Crissy Field Promenade Rescues a Grand Day Out in San Francisco after Wave Organ Falls Flat

There’s nothing quite like perambulating the Crissy Field Promenade at The Presidio to lift your spirits, especially when San Francisco’s Wave Organ lets you down.

MontaraManDan and The Geek stumbled upon Crissy Field during a visit to San Francisco’s Wave Organ, a whimsical water-driven instrument situated at the tip of a jetty just east of the Golden Gate Yacht Club.

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The Wave Organ at San Francisco Bay. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

The button-hook route from the parking lot to the organ led through Marina Green and past scores of private watercraft bobbing in the afternoon sunshine before looping back out onto the jetty and the waterfront.

The Wave Organ consists of 25 gently curving pipes, each with one end sunk into the bay and the other tipped with a Seuss-like bell secured in a foundation of debris salvaged from the defunct Laurel Hill Cemetery in San Francisco. Think of it as whimsy anchored deeply in the macabre.

Tiny crabs skitter among the protective rip-rap, amplifying the effect.

The organ is dedicated to Frank Oppenheimer, founding director of San Francisco’s Exploratorium. He died before construction began, so he never got to hear the organ at work. We inadvertently visited at low tide, so the sculpture was an acoustical bust for us as well. An explanatory sign suggests visitors will enjoy the best experience at high tide. A visit during a full moon also was recommended. Who knew?

Disappointed, we headed west off of the jetty and just kept walking toward The Presidio, lured by the thrill of seemingly limitless unique views of the Golden Gate Bridge. And that’s when we discovered the Crissy Field Promenade.

There’s not much to it, really. The promenade is a wide path running the length of a restored wetland and broad green that stretches across 130 acres. The park opened in 2001 after serving for decades as an Army airfield. The green is perfect for picnics, ballgames or romping with the kids. A narrow beach runs along the Bay side of the field.

In addition to splendid views of The Golden Gate Bridge to the west, the Promenade boasts unobstructed views of Angel Island, Alcatraz and water traffic to the northeast, and a classic view of the city skyline to the southeast. The top of Sales Force Tower, which from most angles now dominates a skyline once defined by Coit Tower and the Transamerica Pyramid, can’t help but photobomb the otherwise nostalgic cityscape.

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Elephant Seal sculpture, Crissy Field. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

But it was not the bridges or the bay or the skyline that brought us joy as we strolled along the promenade. It was the people, a demographically rich slice of San Francisco denizens spiced with goggle-eyed tourists from around the world, walking, running, biking, skate-boarding, roller-blading and generally enjoying a grand day out.

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Sunset behind the Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Mason. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking


Determined to enjoy and record a Wave Organ rhapsody, MontaraManDan made the 45-minute drive solo from The Coastside last week at high tide. He parked, made the long walk out the jetty to the organ, placed his ear hopefully against the bell of a pipe and listened. Nothing. He tried another. And another.

Finally, a tourist pointed to a pipe secured a foot above the platform of discarded tomb stones. MontaraManDan dropped to his knees and listened intently. And then he heard it, a low moan punctuated by gurgles and a splash, the kind of sound you might hear from a troubled soul in the bathroom stall next to yours.

Disappointing? Perhaps. But MontaraManDan arrived home with hopeful determination in his heart: “Hey Geek, is there anything on the calendar during the next full moon?”


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