For visitors who wish to explore the American Indian side
of San Francisco
NACC has polled a group of American Indian residents to determine their favorite sites to visit in the City. The results are listed below, along with transit information to help you plan your trips while you are visiting. San Francisco has a very rich American Indian heritage, with state and national significance. We hope you have a wonderful time in this most beautiful of American cities.
1. Alcatraz Island
The occupation of the island from 1969-71 showcased the struggle of American Indian people to correct centuries of racial injustice. Garnering significant media coverage, the Alcatraz occupation is one of the most important events in the American Indian civil rights movement, for it captured the imagination of both Indian rights advocates across the country and the general public. It also made heroes out of the men, women, and children who risked many odds to create their own culture on the island (including a school and radio station). The occupation helped bring awareness to the issues of genocide and land theft that have plagued US history. Today the National Park Service has installed an exhibit on the island for tourists to see, and each Thanksgiving Day the island is blessed in thanks and remembrance. See our Photo Gallery. Reservations required for the ferry from Pier 41: ask your concierge or call 415.705.5555.
2. Golden Gate
The bridge is rightly one of the most photographed structures in the world: it is gorgeous and changes its appearance due to weather and light each day. While you are visiting it, look at the two sections of Earth that it spans– these are also beautiful and changing. Called the Golden Gate long before there was a bridge, it is through this stunning gap in the coastal mountains that the vast majority of California’s water flows out to the ocean. 10,000 years ago when Hokan Indian people occupied the area, their villages were nine miles west, ie. under today’s ocean! There was a steep canyon where the bridge now stands with a great river flowing out towards the Farallon islands. The canyon most certainly had a well traveled trail, for this would have been one of the best places for fishing on the entire continent. As the polar ice caps melted, the ocean rose to flood the valleys that are now called the San Francisco Bay. But fresh water was still obtainable at Angel island as recently as the 1930s. This huge rise in the sea level is worth considering amidst global warming! Buses #28 or 29 get you there.
3. Twin Peaks
This is the best panorama of the entire landscape that the Ohlone and Miwok inhabited. Mounts Diablo and Tamalpais, the two sacred peaks of the Bay Area, are clearly visible on most days, as are the Farallon Islands to the west and the Golden Gate and bridge to the north. You can also find Native plants and animals here, like rare butterflies and birds. It is known now as a romantic spot to view the surroundings, and most likely was back then too. It also was a sacred spot of its own, where people spoke with the spirits and young women went to prepare for pregnancy. Hike around the top fof the peaks and note the interesting Earth structures: serpentine and uplifted layers. Twin Peaks is reached by tour bus, taxi, car, or strenuous hike up Market Street from the Castro or Forest Hills Muni stations. Buses 36 and 37 get you pretty close.
4. Lands End
Where the Earth and waters of California mingle with the Ocean. The Golden Gate National Park Area could do a much better job managing this area, but perhaps because of the neglect you can get a pretty accurate feel for what this area was like before the Spanish invasion. Along the cliff path you can find remnants of plants cultivated by the Ohlone, and the views are breathtaking. This is one of the top trails of San Francisco– but be careful, as the cliffs can be dangerous. A stream descended into the ruined Sutro Baths area, and the endangered brown pelicans love it. Excellent place to honor the spirits of the setting sun (the land of the dead for most California tribes) and perform Autumn ceremonies, as well as imagine what the area looked like some 10,000 years ago. Take Bus 38 or 38L right from Union Square all the way out to the ocean.
5. Mission Dolores
Not a happy place for local Indians, as many ancestors are buried in unmarked graves surrounding the site (ie. they were buried dishonorably) and this was not a happy place for Indians when they were alive. The Mission is, however, the only remaining structure in San Francisco that was built by the Ohlone people and other local tribespeople (since renovated). Many guides make the mistake of saying the Spanish built the mission: of course this is wrong, the hard work was done by the Indians. So go visit and say hello to the spirits of the Ohlone artists and workers: traces of their work can be found inside in the paint work, carving, and wood work. The Mission was built on land owned by the Yelamu Ohlone next to an important fresh water stream that ran down what is now 18th Street. Images on display at the Mission have begun to honor the Ohlone and tell their story after many years of whitewashing the history of what happened here. Nearby Dolores Park is a good place for a picnic and views of the City from the upper levels. Take the MUNI J-Line or BART to 16th, then walk to Dolores Street.
