Fort Mason is a cultural oasis amid San Francisco Bay's hustle and bustle.
San Francisco is a city of antitheses. One moment it’s bright and sunny, and the next a thick fog rolls in. Foodies can find the best hole-in-the-wall burrito but also Michelin-starred restaurants — the most on the West Coast. In recent years, the tech boom inundated San Francisco, bringing with it an incursion of techies and startup companies that have all but flushed out the bohemian counter culture that shaped the city and gave it its colorful history.
But there is a yin to this yang, preserving what is inherently San Francisco. A repurposed military base campus is filled with diverse and innovative theaters, dance performance areas and art installations, and offers educational and cultural classes. Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture is a refuge for the artistic community of San Francisco.
Fort Mason was once the hub of military activity for the bay area, especially during World War II. Originally established in the 1860s, Fort Mason played a critical role as the San Francisco Port of Embarkation between 1910 and 1963 for the U.S. military. In current times, some of the old officer housing remains in use by the Army, and some is rented to the public. There is a youth hostel in one of the larger buildings, and the lower portion of the Fort Mason site is collectively known as the Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture (FMCAC), a nonprofit campus.
FMCAC houses the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Artist Gallery, Blue Bear School of Music, City College of San Francisco Art Campus, the Mexican Museum, and various other galleries, a restaurant, performing arts theaters and creative spaces. The National Park Service headquarters and the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park are also located at Fort Mason.
The quickest and most scenic way to get to Fort Mason is via a 20-minute walk from Fisherman’s Wharf. Snag a guest dock in the West Harbor from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. by calling (415) 705-5436 or via VHF Channel 16. All day stays must depart the marina by 4:30 p.m. Boaters looking for a longer stay can complete a request form on the Pier 39 website. The brief walk is a beautiful shortcut from Fisherman’s Wharf runs along the waterfront directly to Fort Mason, on a path that offers incredible views of Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito.
OFF THE GRID
Off The Grid is a mobile food extravaganza, free to the public every Friday from March through the end of October at Fort Mason. It is the largest food truck gathering of its kind in the United States, with live music, crafts and cultural experiences. Off the Grid was established in 2010 and has grown into an iconic and quintessential Bay Area activity. Locals and visitors alike enjoy a cornucopia of authentic and original meals alfresco, mingling with new friends and old. The website includes an updated list of food truck vendors as well as the hours. As with all Off the Grid events, parking and admission are free.
If food trucks aren’t your thing, or if it’s not a Friday, there are a few other options for hungry folks at Fort Mason. Greens Restaurant is a vegetarian joint on the waterfront that opened all the way back in 1979. Its cuisine, although meatless, is satisfying and sophisticated. There is an extensive wine list as well as a “Greens To Go” counter, for anyone who would rather have a picnic instead. Before 3 p.m., Cooks & Co. is a quick and more meaty dining option. Check the board for the daily specials, which vary from egg salad sandwiches to linguini to Korean rice bowls. Every Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. there is a farmers market that features more than 35 local farmers and food purveyors each week. Stock up on picnic or brunch ingredients all while taking in an awe-inspiring view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay.
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