Great Highway

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Great Highway
Great Highway from Sutro Heights, September 2019.JPG
The Great Highway, San Francisco, California, looking south from Sutro Heights
Length3.5 mi (5.6 km)
LocationSan Francisco
Coordinates37°45′02″N 122°30′31″W / 37.7506°N 122.5086°W / 37.7506; -122.5086
North endPoint Lobos Avenue
South endSkyline Boulevard

The Great Highway is a road in San Francisco that forms the city's western edge along the Pacific coast. Built in 1929, it runs for approximately 3.5 miles (5.6 km) next to Ocean Beach.[1] Its southern end is at Skyline Boulevard (State Route 35) near Lake Merced; it extends to Point Lobos Avenue and the Cliff House at its northern end. In 2020 a portion of the road was closed to vehicular traffic, opening back to traffic in 2021 during weekdays.


The road closed to motor vehicles in January 2021

The Great Highway is a four-lane divided road built in 1929 that is approximately 3.5 miles (5.6 km) long and runs next to the Pacific Ocean along to Ocean Beach on the west side of San Francisco. The Great Highway starts at Skyline Boulevard and runs north to Point Lobos Avenue and the Cliff House in the Outer Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco. It forms the western border of Golden Gate Park with two windmills, the Dutch Windmill and the Murphy Windmill at the northwestern and southwestern corners of the park along the highway. Both windmills were built to pump water into Golden Gate Park.

As a north–south throughway, this section of the highway does not provide access to destinations in the nearby Sunset neighborhood, other than Lincoln Way and Sloat Boulevard. It is a recreational street[2] with no car-usable turn-offs in the two miles between Lincoln and Sloat. This provides limited use for local traffic, so a parallel street named Lower Great Highway is immediately adjacent to the east of the recreational street. This street has residential dwellings on one side and a mixed use trail running parallel between the two streets. It is adorned with stop signs and speed bumps on nearly every block.[3]

The N Judah, a San Francisco Municipal Railway streetcar line, ends at Great Highway and Judah, while the L Taraval, another streetcar line, ends two blocks from Great Highway at Wawona and 46th Avenue.


The Great Highway was laid out in the Humphreys-Potter map of 1868[4] which laid out the streets of San Francisco’s newly acquired Outside Lands, including the Richmond and Sunset districts.

In the 1890s, a railway line was run along the route of the Great Highway from its Southern terminus to Golden Gate Park in order to build the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894. Although these tracks were removed in February 1895, the berm that supported them is still visible on the East side of the Great Highway today, supporting a multi-use pathway.[5]

In the early 1900s, as the automobile gained popularity, efforts were made to improve and widen the Great Highway as well as protect it from erosion. City engineer Michael O'Shaughnessy’s Ocean Beach Esplanade was completed in 1928, along with a newly paved Great Highway in 1929. The concrete seawall survives to this day.[6]

During the Hot Rod era of the 1950s-60s, the Great Highway was a popular destination for owners of modified cars and others who wished to engage in rolling drag races.[7] In the 1980s, San Francisco converted the highway from eight lanes to four lanes with an underwater stormwater transport box to adhere to the California Coastal Act and Clean Water Act.[8]

Due to rising sea levels[9] the southernmost portion of the highway, Great Highway Extension from Sloat Boulevard to California State Route 35, is slated to close to vehicle traffic permanently starting in 2023 as part of the Ocean Beach Climate Change Adaptation Project, to be replaced with a multi-use pathway and seawall protections for city wastewater infrastructure.[10]

2020 closure and reopening[edit]

In April 2020, the two mile segment (55%) of the Great Highway between Lincoln and Sloat was closed to motorized vehicles, causing some people to refer to the new pedestrian-only segment as the "Great Walkway".[11] City officials claim that the closure attracted an average of 26,400 weekly pedestrian and bike visitors,[12] versus 140,000 vehicles per week passing through when it was open to motorized traffic.[13]

The Great Walkway covered with sand in May 2021 during street closure.

