archived Events

Conversations About Landscape Online: Hidden Nature SF

After two years of research, historical ecologists have unearthed countless unexpected stories of what San Francisco looked like in the past and synthesized them into a single map representing the city’s historical landscape. Join the Exploratorium and the San Francisco Estuary Institute in exploring our ecological past and how our historical landscape can inform a vision for a healthier, more resilient city.

Presented live on Tuesday, September 21, 2021 at 7:00pm PT!

A conversation about the past, present, and future of nature in san francisco

SFEI and its partners from the Exploratorium, the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and the Presidio Trust were joined live by over 400 participants for a conversation around the nature, both past and present, that has been hidden in plain sight in San Francisco. On Wednesday, February 24th, SFEI unveiled its mapping of San Francisco’s historical ecology and shared stories that uncover the mysteries of San Francisco’s ecological past. We then explored how these stories about the city’s past help us understand the ecology of the city today and reimagine a healthier and more resilient future. View the event recording and join us on our journey touring the past, present, and future of nature in San Francisco.

"Conversations About Landscape Online: Hidden in Plain Sight - The unique Natural Landscape of San Francisco"


+ Lauren Stoneburner / San Francisco Estuary Institute

+ Peter Brastow / San Francisco Department of the Environment

+ Susan Schwartzenburg / The Exploratorium

hidden nature SF

live webinar

On April 7th, 2020, the SFEI Hidden Nature SF team joined our partners at SPUR and the Presidio Trust for a live webinar. We discussed recent findings from our Hidden Nature SF project and uncovered some of the mysteries of San Francisco’s ecological past. Tune in to the webinar recording to learn about San Francisco's changing landscapes and explore the ecological potential of the contemporary city—an increasingly important endeavor as the Bay Area and cities around the world reincorporate nature to create healthier and more resilient urban landscapes.

"Hidden Nature: Exploring SF's Ecological Past and Future"


+ Robin Grossinger / San Francisco Estuary Institute

+ Lewis Stringer / Presidio Trust

Eco-detective office hours

The Mystery of Washerwoman's Lagoon

After an energizing kick-off in July, the Hidden Nature SF project is now in full swing! We hope you will join the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the Exploratorium on our first series of eco-detective office hours. Come and explore the mysteries of San Francisco’s historical landscape and how this can guide our city through nature-friendly urban design.

Look at maps and documents with SFEI eco-sleuths and engage in dialogue with them and your fellow eco-detectives. We will be searching for clues of Washerwoman’s Lagoon, Fort Mason and Russian Hill. Contribute your own local knowledge and help shape the future of historical ecology.

What signs of hidden nature have you observed in your neighborhood? Where do the waters flow? What does the topography show? Which plants and animals call your block home? What have you heard about the history of your ‘hood? Do you have any old maps, letters, or other documents that might shed light on how things were?

Meet us at the Exploratorium on:

Friday, October 11 10AM-Noon Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery

Thursday, October 24 6PM-10PM Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery (Adults only 18+)

Conversations About Landscape

Hidden Nature SF: Exploring San Francisco’s Ecological Past

Tuesday, July 23, 2019 | 6:00-8:30 p.m.

Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery, The Exploratorium

Pier 15, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111

Free, RSVP required. Email, or call 415.528.4444 and choose option 5.

San Francisco is the embodiment of “modern” and “urban,” dominated by high rises and bustling neighborhoods. Yet for centuries before the 1769 Spanish expedition into the Bay Area, the place we now call San Francisco was a radically different landscape, home to the Ohlone and defined by diverse ecosystems from vast, wind-swept sand dunes to tidal marshes teeming with life. Despite the transformation over the past 250 years, hidden creeks, remnant natural areas, rising shorelines, and native wildlife still shape the city’s character and resilience.

Join us as we launch Hidden Nature SF, a new project to engage communities in science-based exploration of the city’s ecological history. By applying historical ecology tools such as synthesizing archival data (e.g., early explorer diaries and hand-drawn 19th-century maps), Hidden Nature SF will draw us into the science of changing landscapes and challenge us to reimagine the ecological potential of the contemporary city—an increasingly important endeavor as the Bay Area and cities around the world address climate resilience.

About the Speakers:

Robin Grossinger is a Senior Scientist at the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI), and Co-Director of SFEI’s Resilient Landscapes Program. For over twenty years, Robin has analyzed how California landscapes have changed since European contact, using these data to guide landscape-scale restoration strategies. He has been named an Environmental Hero by Bay Nature Magazine and featured by NPR and the New York Times for his work on the historical ecology. He is the author of the Napa Valley Historical Ecology Atlas (University of California Press 2012).

Eric Sanderson is a Senior Conservation Ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the author of the bestselling book, Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City (Abrams, 2009). He is internationally known for his work in wildlife and landscape conservation and imagining cities in the past, present, and future. His work has been featured in National Geographic Magazine, The New Yorker, the New York Times, and elsewhere.

Shari Gardner is an ecologist who has worked for 20 years in the Napa River watershed on diverse projects including Historical Ecology research, biological surveys, river restoration, re-oaking, sustainable agriculture, and environmental education. Ms. Gardner’s work with Friends of the Napa River provided support for the innovative, community driven Living River Flood Control Project, which is bringing nature back to Napa and people back to the river.