6. Crissy Field and Presidio National Park
A dune and marsh area covered with Native Ohlone plants, Crissy also has an excellent view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Remnants of an Ohlone shellmound (village site) were uncovered during the restoration work.Information is at the visitors center. The nearby Presidio historical museum has an exhibit honoring the indigenous people, the recent archaeological work, and some explanation of the role the military played in suppressing the local tribes. Crissy Field and the Presidio are good places to enjoy a walk, get a sense for what the shoreline used to look like, and also see a variety of species interacting: dogs, humans, birds, plants, etc. The Pollan Springs area of the Presidio was a sacred place for local tribes, and the park itself is undergoing restoration work that should help interpret more about how the land was used by Indians. The 41 bus from Embarcadero takes to you to the Presidio.
7. Glen Canyon Park
A jewel of a city park, Glen Canyon allows you to feel like you are literally walking back into time. The further up the canyon you walk on the easy path, the further you travel into the Yelamu Ohlone landscape of San Francisco. The park has excellent rock and geological formations, along with cliff trails. It also has a thriving area of Native plants that were used for basketry and herbal remedies. The little stream that you see is actually the headwaters of Islais Creek, once the longest in SF– its mouth at the Bay was recently designated as Muwekma Ohlone Park. Other things of interest here are the endangered animals like birds and butterflies, the dense thickets, and the path through this veritable urban jungle.. The trail follows the oldest street in San Francisco, ie. from the bayshore up to the sacred Twin Peaks area, a route possibly 10,000 years old! A wonderful place to get away from the urban landscape, which is just yards away. The lower sections of the park have athletic fields, a rec center, a garden, and picnic area. Take BART to Glen Park, and walk the few blocks to the park entrance. Also in the neighborhood is the Sunnyside Conservatory.
8. Lake Merced
This is a now a fun place to watch birds on their migrations, especially in the mild winter months of December through March. It is also an important place for history, as it is the location where the Ohlone resistence fighters first battled the Spanish forces in 1776. When the Spanish irritated the Yelamu Ohlone by starting to grab the land where Mission Dolores now stands, the resistence fighters stood and fought the invaders in a battle at the lake to defend their homes. The lake then had several villages surrounding it, a fine supply of fresh water from local tributary streams (one of which San Francisco State University is built on top of), excellent access to ocean foods, and of course those gorgeous birds. Today the lake is being restored to its native beauty through the efforts of devoted citizens who are monitoring its water levels and general well being. Bus #29 gets you there.
9. PacBell Park
McCovey Cove is recently famous as the place where Barry Bonds hits his homers at PacBell park. So visit the new ballpark and go visit the little cove behind the outfield wall. This is as close as you’ll come to what was once Mission Bay, a huge and important wetlands area for the Yelamu Ohlone. It was the source of most of their food, clothing, and housing materials (especially the tule reeds). Many of the fibers used in the fine Ohlone baskets– their masterwork art — also came from Mission Bay and its tributaries. The flat area in front of you, as far as you can see up to Potrero Hill, is all landfill where Mission Bay used to be. It is now being developed as a biotechnology campus in concert with the University of California. At PacBell Park you are also standing near an historic site: where the Spanish and the Ohlone had one of their first encounters. This is the famous episode where Spanish scouts sailed past the Bay and were startled to see Yelamu Ohlone warriors dressed in full regalia on the shore at this location. They were fierce looking but weeping. It has been surmised that the Yelamu sensed the encounter would only lead to grief and suffering. This is the origin of the mission’s name: Dolores (dolor = Spanish for grief and sorrow). PacBell Park is reached by taking a MUNI train from Embarcadero Station.
