4 Itineraries for Exploring San Francisco's Historic Presidio

Choose an adventurous, cultured, romantic or family-friendly circuit.

When the U.S. Army transferred the Presidio to the National Park Service in 1994, San Francisco gained a 1,491-acre recreational paradise. Today, the military base-turned-national-park is known for its beautiful beaches, meadows, trails and forests, along with family-friendly museums, architectural treasures and, more recently, enticing culinary offerings. Make the most of your next visit with these four Presidio circuits.

Cultural Exploration

Heritage Gallery

Start a cultural journey at the renovated Presidio Officers’ Club, a social hub and historical jewel that reopened in October. Explore the park’s military and civilian development at the Presidio Heritage Gallery, and don’t miss the vintage photos in Moraga Hall. Then, swing by artist Andy Goldsworthy’s “Earth Wall” installation in the Hardie Courtyard. His “Tree Fall” piece is also on the Main Post, while his “Wood Line” tree trunk sculpture and 95-foot “Spire” installation made from Monterey cypress trunks are also located elsewhere in the Presidio.

Peek into the on-site archaeology lab before following Funston Avenue past the Victorian homes on Officers’ Row. Turn right at Lincoln Boulevard and follow the Presidio Promenade to the Letterman Digital Arts Center. Filmmaker George Lucas has studios here, and his iconic Yoda sits atop a fountain outside Building B. Or, turn left from Funston and follow the Presidio Promenade to the striking San Francisco National Cemetery.

The Commissary

End your excursion back on the Main Post, where two-time James Beard Award winner Traci Des Jardins opened The Commissary in 2014. Here, the culinary team puts a California spin on Spanish cuisine. It’s all served in a former mess hall outfitted with salvaged wood furnishings and a bustling open kitchen.

Active Adventures

 Rob Hill Campground

The Presidio boasts eight scenic overlooks and 24 miles of hiking and biking trails that cross coastal bluffs, beaches, eucalyptus groves and restored watersheds. The 1.4-mile Ecology Trail, accessible from the Arguello Gate, traces a track through grasslands and forests to the Inspiration Point Overlook and then to the Main Post. The trail lies within Tennessee Hollow, the park’s largest watershed and the site of a new north-south trail now under construction. 

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. Open between April and November, it’s perched atop the Presidio’s highest point.

Crissy Field

With over 25,000 square feet of climbing walls, cardio equipment and yoga space, plus stellar Crissy Field views, Planet Granite is a favorite for locals and visitors. Nearby, Sports Basement stocks outdoor gear and clothing, and offers camping rentals, bike rentals, repairs and additional adventure-related services.

For post-activity refueling, settle in at the Presidio Social Club near the Lombard Gate. The former military barracks serves modern comfort food along with wine, cocktails and local beer.

Family Fun

Walt Disney Family Museum

The Presidio is among the city’s most popular playgrounds, beloved by children and adults alike. Attractions in the park include the Walt Disney Family Museum on the Main Post, which spotlights the famed cartoon creator’s life and art through interactive exhibits, sketches, memorabilia, listening stations, animated clips and more. The refurbished Presidio Officers’ Club promises a fascinating look at local history with multi-media displays, memorabilia and ongoing archaeological work; in the Mesa Room, youngsters will marvel at layers of exposed walls dating back to the Presidio’s earliest days.

Stop for a snack at Arguello, chef Traci Des Jardins’ contemporary Mexican cafe in the Presidio Officers’ Club. There’s an affordable kids’ menu, along with cookies, chocolates and horchata ice cream for dessert.

Crissy Field

With play equipment, sandboxes, athletic fields and unexpected Golden Gate Bridge views, Julius Kahn Playground is one of the Presidio’s hidden gems. Along the northern waterfront, Crissy Field offers options for sharing a picnic lunch, flying a kite or building a sand castle. The House of Air indoor trampoline park is a great place to play on rainy days, and the neighboring Batters Box SF welcomes sluggers of all ages and skill levels.

Romance and Rejuvenation

Andy Goldsworthy’s “Wood Line” installation (©Brian Vahey)

With unparalleled natural beauty and surprises at every turn, the Presidio presents great options for a date or a day of unwinding. Start with coffee at Starbucks in Building C of the Letterman Digital Arts Center, followed by a stroll around the adjacent park. From there, walk along the Presidio Promenade and take in the sights, or cut up to Lovers’ Lane. 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.

Batteries to Bluff Trail (©Presidio Trust)

Just before sunset, hit the .7-mile Batteries to Bluffs Trail that borders the Pacific Ocean. It includes some stairs, but the Golden Gate Bridge views and access to secluded Marshall’s Beach make the walk worthwhile.

If you prefer resort-style activities, book a tee time at the 18-hole Presidio Golf Course, which winds through stands of eucalyptus and Monterey pine trees on the park’s southern side. For a pampering alternative, book a couples massage at SenSpa.

End the day with dinner and Champagne at The Commissary, or share wine and dessert at the Presidio Social Club

Presidio Basics 

The convenient PresidiGo Shuttle (free during non-commute hours and on weekends) connects downtown San Francisco with the park’s most popular sites. Shuttle routes also run on continuous loops within the Presidio, and parking is also available. Look for signs that outline hours and payment details. For Presidio maps, historical background and details on park tours, visit the Presidio Visitor Center in the Montgomery Street Barracks on the Main Post or presidio.gov.

 

Renee Brincks
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