Water Fountain at Mt. Tamalpais Photo: Jonathan Hunt
Water Fountain at Mt. Tamalpais (Photo: Jonathan Hunt )

Let’s Drink: Scenic Water Fountains and Why It’s Radical to Use Them

Let’s Drink: Scenic Water Fountains and Why It’s Radical to Use Them

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In 2005, Nestlé Group CEO Peter Brabeck was filmed saying, “The one opinion [is that] water is a public right. That as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution. And the other says that ... it should have a market value.”

When the clip of his statement hit the internet, people freaked out, and then got to thinking about single-use bottles of water. They’re made of oil, they don’t biodegrade, and they cost money -- ridiculous when you consider that people already pay taxes for water infrastructure. Since that realization, there have been some awesome changes: now lots of people carry reusable water bottles, and bottle-filling stations are popping up all over. And as the American public learned from the water protectors of the Standing Rock Lakota and Dakota last year: Mni Wiconi! Water Is Life!

Thus, in your ongoing fight for your right to water, consider the humble water fountain. While on the surface they’re wildly uninteresting, drinking fountains steadfastly represent the idea that water is free and a human right.

"Wait," you may be thinking. “Drinking fountains are dirty.” People think this, and say it, all the time. “Drinking fountains.” “Are dirty.” Only... they’re not.


“Between 1971 and 2006, over 80 percent of deficiencies connected to drinking water-related outbreaks in the United States were caused by broad, systemic problems,” not site-specific contamination, wrote Rapichan Phurisamban and Peter Gleick in their 2017 study for the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank.

That’s nerd-speak for “drinking fountains aren’t dirty.”


The authors recommended a large increase in the number of public drinking fountains, partly to solve the problem of single-use bottles. So in a virtual trip around the Bay Area, let’s go out and find a few -- with awesome views.

Some dudes walking by a fountain at Mt. Tamalpais
Some dudes walking by a fountain at Mt. Tamalpais (Jonathan Hunt)

A Coterie of Drinking Fountains on Top of Mt. Tamalpais

The drinking fountain scene at Mt. Tam is off the hook! It’s a clean, free-hydration festival up there. Visitors can choose between the awkwardly charming rockwork one, which faces the always-closed visitor center and features a vintage pet-watering setup (a metal bowl set under an ankle-level hose bib — rustic!) Or there’s a classic Haws stainless duo with great water pressure overlooking the trailhead, though you may have to fight a bike guy to get to it (in my mind, that's a bonus). For the iconoclast, there's even a hard-to-carbon-date green metal fountain by the awesome Gravity Car museum. Again, great water pressure, with a view of, to be honest, some oak trees, but only a few steps away the stunningly verdant Marin woods.

Fountain at the SF Zoo, not a giraffe butt in sight
Fountain at the SF Zoo, not a giraffe butt in sight (Jonathan Hunt)

The Drinking Fountain From Which You Can See A Giraffe's Butt

I swear you can see a whole series of very tall butts while actually drinking from this fountain. They’re animals, though, so of course they moved as soon as I took this picture. Point is, there are drinking fountains all over the zoo, and it means you can go there with as many children as you want, as most people do. Zoos are complicated, and not all the animals at the San Francisco Zoo look happy, or as if they have enough room to replicate their natural habitat. But on the other hand, it’s completely spectacular to actually see a lion, tiger, or bear. Or a yawning hippo, an actual yawning hippo. Or there's the animals who do look happy, smug even, like the lemurs, who loll around in the largest outdoor lemur forest in the U.S. While you’re drinking the water, looking at the giraffe’s butt, remember: don’t taunt the animals.

Fountain at Ocean Beach
Fountain at Ocean Beach (Jonathan Hunt)

The Drinking Fountain on the Great Highway

Beach drinking fountains are typically not that glamorous. In that way they’re a lot like their buddies, beach bathrooms. However -- and I’m sorry to do this to you -- but try to imagine life without them. Imagine no bathrooms or free drinking water at the beach. It’s not pretty. But if that would-be evil overlord at Nestlé and his cronies (who could they be?) have their way, beach drinking fountains and and all other drinking fountains could go the way of the federally funded highway rest stop. You know, the kind that always had drinking fountains.

Ahem, where were we? Oh right: at the drinking fountain in the Ocean Beach parking lot at Sloat. This is a 1980s-type cement model, as grey as the sky, and intermittently covered in beige pebbling. And here’s the thing: It doesn’t work. Although a recent independent investigation by a passing family and dog showed clearly that water was leaking all over the place, neither this stalwart fountain, standing ever ready to serve, nor its trusty upstanding partner the beach shower/foot rinsing station are functional. The shower is even capped. As we can imagine the thirsty Black Lab in this investigation was thinking, “WTH?”

If anyone finds a drinking fountain out of order in San Francisco, they should contact the official city get-'er-done service, 311! Phone (415) 701-2311 or reach out on the web at sf311.org. Plus, there's a mobile app everybody should have anyway.

Putting the fountain near Rodeo Beach to use
Putting the fountain near Rodeo Beach to use (Jonathan Hunt)

The Drinking Fountain Between Rodeo Beach and Battery Townley Out at the Marin Headlands

Press button *first*, then put face down. Because wind, see photograph. Here’s me trying to fill my water bottle before I walk up to the industrial-chic Bond-villian-checkpoint-style 16-inch caliber gun’s home known as Battery Townsley, part of Fort Cronkhite. In the 1930s, there were two of these monsters, “each capable of shooting a 2,100 pound projectile 25 miles out to sea.” Now it’s just a real nice place to take a steep hike. When this photo was taken, I had already put face down, then pressed button, confident about which way the dumb water would relate to the air around it and to my face. I should have known better. Now you know better. Look at the pretty flowers and the ocean at the end of the continent adjacent to this drinking fountain! Don’t look at the “necessary.” Battery Townley has no drinking fountain, FYI. So fill up.