The Marin Headlands are prized for their views of water and city, and numerous trails lead you to dazzling vistas. The scented chaparral Schwartz promises accompanies hikers to the top of Slacker Hill near the city of Sausalito, for example, where the ocean connects San Francisco’s skyline to the Farallon Islands, some 30 miles away. At the center of the view is the 1.7-mile span of the Golden Gate Bridge. Climb Slacker Hill at dawn to see a fantasia of fuchsia and lemon hues play out between the water and the skies. On foggy days, you can watch the mist prowl over the bay like a great gray beast. The thickest fog obscures the bridge, but sometimes a single red tower bursts from the luminous folds, looking oddly out of scale.
Beneath those folds and towers, the span binds the Marin Headlands to their sister cliffs across the strait. There, a Spanish military outpost was established in 1776, built atop San Francisco’s ancient sand dunes.
For over 200 years, Spanish, then Mexican, then U.S. soldiers occupied the Presidio, keeping commercial development at bay. In 1994, the 1,490-acre former army base joined the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Today the Presidio Trust, a federal agency created to preserve the area, presides over 24 miles of trails; a 300-acre forest of Monterey cypress, pine, and eucalyptus trees; and hundreds of renovated buildings. Former army lodgings now house numerous amenities and attractions, among them the elegant Inn at the Presidio, one of only two hotels in the recreation area (the other being Cavallo Point Lodge), and the innovative entertainment of the Walt Disney Family Museum.
The Presidio’s forests are easy to get into, with paths connecting one intriguing place to the next. One standout, the Presidio Promenade, brings walkers to the San Francisco National Cemetery, where interred military veterans include buffalo soldiers, Civil War generals, and a Union spy.
The Presidio Trust also supports art programs all over the park. British artist Andy Goldsworthy has created four permanent installations in the Presidio. To see his work called Tree Fall, for example, duck into a historic powder magazine on the Main Post parade ground. As your eyes adjust to the dim light, shapes that could be mammoth tree roots emerge from the ceiling, giving the illusion of being deep underground.
“I see Tree Fall as a symbol of the Presidio,” says Alex Kenin, founder of the trekking tour company Urban Hiker SF. “The work is hidden in the Presidio just as the Presidio is hidden in San Francisco.” That metaphor arguably extends to the many quiet riches of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. “In each case,” Kenin says, “the curious are rewarded.”