Wrapping around the north end of San Francisco, the Presidio, a 1,491-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?).
Things to Do at the Presidio
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 kiteboarders and windsurfers. 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.
The Presidio Tunnel Tops
As steeped in history as the Presidio is, not all the attractions have been around for generations. 2022 saw the unveiling of the Presidio Tunnel Tops, a 14-acre park built on top of the Presidio Parkway tunnels. Created by the community, for the community, Tunnel Tops offers not only some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, but facilities such as the two-acre Outpost, an elaborate playground with water features, a scaling wall, and other challenging adventures for kids ages 2–12. Next door, the Field Station “curiosity lab” has a look and feel that’s been inspired by base camps set up by scientists. Books, nature specimens, maps and seasonal exhibits are designed to spark curiosity in all things outdoors. When hunger strikes, the Presidio Pop Up area offers a rotating lineup of food vendors cooking up cuisines from all over the world. Take your culinary selections to one of the public lawns perfect for picnics, or reserve a picnic table at Picnic Place.
Presidio Trails and Military Architecture
For hikers and mountain bikers looking to cover more ground, trails loop through the greater and heavily wooded park. In late 2020, a restoration project opened seven acres' worth of new land to explore that was previously inaccessible. The Quartermaster Reach Marsh restoration offers an elevated pedestrian bridge and trail through the marsh populated by fish, crabs, oysters, and enough winged riparians to make it a birder’s destination. The various trails are also 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.
Where to Eat and More Things to Do at the Presidio
Some of those repurposed buildings now house some of the city’s most high-profile places to enjoy a meal. Justly popular restaurants such as Sessions at the Presidio, the Presidio Social Club, Colibri Mexican Bistro, and Dalida, which has an acclaimed Eastern Mediterranean menu, welcome locals and visitors looking to sample the Bay Area’s celebrated cuisine alike. 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 and history buffs.
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 that stands in the campus’s main courtyard.