Escape the bustle of San Francisco with a quick trip to the Presidio.
Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Presidio of San Francisco is not only a national park; it’s a mini city within the city. Its stats are impressive: It covers 1,500 acres (a whopping 5 percent of San Francisco) and is home to more than 330 native plant species, 300 bird species, 30 butterfly species, several beaches, and a freshwater lake. A military outpost from 1776 until 1994—when it became a national park—it’s one of the oldest settlements in San Francisco.
History aside, the park is also a great place for modern-day fun. With multiple dining options and enough activities and adventures to fill several days, it draws locals and visitors to its great green expanse in the city’s northwest corner. Here’s what to do and see and where to eat and sleep in the Presidio.
The William Penn Mott, Jr. Presidio Visitor Center
Opened in 2017, the new Presidio Visitor Center, located on the Main Post, is the perfect place to get your bearings—and a ton of practical information and historical detail served up via interactive displays, touch screens, and large-scale models. Here, visitors can find the free PresidiGo shuttle schedule, a calendar of the day’s events, and trail maps, plus sign up for special events and tours.
Beaches and Trails with Bay Views
The Presidio is San Francisco’s biggest park, approximately 75 percent of which is open space, making it a great place to feel like you’re getting away from it all without going far—and soon it’ll have even more open space to explore. In November 2018, the demolition of the park’s former military Observation Post (which was more recently a Burger King) unveiled newly unobstructed views and cleared the way for the Tunnel Tops project, transforming the area above the Presidio Parkway tunnels into 14 more acres of parkland.
Designed by the firm that created New York’s High Line park, James Corner Field Operations, the new park will connect Crissy Field and the Main Post over the top of the freeway and will include grassy picnic areas, a fire circle, and a series of overlooks with both city and bay views. The project is expected to be completed in 2021.
Within the Presidio’s wooded footprint are 24 miles of trails, including a three-mile loop to see the largest public collection of artist Andy Goldsworthy’s work in North America. Do the hike alone, or join one of the guided art hikes that go past all four of the artist’s pieces: Spire, Wood Line, Tree Fall, and Earth Wall. Tours are free but registration is required. Traveling by two wheels is also popular: the 2.1-mile Presidio Promenade, which starts at the Lombard Gate and ends at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, is an easy route that travels past viewpoints like the Crissy Field Overlook and Battery East Vista, both of which offer bridge and bay views.
Some of the city’s top beaches are also located within the park, including Baker Beach and East Beach at the former military airfield of Crissy Field, which also has spectacular views of Alcatraz and the bay.
Civil War History and Cinematic Landmarks
For a dose of history, head to the San Francisco National Cemetery, the West’s first cemetery for military veterans, or check out 150-year-old Fort Point, a Civil War–era defensive fort, National Historic Site, and the setting for an iconic scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 thriller Vertigo.
Continuing the cinematic theme, visit the Letterman Digital Arts Center at One Letterman Drive, which is the home of Lucasfilm Ltd., Industrial Light and Magic, LucasArts, and the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Outside, a 17-acre park envelops the campus and a statue of Yoda greets visitors at the main entrance at Building B, while the interior lobby of Lucasfilm (open only during working hours) displays film props, memorabilia, and a life-sized Darth Vader statue.
At the Presidio’s Main Post, the Walt Disney Family Museum offers more cinematic history. The museum features galleries and interactive exhibits on the life of Walt Disney and his lasting impact on animation, entertainment, and the world.
Fun for the Whole Family
The Presidio also has a host of activities for adults, kids, and kids at heart. The 18-hole course at the Presidio Golf Club, once reserved for military officers, is now open to the public. The 12-lane Presidio Bowling Center offers bowling, video games, and a diner serving kid-friendly (and wallet-friendly) snacks like burgers, chicken wings, and fries. And near Crissy Field, the House of Air indoor trampoline park is the perfect place to burn off some energy—or get a great workout—as you jump and flip on trampolines, or join a team for a bouncy twist on an old schoolyard game: trampoline dodgeball.
San Francisco’s only campground, the Rob Hill Campground, sits on four acres and offers spectacular views of the bay, and a morning alarm clock of fog horns. No gear? No problem. The nearby Sports Basement rents all the camping equipment you’ll need.
Dining in the Presidio
The Presidio is home to four highly acclaimed, full-service restaurants. James Beard Award–winning chef Traci Des Jardins helms both Arguello, which serves contemporary Mexican cuisine, and the Commissary, which offers Spanish-inspired dishes. There’s also Sessions at the Presidio, a modern gastropub with more than 100 craft beers and a 50-seat patio with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Presidio Social Club, which serves updated takes on classic mid-century American meals like prime rib, deviled eggs, and spaghetti and meatballs.
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