Exploring Fort Funston
Updated: May 10, 2018
Last week, I took the family on our semi-annual trip to Fort Point. We were all so inspired by the sights and the history of the fort that we decided to look into some of the other California coastal fortifications.
Most people are not aware of the fact that throughout California, a series of coastal forts were set up to defend key cities and regions of the state. These started popping up around the time of the Civil War and continued through World War II.
Fort Funston is a former harbor defense installation located adjacent to Daly City that has now been turned over to the National Park Service. Today, it is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
I will admit that I have always been fascinated by the Fort Funston since reading about in college. It was a site used to deploy massive prototype 16-inch batteries designed to engage enemy naval vessels. The site was decommissioned in 1963 but I had read about it while studying World War II as a history major at UCSD. Although I have lived in the Bay Area for almost two decades, I have never taken the time to visit the park.
Today was my day to revel in the past and explore the park.
Before I go into what we did, a couple pieces of advice about traveling to Fort Funston. First, if you think you might be hungry when you are there, pack food. There are no places nearby to eat. The park is close to Daly City but it is a bit of a drive. Second, there are very few bathrooms at the park. The main one is by the parking lot near the glider port. I would recommend parking there. It is also a great starting point for a hike. Third, there are natural sand dunes that have overtaken the lower portion of the park. There is a lot to see there so make sure you are wearing shoes that do well in sand. Finally, Fort Funston is a park that is best explored off the main paths. There are a lot of cliff side paths to take. I would advise that you explore them and make sure that you take your time.
We drove up to Fort Funston around 10am.
It was a particularly clear day and I wanted to address an alternative motive of trying to catch a glimpse of the Farallon Islands. Fort Funston is known to be the best place the view the island which is 20 miles off the California coast. The island itself cannot be visited. It has no beach to land a boat on and it is designated as off limits as a science station and nature reserve. It also has a great lighthouse that my son and I would both love to visit someday. I guess I will have to drive the coast guard crazy for the next 4 years to fulfill that wish.
The funny thing is that we were greeted with an excellent view of the island 5 minutes after driving into the parking lot to Fort Funston. Had I known it would be that easy…I would have come here years ago.
This shot was taken from 20 miles off using a 300mm lense. I think that for my next visit, I will use a 600mm lens with a stabilization pole and try to get in closer. But, I was happy to get the shot at all. My son was really excited about the view and of the fact that you can make out the lighthouse at the very top of the island.
We then continued to make our way along the cliff. This exposes the front view of Battery Davis and the casemates for the 16-inch guns.
We walked into the cavernous area to get a feel for the size of the guns that once occupied the space. Sadly the 15-foot deep gun train pit was filled in and the bunkers dug into the side of the mountain were walled off but it was still incredible to see them up close.
We proceeded to walk through the gun position to the main (rear) entrance of the battery.
Battery Davis was established, in its present form, in 1938. The barracks, ammo bunkers and gun positions were all dug into the side of the hill on the cliff above the beach.
The main doorway was very imposing.
From there, we made our way around the back side of the hill to the second gun position of Battery Davis.
On the way, we caught a glimpse of the half buried bunker doors that would have provided access to communications, ammo storage and sleeping quarters.
We then went into the second gun position, which was identical to the first.
From there, we made our way down the base road (built out by the Army Corps of Engineers) and happened upon the sand dunes below. Nature is doing a great job of reclaiming the land. You will see that many of the minor structures are starting to give in to the relentless wind and sand.
One of the fun areas to also explore are the hollowed-out groves of trees that dot the landscape of Fort Funston. Many of the groves are big enough to hide a semi-truck.
When we got to the bottom of the hill, we were greeted by an incredible view of the coast as well as several anti-aircraft pads that has been established to protect Battery Davis. After exploring the area, we made our way back up the hill and past the battery.
One of the key features of Fort Funston is that part of the old base has been converted to a glider port. The lookout for the glider port was built over the observation bunkers for Battery Davis. If you visit, be sure to walk up the newly built wooden walkway to enjoy the view of the gliders and the coast.
You can also get a close-up view of the observation bunkers.
We then decided that it was time to head back home. The funny thing was that there was still one more feature that I wanted to see at Fort Funston. It was also the site of a cold-war era Nike missile battery. We had walked the length and breadth of the base and I could not figure out how I missed it and then it came to me as we were approaching my car. We were parked on it.
The Nike missile battery has been converted to a parking lot. Most of the physical signs of it are long gone but the original hatches to the underground complex are still visible (although sealed up).
It was really fulfilling to make the observation…and on that note, we went home to enjoy the rest of our afternoon.