The Evolution of San Francisco’s Waterfront

The Embarcadero Seawall was built more than 100 years ago and is older than most other major pieces of infrastructure in the city, including the Golden Gate Bridge and Coit Tower.

With a vision of creating increased harbor access, the newly established Port of San Francisco oversaw the construction of the Seawall in 21 unique sections. Most of the Seawall is built over what is called “young bay mud,” a weak, saturated, and highly compressible marine clay that tends to amplify earthquake shaking.

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 flood protection it once did.


Threats to the Embarcadero Seawall – and to San Francisco

We know that San Francisco is vulnerable to immediate seismic risks and emerging flood risks. We are taking steps to improve the safety of the Embarcadero Seawall to support life safety and protect our housing stock, businesses, transportation infrastructure, and other vital resources.

A damaging earthquake could happen at any time, and there is scientific consensus that one is nearly certain to occur in the Bay Area within the next 25 years. A major earthquake could prove devastating to life, property, and the San Francisco economy, likely causing most of the Embarcadero Seawall to settle and move outward toward the Bay.

Sea level rise is also a major threat to the city’s safety. Today, King Tides flood the Embarcadero Promenade. As sea levels continue to rise, there will be additional flooding risks, including the BART Transbay Tube, Muni light rail, and key utility infrastructure.


About the Seawall Earthquake Safety Program

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

Program Goals:
  • Act quickly 
  • Reduce earthquake damage
  • Improve flood resilience 
  • Engage the community
  • Enhance the City and the Bay 
  • Preserve historic resources 

Seawall Messenger Videos
Embarcadero Seawall Document Library
Seawall and Relevant Studies
Relevant Links
Seawall Program Updates
  • The Seawall engineering team will be collecting soil samples through the end of the year to investigate the conditions underlying the Embarcadero. This will help us better understand seismic vulnerabilities and advance solutions for strengthening the Seawall. Learn more about the geotech exploration here.