The Wave Organ

by Katie Cook

Getting to the Wave Organ can be an adventure. During high tide, the waves often lap up and over the jetty wall, splashing those who choose to walk on the left-side of the road. With your ear to the pipes at low tide you can hear water rushing into the pipes and sounds similar to those heard when holding a seashell to your ear.  The Wave Organ plays constantly, but the belching, sputtering, and smooth whistles emerging from the pipes are best heard during high tide. The Wave Organ’s song is subtle and best appreciated by sitting at one of the multi-pipe listening stations. The unobstructed views of Alcatraz, Sausalito, and the hills of San Francisco are all the more reason to sit and linger.
The Wave Organ opened in May 1986 thanks to a grant from the Exploratorium. Peter Richards, a former artist-in-residence at the Exploratorium, developed plans for the Wave Organ after hearing a recording of sounds emitting from a pipe in a dock in Sydney, Australia. Richards partnered with sculptor George Gonzales to build the Wave Organ. Constructed from PVC piping and recycled limestone and granite, from a demolished San Francisco cemetery, the Wave Organ melds art and science. The tombstones and bits of limestone are pieced together as if the builder was assembling a puzzle.
Getting there:
From the Crissy Field/Exploratorium parking lot at Yacht Road and Marina Blvd., walk past the Saint Francis and the Golden Gate Yacht Clubs. As the jetty narrows, the sidewalk will disappear. Continue walking for about a quarter-mile until you reach the end of the jetty. The Wave Organ is built into the end of the jetty and isn’t visible from the road, but when you find it, you’ll know.

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