Wrapping around the north end of San Francisco, the Presidio, a 14,491-acre park that’s part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is an outstanding destination for families, adventure seekers, history buffs, and anyone else who likes to relax on the edge of one of the most beautiful bays in the world. First, there are the beaches (and how many major cities have several beaches?).
Southwest of the Golden Gate Bridge, there’s Baker Beach, with a wild feel and amazing views. Be warned, though: It’s clothing optional, particularly on its north end. Crissy Field, the sandy stretch on the Presidio’s northeast corner, attracts families, water-loving dogs (they’re okay off-leash here), and kite-boarders and wind-surfers. Golfers can hit the links at one of the oldest courses on the West Coast, the Presidio Golf Course. Splurge on a stay at one of the two historic hotels onsite, the Inn at the Presidio, or the Lodge at the Presidio. And just inland from Crissy Field is the grandiose Palace of Fine Arts, originally built for the 1915 Pan-Pacific Expo, now home to an intimate theater.
Hiking and mountain-biking trails loop through the heavily wooded park, and are a wonderful way to see evidence of the Presidio’s past life: From 1846, before California was even a state, until 1994, it was an active U.S. Army base. Today, the more than 790 buildings that once housed personnel and fulfilled other needs of the Army serve as excellent examples of military architecture through the years. Thanks to preservation efforts, many of them have been handsomely converted into open-to-the-public destinations, including justly popular restaurants such as Sessions at the Presidio, Presidio Social Club, and The Commissary. Also taking up residence is the Walt Disney Family Museum, which focuses on the personal history and brilliance of the man behind the mouse. It’s definitely not Disneyland, in case the kids get overly excited, but more for grownups.
Another notable site: the Letterman Digital Arts Center, which is part of the Lucasfilm empire. Though the buildings are generally closed to the public, you can give your regards to the Yoda statue, in the campus’s main courtyard.