10. Baker Beach
This beach just to the west of the Golden Gate Bridge is an excellent place to laze around on sunny days. Several Yelamu Ohlone camps were located here for fishing and shellfish gathering. Excellent views of the semi-circular bay called the Golden Gate, as well as the bridge of the same name. This and the adjacent Presidio National Park are part of an extensive Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which stretches from Fort Funston in south west San Francisco to Fort Mason in the north. There are many trails and cliffs, and some of the most beautiful beaches on the west coast. The southern part of Baker Beach has a parking lot and is more suitable for kids and those with limited physical abilities. The northern part is only accessible by steep trails behind the battlements, and the beach is primarily a nude gay beach. Both parts can be very windy and cold in a storm, so travel carefully. For those of you living in landlocked areas, this is the place to go watch a sunset and listen to the waves from the beach. Baker beach is reached by a Bus #29, which also goes through Golden Gate Park and past Lake Merced.
11. Strybing Arboretum
Golden Gate Park is the location for this wonderful collection of native plants from California. Go at any time of the year and you’ll see something in bloom. All of the important Native California herbal plants are included here including: Yarrow, Pitcher Sage, Hawthorn, Madrone, Silk Tassel, Buckwheat Bush, Oregon Grape, Grindelia, Manzanita, and Yerba Buena. There is even a Redwood Grove! This is amazing when you consider that the Earth underneath used to be sand dunes (just like all of Golden Gate Park), and it took an incredible amount of work to transform this into a park (soil, water, erosion control, etc.). Other sections of the Arboretum deal with Mexican, South American, African, Australian, and Asian plants. Strybing also holds periodic sales of California native plants, if you would like to buy some to take home. They also offer classes and activities for the whole family. Take MUNI Metro to Forest Hill Station, then catch a #44 Bus to Golden Gate Park.
12. India Basin
Hunter’s Point was the most favored area to live in for the Yelamu Ohlone. The weather was sunny here when the western part of the city was enshrouded in fog. Huge shellfish areas supplied ample mussells, clams, lobsters, and crabs. Where the land met the water there were thick marshes of tule reeds, which supplied hundreds of bird species with excellent cover and protection. Grizzly bears, coyotes, hummingbirds, and eagles all shared this area with the people. Today the land is greatly changed, but at India Basin park you can get a glimmer of what the past was like. Heron’s Head park is a nice walk to the north, and the old navy shipyard is to the south. The entire area will be restored in the future. Muni Bus #19 gets you there.
13. Yerba Buena Gardens
Right beneath the park, under trees and grass and the San Francisco convention and visitor facilities, is where the central Yelamu village site once stood. At that time this land was just on the edge of the vast and fertile marsh known as Mission Bay (see PacBell park above) to the south and Yerba Buena cove to the north. This is where all the major annual celebrations and ceremonies took place, and where people from the surrounding villages and camps would congregate for major festivals. It is therefore fitting that this area has become the major gathering area of the new culture. You can find lots of restaurants and museums here (and we hope one day a Native American Museum), along with the Metreon movie cineplex. The Martin Luther King Jr. Fountain is a favorite among people of all races and ages. This park is also a favorite place to eat lunch and take a nap on the lawn. Take MUNI Metro to Powel Steet station, walk one block south.
14. Yerba Buena Island
The rocky part of the island that anchors the Bay Bridge, that silver beauty that leads to the East Bay, is called Yerba Buena Island. On this island were important Ohlone fishing and shellfish processing camps. It was also a good place to stop one’s tule boat on trips from the east bay shellmounds (at Emmeryville, Berkeley, Richmond, etc.) and the shellmounds and villages in San Francisco. Today you can take a hike and get excellent vistas of the modern skyline from the island, and visit the site of the 1939 World’s Fair at Treasure Island (the flat part of the island). It is probably best to drive, as public transit to the island is still a bit unreliable. Just take the Bay Bridge east and turn off at the exit.