Hidden Nature SF seeks to uncover the natural history of San Francisco’s past landscape. At the heart of the project is the field of historical ecology, which uses interdisciplinary science and visualization techniques to synthesize historical archival data into a completely new perspective on the familiar city. Drawing on hundreds of old maps, photographs, and textual documents, we are reconstructing and mapping the ecosystems and waterways that existed in San Francisco prior to Spanish colonization.

The initial phase of the research (completed in 2021) mapped the historical landscape of the northern portion of the San Francisco peninsula, and subsequent phases will extend the mapping south to remaining portions of the city. Explore the interactive web map to take your own journey through the unique ecosystems that existed here before urban development, watch a recording of our final project event hosted by the Exploratorium on September 21, 2021, or click the following links to learn about:

Our goal is to inspire a vision for a healthier, more biodiverse city where both people and nature can thrive. While San Francisco has been transformed into an urban center, complex networks of “hidden” nature still weave through the city. Hidden Nature SF invites you to engage with San Francisco’s ecological past and present and to reimagine its future potential.

The science-based reconstruction of San Francisco’s past landscape provides a foundation for restoring native ecosystems and building ecological resilience. The research presented here is a resource to support and inspire urban greening efforts at all scales, from backyards to public open spaces, from living schoolyards to rooftop gardens. Grounded in historical ecology, the collective impacts of these actions will shape the ecological future of San Francisco.

Visit our Hidden Nature SF project website (hidden-nature.org) to learn more!

2019 to 2021
Programs and Focus Areas: 
Resilient Landscapes Program
Historical Ecology
Urban Nature Lab
Location Information