San Francisco's former military-base-turned-public-park has a history that spans centuries. Today, the 1,491-acre space is one of the city's greatest natural and cultural assets, as well as a model success story for combining public land and private enterprise. It's home to the West Coast's oldest national cemetery, miles of hiking and cycling trails, and more than 700 structures—many of which are historic and house restaurants, bars, museums, and even a trampoline park.
The Presidio, part of the 82,027-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area, will soon be home to Presidio Tunnel Tops. This 14-acre parkland atop the new Golden Gate Bridge highway tunnel will feature overlooks, a Cliff Walk, and a three-acre play area for kids. There's so much to see and do here, you can easily spend a full day—if not an entire weekend—exploring the area. Ready to find out for yourself? Read on for the top 10 things to do in The Presidio.
Once a military airstrip, Crissy Field is now one of San Francisco's most welcoming waterfront parks. This 130-acre space on the edge of San Francisco Bay features spectacular views of both the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, as well as a tidal marsh that attracts herons, egrets, and turkey vultures. There's a small beach where kids can dip their toes in the bay's cool waters, plus plenty of picnic tables for savoring barbecued hot dogs and gourmet sandwiches. Walkers and cyclists can check out The Presidio's stunning Mediterranean Revival-style architecture along a multi-use trail, which leads directly to the Warming Hut. This park store and café is a great place to shop for locally-sourced gifts and snack on freshly baked scones and cinnamon buns.
Don't expect to find meandering boat rides or rollicking roller coasters at this museum devoted to the life of Walt Disney—but do get ready to learn all about his childhood, legacy, and inspirations. Founded by Diane Disney Miller, Walt's daughter, the Walt Disney Family Museum opened in The Presidio's Main Post in 2009. In addition to galleries devoted to his youth in Missouri and Hollywood ambitions, you can see Disney's honorary Academy Award for "Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs" and a handcrafted model of Disneyland the way he had envisioned it. The museum also features events like monthly screenings of classic Disney flicks and talks on animation basics.
Star Wars' most legendary Jedi master makes his home in The Presidio, perched atop a bronze fountain in front of Building B of the Letterman Digital Arts Center. This 23-acre campus serves as headquarters for George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic, a visual effects company that has helped films like "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Avatar" come to life.
For true fans of the epic space-opera, this is a pilgrimage for the books. After you take a selfie with the Yoda Fountain, head inside the lobby of Building B, which is free and open to the public during the week. Here, you will find life-sized replicas of Darth Vader and a storm trooper, as well as smaller Star Wars-themed statues.
One of the city's most popular stretches of coastline, Baker Beach is a mile-long, cliff-sheltered public beach that's especially enticing on San Francisco's sunniest days. Along with superb Pacific views, it offers a photo-worthy panorama of both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin headlands. It has both picnic and restroom facilities onsite, and is dog-friendly north of Lobos Creek.
If it's history you're after, don't miss Battery Chamberlin. This six-inch “disappearing gun” is the last of its kind on the West Coast, and is brought out for demos the first full weekend of each month. It's located high above the sands on the north end of the Baker Beach parking lot.
Following a three-year renovation, the Presidio Officers' Club opened to the public in 2014. The building once served as living quarters for both Spanish and Mexican soldiers, and its historic 18th-century adobe walls remain visible in some places.
At the center of this free museum and cultural center is the the Presidio Heritage Gallery, which utilizes film, photos, and artifacts to trace the parkland's 10,000-year history. It also hosts annual special exhibits and celebrates Presidio history through events like jazz performances and ongoing archaeology digs. There are even guided behind-the-scenes tours that take place at 11 a.m. each Saturday. If you're looking to gain an overall sense of what The Presidio is all about, this is your place.
From scrub-covered coastal bluffs to towering stands of cypress, pine, and eucalyptus trees, natural beauty abounds throughout The Presidio. The park features 24 miles of cycling and hiking trails, 2.7 of which make up the 1,200-mile-long California Coast Trail. Lovers' Lane Trail, The Presidio's oldest footpath, was once used by Spanish soldiers and missionaries en route from the Main Post to Mission Dolores. Another favorite is the Batteries to Bluffs Trail, a rugged and flora-lined path that travels to Battery Crosby—another six-inch "disappearing gun"—along The Presidio's western shoreline.
For serious hikers, take the Presidio Immersion. Over six miles long, this loop incorporates both the Lovers' Lane and Bay Area Ridge Trails, as well as artist Andy Goldsworthy's organically changing Wood Line and Spire sculptures.
One of the coolest aspects of Presidio Park is the adaptive reuse of some of its most historic buildings. In the stretch of structures across Crissy Field, former airplane hangars and military warehouses now house everything from a climbing gym and fitness center (located inside a former army motor pool building) to an indoor trampoline park. Presidio Bowl is a long-running 12-lane bowling alley located in the park's Main Post; come here on Friday and Saturday nights for Glow in the Dark bowling. There's also a challenging 18-hole public golf course known for its picture-perfect forested surrounds.
Eat and Drink to Your Heart's Content
The Presidio offers ample options for good foot and libations. Imbibe on bourbon cocktails and mac and cheese at the Presidio Social Club, a casual 1920s-style eatery housed in a refurbished army barrack. Or savor Spanish-influenced California cuisine at The Commissary, a top-notch restaurant occupying the former mess hall of The Presidio's “infantry row.” Another favorite, Arguello, serves up outdoor margaritas, craft spirits, and Mexican-inspired eats such as chiles rellenos and carnitas tacos. There's also Off the Grid's Presidio Picnic, where a rotating selection of local food trucks set up shop in the Fort Mason parking lot, every Sunday afternoon from April through late October.
Make a Weekend of It
The three-story, 22-room Inn at the Presidio opened in 2012 as the former army base's first public lodging. With front porch rocking chairs and a nightly wine and cheese reception, this Georgian Revival-style boutique space is the perfect spot for a romantic weekend getaway. Looking for something slightly more budget-friendly? Lodge at the Presidio, the inn's sister property, offers rooms with modern furnishing and views of Presidio Forest, the Golden Gate Bridge, or San Francisco Bay. The Presidio is also home to the wooded Rob Hill group campground if you'd rather rough it.
You may recognize this California Historic Landmark from Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" or the 2019 drama "The Last Black Man in San Francisco." Constructed by the army just before the start of the American Civil War, Fort Point defended the San Francisco Bay against warships. Head inside to admire the unique architectural features of this 19th-century fort, which boasts seven-foot-thick walls and arched brick casemates. It's free to enter, and there are guided 30-minute tours that typically take place at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily. Evening candlelight tours are occasionally offered as well.