If you’ve never heard of the Embarcadero Seawall before, you’re not alone. Because the Seawall exists underground as a retaining wall, it’s largely invisible.

One way to envision San Francisco’s Seawall is to remember that any part of the waterfront that is not a beach or a cliff is human-made. This means that world-famous destinations along the San Francisco waterfront – including the Embarcadero Promenade, the piers, the Ferry Building and ferry terminals, the Exploratorium, AT&T Park, and many more – are supported by a piece of human-made infrastructure: our Seawall.

Protecting Our City and Our Way of Life

In addition to establishing and supporting the waterfront, the Seawall protects the city from flooding, especially in the event of earthquakes and extremely high tides. It supports critical regional transportation, like BART, Muni and ferry service, as well as crucial utilities, emergency response and recovery infrastructure, and provides flood protection for downtown San Francisco neighborhoods that welcome millions of people each year.

The Embarcadero Seawall was built a century ago and was designed before engineers understood how to build infrastructure to survive earthquakes. Over the last 100 years, the Seawall has aged and settled and no longer offers the same level of protection it once did.

Who Does the Embarcadero Seawall Protect?

Everyone in San Francisco is at risk: if the Embarcadero Seawall were to fail, neighborhoods could flood, BART and Muni could become inoperable, city lifeline utility systems could fail, and San Francisco could suffer billions of dollars in damages.

While the Seawall protects all San Franciscans, it is particularly important for some of our city’s most vulnerable populations, namely low-income residents. We know that residents from lower socioeconomic backgrounds rely heavily on our city’s transportation networks. In fact, a third of all BART riders and half of all Muni riders are characterized as low income. Both systems support large numbers of low-income workers as they commute to their jobs from neighborhoods and communities across the Bay Area. If the Seawall were to fail in a seismic or flooding event and disrupt transportation services, these riders would be unable to get to and from work.

About the Seawall Earthquake Safety Program

With San Francisco’s iconic waterfront at risk of deterioration from a major earthquake, the city stands ready to save it. The Port of San Francisco is leading the San Francisco Seawall Earthquake Safety and Disaster Prevention Program, a citywide effort to create a more sustainable and resilient San Francisco waterfront by addressing immediate life safety upgrades to over three miles of the city’s northeastern waterfront stretching from Fisherman’s Wharf to Mission Creek.

What are the Major Goals of the Seawall Earthquake Safety Program?
  • Act as quickly as possible to address immediate safety risk;
  • Reduce earthquake damage and disruption for critical facilities;
  • Lower flood risk and create a stable foundation for ongoing sea level rise adaptation;
  • Enhance the sustainability of the Embarcadero and Seawall, and improve the local Bay ecosystem around San Francisco;
  • Respect San Francisco’s iconic waterfront; and
  • Engage the San Francisco community in the City’s first major sea level rise adaptation project.
Embarcadero Seawall Document Library
Seawall and Relevant Studies
Relevant Links