baker. Golden Gate Transit route 2 serves Sausalito with a stop at Second and Main, which isn't too onerous a walk to Fort Baker if you're up for it, but it will take a little while, so wear good walking shoes. You can also take a ferry to Sausalito and then taxi, or walk to the fort (or, if you bring your bicycle or rent one in Sausalito, ride to the fort - see below). It's about two miles from the ferry terminal to the Fort. The Park Service is working to improve access to Fort Baker and they are considering a direct ferry, but none exists at present.
Locate the intersection of Alexander Avenue and Highway 101, which is the first exit after crossing the bridge from San Francisco, or the last exit before crossing if you're coming from Marin County or other points north. Enter Fort Baker by turning left off Alexander onto Danes Drive, which becomes Bunker Road as you circle towards the fort. If you miss the turn, don't worry; continue on Alexander Avenue and enter Fort Baker via a right turn on East Road, near the Sausalito-Marin Sanitation plant. There is free parking at the fort.
You can reach Fort Baker by riding across the Golden Gate Bridge and entering on Conzelman Road, which passes under the bridge. If you are on the east side of the bridge, there is a flight of stairs just as you enter the H. Dana Bowels Plaza that takes you to the west side, where you can follow Conzelman Road. You can ride this route and, if you wish, return to San Francisco with your bicycle via the Sausalito ferry. There are also bicycle shops in Sausalito where you can rent a bike; check out Stoked SF (they also rent kayaks ) and Sausalito Bike Rentals.
There are a variety of ways to see these areas, depending upon your mode of transportation. The following distances will help you plan your visit.
- 2 miles from the Sausalito ferry terminal to Fort Baker.
- 1¼ miles from the ferry terminal to the Bay Model.
Note: the Bay Model is closed on Mondays.
Fort Baker, our starting point, was built between 1902 and 1910 and is one of the best examples of Endicott Period military construction. Many of the original buildings were designed in the Colonial Revival architectural style, characterized by stocky, symmetrical structures with classical elements such as columns, wrap-around porches and decorative windows. The buildings cluster around the main parade ground.
There is a lot to do here, whether you spend a day or a few hours. Once you arrive at the main fort, you’ll find various parking options at the lodge, near the pier and at the museum. You can eat, hike, bike, fish or explore with one of the Park Service's cell phone tours. Maps and guides are available at the Bay Area Discovery Museum front desk and at the Cavallo Point Lodge reception desk (Bldg. 601). Pick up leaflets on the History Walk and the Parade Grounds Walk.
If you find yourself on East Road, there area several view points and picnic tables. The Down Road Trail leaves from East Road. This and the Chapel Steps Trail, which branches to the left from the Down Road Trail, are the only trails in the area.
If you have children you will want to visit the Bay Area Discovery Museum. It has exhibits, art and a very imaginative playground that appeals to children up to 8 years old.
If you’d like a more adult experience, visit the Cavello Point Lodge which occupies the entire main grounds of the fort. Murray Circle Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as a Sunday brunch in their bar and dinning room. If it's a nice day you can eat on the porch and enjoy a view of the bay. On August 18th and Labor Day they'll have a BBQ going on their deck. Bring your dog and enjoy a burger and beer (not the only selection) while listening to live music. Let's hope they expand this option. A drink on their deck is the perfect end to a day or beginning of an evening. There is also a day spa with a small heated pool and cooking classes which are open to the public. This upscale, dog-friendly resort offers accommodations in the updated original buildings on the fort and in new green buildings.
The area is great for bicycling. Unlike the Headlands, which requires strenuous climbs and steep descents, Fort Baker has few hills and you can easily cover most of the area. Bicycle or walk down to Horseshoe Bay to watch the fishermen or visit the public boat launch. From the launch site the Presidio Yacht Club is on the left side of the bay as you face the water, offering berths for visitors, and Mike’s Place restaurant, which serves casual food and libations, and is open to the public on Thursdays from 4:00 to 11:00, Fridays from 4:00 to 12:00, Saturdays from 11:00 to 12:00 and Sundays from 11:00 to 7:00. It has a beach bar vibe.
You can also go down to the pier at the other side of Horseshoe Bay. The views of the bridge are spectacular at this spot. If you want to try your luck at crabbing, the park service offers one-day classes on Saturdays. Call 415-556-1693 for information and to make reservations. You don't need a fishing license to crab from public piers, but only two traps per angler are allowed, crabs must be 4 inches across at the widest part of the shell and the daily limit is 35 crabs. Pay attention to seasonal restrictions. You can also fish, but if you're over age 16 you'll need a California state fishing license.
When you’ve explored Fort Baker and are ready to leave, head out on East Road toward the tourist heart of Sausalito, about two miles away. From the end of East Road turn right. You’ll know youre there when Alexander Avenue has curved to the left (South St), then to the right (2nd St.), to the right again (Richardson’s St.) and finally turns into Bridgeway. There is only a short stretch at the beginning of Alexander Avenue without a sidewalk. As you reach downtown Sausalito, look for a performance artist balancing rocks along the shore; his constructs are amazing. Some street parking is available and there is a large parking lot further on, near the ferry terminal.
Sometimes this downtown area is all that tourists see, but there is another part of the city frequented by locals, along Caledonia Street, which branches to the left off Bridgeway. There is a movie theater there if you need a rest, as well as a good collections of restaurants. Continuing along Bridgeway, there are fun restaurants to your right: try Bar Bocce at 1250 Bridgeway, where you can relax while your kids can play; Le Garage at 85 Liberty Ship Way, offering views of the harbor; and Fish (cash only), located at 350 Harbor Drive, where you can order from the counter and relax on the deck.
The Bay Model
To reach the U.S. Army Core of Engineers' Bay Model, continue walking down Bridgeway, then turn right on Marinship Way and follow the signs. This three dimensional model of San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento / San Joaquin river delta was built in 1957 by the US Army Corps of Engineers to test the impact of water diversion proposals on the Bay and surrounding regions. In 2000, the Army Corps of Engineers transitioned to computer-based simulations and the Bay Model became obsolete as a planning and analysis tool. Rather than demolish the structure, the Corps has chosen to maintain it as an educational tool, and it is now open to the public.
The Bay Model is located in what used to be a shipbuilding facility. It's free. Summer hours are Tuesdays through Fridays 9:00 to 4:00 and weekends and holidays 10:00 to 5:00. It’s closed Mondays, except Memorial Day. Pick up a self-guiding map or an audio tour, available in several languages. As you explore the model, reflect that it saved the Bay Area from several well-intentioned but potentially disastrous water-diversion plans, such as that espoused in the late 1940s and 1950s by John Reber, that would have dramatically altered the entire Bay. You will also find various other hands-on exhibits, as well as displays of Sausalito's past.
If you're driving, continue out Bridgeway and follow the signs for 101 South to San Francisco. Notice the houseboat communities as Bridgeway joins Highway 101. If you're walking or biking, return to the ferry terminal in the center of town.
This is the end of our Golden Gate exploration.
In the Area
If you’ve rented a car and have time, explore the areas mentioned in The Headlands.
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