One city survey of 4,000 San Francisco residents found 53% of respondents supported making the closure to motor vehicles permanent.[14] A community created petition got over 11,000 signatures to reopen the highway to cars as of August 2021.[15] Prior to the motor vehicle closure, the roadway was closed an average of 27 times a year for sand removal and flooding.[16] In April 2022, the Great Highway was partially or completely closed to motor vehicles for the entire month.[17]

In August 2021, three westside San Francisco supervisors and Mayor London Breed announced a new operational plan for the Great Highway. The plan opened the Great Highway to motor vehicle traffic on weekdays, while keeping it as a park on weekends and holidays. This announcement short-circuited a separate and ongoing planning process by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority to plan for the long-term future of the space, causing some protests.[18][19][20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lee, Fiona (28 September 2020). "How the Great Highway became San Francisco's most unexpected promenade". SFGate. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
  2. ^ ""...the Great Highway, which is classified as a recreational street in the General Plan. Recreational streets are meant to prioritize non-motorized traffic..."" (PDF). SAN FRANCISCO MUNICIPAL TRANSPORTATION AGENCY. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  3. ^ Knight, Heather. "S.F's beloved Great Highway car closure at risk as drivers race through Sunset's quiet streets". San Francisco Chronicle. No. 17 November 2020. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
  4. ^ "SF West History Vol 12 No 2" (PDF). Western Neighborhoods Project. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  5. ^ "Episode 163: Outside Lands Act of 1866". Outside Lands Podcast. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  6. ^ "A History of Coastal Erosion at Ocean Beach" (PDF). Surfrider Foundation. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  7. ^ "Recalling the Great Highway as a drag strip". Bay Area Observer. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  8. ^ "Information and discussion regarding staff update and community input on the current use of the Great Highway;" (PDF). San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. p. 16. Retrieved 28 July 2021.
  9. ^ Bastone, Nick (June 4, 2022). "San Francisco's "managed retreat" from rising sea levels". Axios Media. Retrieved June 6, 2022.
  10. ^ "Ocean Beach Climate Change Adaptation Project". San Francisco Recreation & Parks. Retrieved 28 July 2021.
  11. ^ Knight, Heather (2020-05-16). "Closed roads. Shared golf courses. Computers for kids. Bright spots of SF's shelter-in-place should last forever". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2021-08-15.
  12. ^ "Great Highway Concepts Evaluation Report" (PDF). San Francisco County Transportation Authority. p. 10. Retrieved 28 July 2021. From October 2020 to March 2021, the Upper Great Highway had on average 3,200 weekday bicycle and pedestrian users and 5,200 weekend day users (see Figure 7). This is about 26,400 weekly visitors
  13. ^ "Great Highway to reopen on weekdays, sparking renewed debate". The San Francisco Examiner. 2021-08-05. Retrieved 2021-08-16.
  14. ^ Graf, Carly (29 March 2021). "Closing Upper Great Highway for good is popular, survey finds". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
  15. ^ "Appeal seeks to block reopening of the Great Highway to cars". 48 hills. 2021-08-14. Retrieved 2021-08-16.
  16. ^ "Like It Or Not: The Great Highway Will Change". Here/Say Media. 3 February 2021. Retrieved 28 July 2021.
  17. ^ "San Francisco's Great Highway still smothered in sand after 'unusually windy storms'". SF Gate. 19 April 2022. Retrieved 2 May 2022.
  18. ^ "City Reveals Next Phase for Great Highway to Start August 16". SF Mayor's Office.
  19. ^ "Sup. Gordon Mar Calls for Cars to be Allowed Back on Great Highway, But in a 'Hybrid' Compromise". SFist. 9 July 2021. Archived from the original on 16 August 2021. Retrieved 16 August 2021.
  20. ^ "S.F.'s Great Highway will reopen to cars on weekdays". San Francisco Chronicle. 6 August 2021.

Route map:

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