San Francisco’s Wave Organ

A Unique Sonic Experience

One of the most unusual musical instruments you’ll ever see or hear is located at the tip of a jetty in San Francisco’s Marina District. The Wave Organ is a wave-activated acoustical sculpture located on the very end of a jetty in San Francisco Bay. Back in the 80s, an Exploratorium artist named Peter Richards heard a recording of sounds made by a vent pipe of a floating dock in Australia. The unique aural textures and odd resonance of the sound inspired Richards to design and create a sculpture that would take the wave action of the Bay and shape it into sound. After receiving a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Richards worked with a sculptor and master stonemason named George Gonzales to create this unique installation.

Together, they created a prototype and began testing it in 1981. The receiving overwhelming approval from visitors and city officials and began creating a much more ambitious and permanent installation. Richards and Gonzalez finished this ambitious project in 1986 and it has been delighting residents and Bay Area visitors ever since.

Depending on who you talk to about the Wave Organ, some say that the sounds produced by the waves have a mournful quality due to the jetty that the sculpture is built on. The jetty and part of the sculpture are constructed from materials taken from a demolished cemetery. A careful eye will notice the occasional chunk of carved granite or marble here and there but the odd, eerie and altogether unusual sounds are produced by waves pushing air and water through 25 organ pipes made of PVC. The sounds emanating from these pipes are usually subtle and softly musical, creating a most curious ambience combined with the hiss and slap of the waves on the jetty.

Those who know say that high tides are the best times to hear this unique San Francisco landmark, so check the tide tables before you go. If you’d like to see and hear the Wave Organ in action, it is located at 83 Marina Green Drive in the far northeast corner of The Presidio on the jetty that protects the Yacht Harbor off Marina Boulevard. For more information, visit the official site at

The Wave Organ sounds best at high tide. Check the tides.