Great Highway Seawall & Promenade

The Great Highway Seawall & Promenade

Ocean Beach is underrated. It has a bad rep because the fog arrives there first and most of the time it’s extremely cold and windy, but on a good day it can be an extremely beautiful place for a stroll. It’s 3.5 mile trail offers great views of the city and ocean.

Chris and I decided to take on Ocean Beach last Saturday. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at Jenny’s Burgers (Sam Brenner had been there when he visited and gave it a good review!) and, since it was such a nice day, we walked the length of Golden Gate Park.

Golden Gate Park

The park spit us out near The Dutch Windmill at the southwestern most point of the park. We then walked across The Great Highway to the walking trail next to Ocean Beach.

The O’Shaughnessy Seawall

We started our beach walking adventure at the end of the O’Shaughnessy Seawall. For those of you unfamiliar with this name, the O’Shaughnessy Seawall is the cement walkway with steps and benches that you cross to get onto Ocean Beach. It spans the vertical length of Golden Gate Park and goes all the way up past The Cliff House to the Sutro Bathes parking lot.

To the beach visitor, the O’Shaughnessy Seawall is a great place to enjoy the ocean. It provides steps leading down to the beach and wide bleacher seats for picnicking or wave watching. In recent years there has been an expansive beach seaward of the wall and most of the bleacher steps have been covered by sand. For all but the most extreme sand levels, the stepped seawall offers a gradual transition to the beach from the boulevard, the parking area, and the pedestrian paths. To coastal engineers, however, the O’Shaughnessy Seawall is a masterpiece that has stood the test of time. In 1924, the City Park Commissioners noted that the seawall was “one of the grandest achievements of its kind in the history of public improvements.” More than 70 years after its completion, the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association awarded it the 1992-93 Coastal Project Award.

The path after the O’Shaughnessy Seawall is a sand walkway through all of the beach succulents. It has been extremely windy here recently, so the ‘scenic’ route of The Great Highway was closed to remove giant sand dunes. Bad for cars, but great for us! Parts of the sand trail had been completely transformed into a giant dune that we had to traverse. It made me think of Aladdin.

The sand trail from the top of one of the dunes.

Chris climbing over a dune.

One of the particularly massive dunes.

Beautiful succulents.

After we walked for awhile down the sand path we discovered the Great Highway Seawall & Promenade. I didn’t even know that it even existed until that day!

The beginning of the Great Highway Seawall & Promenade.

The Great Highway Seawall was built by the city between 1988 and 1993 to protect portions of a new sewage and storm water system. The Great Highway Seawall is a 2,900-foot vertical wall with an inland promenade, resembling the O’Shaughnessy Seawall, but without the seaward bleachers. This may be the last large wall that will be built along Ocean Beach.

Further down the promenade.

At the end of the Great Highway Seawall & Promenade we found the sewage and storm water system mentioned in the quote above. It’s extremely large and covered in graffiti.


You can walk out on it to get a pretty view of the ocean and the beach. The main part is chained off, but it’s easy to hop over [trespassing]. The harder part of the journey is walking on top of the giant tubes, but it’s totally worth it when you get out there.

Woo! Windy!

We ended our 8 mile adventure outside of the San Francisco Zoo, where we found these cute statues.

Guessing: Lion, Bird, and Grenade.

Ocean Beach and it’s 3 seawalls* may not be the best place to swim, but are perfect for a long walk. (*The Taraval Seawall, that I didn’t mention before, is covered in sand and therefore hidden.) If you’d like to see even more photos of our Great Highway adventure, check out my flickr set (& Chris’s flickr set). If the Great Highway isn’t your thing, check out my collection of San Francisco parks to find one better suited for you.