Aerial view of the Presidio (©Presidio Officers’ Club)
San Francisco suddenly gained a 1,491 acre recreational paradise when the U.S. Army transferred the Presidio to the National Park Service in 1994. Now the military base-turned-national-park is known for its beautiful beaches, meadows, trails and forests. You can also explore family-friendly museums, fascinating historical architecture and, more recently, enticing new restaurants. I included the aerial photo above to demonstrate just how expansive this relatively new park area is. There are still trails being built and large sections of old barracks and land that are being revived. As a native San Franciscan, I can attest that the Presidio is definitely worth a day trip!
Golden Gate Overlook & “Batteries To Bluffs” Trail
One of the best places to start your adventure in the Presidio is at the Golden Gate Bridge Overlook. The restored military batteries are like a playground, with stairways and hallways that lead you to a grand view of the bridge. You can park your car and hop on the PresidioGo Shuttle that runs continuous loops around the park every 30 minutes. It’s a great idea to return just before sunset and explore the .7-mile Batteries to Bluffs Trail that borders the Pacific Ocean. The access to secluded Marshall’s Beach makes the walk worthwhile.
Baker Beach is another popular sunset destination that borders the Presidio. You can drive your car right down to the parking lot and take 10 steps to the sand. If you’re lucky, you might see a beautiful reflection of the bridge like I did for this photo! There is a lot more foot traffic here but the beach is long and makes for a good walk. On a hot San Francisco day it’s packed with picnics and families.
The Presidio has eight scenic overlooks and 24 miles of hiking and biking trails that cross coastal bluffs, eucalyptus groves and restored watersheds. Most of the trails are in Tennessee Hollow, the park’s largest watershed. My favorite route is called the Ecology Trail. It’s accessible from the Arguello Gate, traces a track through forests to the Inspiration Point Overlook and then to the Main Post. The 2.5-mile Bay Area Ridge Trail also starts at the Arguello Gate and leads to San Francisco’s only overnight campsite, Rob Hill Campground. Several more trails are being built, which goes to show how new this land is to the National Park Service.
Lovers Lane & Woodline
There are also several romantic walks on more travelled routes like the Presidio Promenade and, my favorite, Lovers’ Lane. In the early 1900’s Presidio soldiers frequently followed this trail into the city to visit loved ones, and it is also the site of Andy Goldsworthy’s “Wood Line” installation (which was the highlight of my most recent adventure in the Presidio). This is a must-see!
Crissy field is possibly one of the coolest “urban” places that I have ever picnicked. You have to be careful though, because some days it might be blanketed in fog. There are picnic tables and BBQ’s, as well as a scenic path that leads you to Fort Point under the bridge. Some cool companies have revamped old military warehouses along the field where you can take part in even more fun activities. Planet Granite is a favorite for locals and visitors, hosting over 25,000 square feet of climbing walls, cardio equipment and yoga space, plus stellar views of the bay. I sometimes used to go to a Lady’s Night for climbing that they hosted a few years ago. Nearby, Sports Basement is a play land of outdoor gear, clothing, and adventure-related services. I’ll take any opportunity to go there that I can get! The House of Air indoor trampoline park is a great place to bounce around, and the neighboring Batters Box SF welcomes sluggers of all ages.
Take a post-activity break at the Presidio Social Club near the Lombard Gate. The former military barracks serves comfort food and delicious cocktails.
Continue your excursion back on the Main Post, where two-time James Beard Award winner Traci Des Jardins opened The Commissary in a former mess hall. Attractions at Main Post include the Walt Disney Family Museum, which spotlights the famed cartoon creator’s life, and the Presidio Officers’ Club, where you can find fascinating multi-media displays about local history. Main Post even has a bowling alley! A fun fact that I learned while exploring Main Post (and it’s neighboring Letterman District) is that the first US women in military uniform were the Army Medical Corps nurses at the Letterman Army Hospital in 1901. Love that! San Francisco has always been progressive.
Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is definitely worth a visit. It was originally built on Presidio land and sits right on the South end of Crissy Field. My favorite time to go here is at night. The grand architecture and fountains are lit up with golden light and it’s really quite romantic. I’ve had a tradition of walking into the center of the dome and singing Opera ever since I was a kid. The echoes are great!
Have you ever been to the Presidio? Is there a park near your town that you want to explore more? Give me the detes in the comments below!