The Beach Trail
The west side of the Presidio has two of the best beaches in San Francisco. On the rare hot summer weekend the area overflows with people, but generally you will find lots of quiet places.
This walk will take you from the east side of the Golden Gate Bridge, under it, then along the coast to Baker Beach, where the Presidio meets the Sea Cliff neighborhood. Here you can explore the Lobos Valley Nature Trail and see the site of the 1995 Sink Hole before returning to your starting point. Check this map to get oriented.
You can reach the Bridge Pavilion on the Muni 28-line (but not the 28-L), and on weekends, the Muni 76X-line, which will stop just before crossing the bridge. All northbound Golden Gate Transit buses also stop just before crossing the bridge. Once you're at the Bridge Pavilion, follow the Battery East trail under the bridge.
Locate Lincoln Blvd and Battery East on your Presidio map. Turn off Lincoln Blvd. into the battery East parking lot. Parking is $1 per hour from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm or $6 per day; the self-service machines take cash or credit cards. If this lot is full, turn around, go under the Bridge and look for parking at Fort Scott to your left. The Fort Scott lots are about the same elevation as the Plaza.
This walk has lots of steps and is not good for biking, although there are many nice spots to ride in the area.
Distance: 5 miles round trip.
This walk will start at the east side of the bridge. You’ll follow the Battery East and Battery to Bluffs trails to Baker Beach, the original site of Burning Man. From here you’ll cross Lincoln Blvd to see the site of the 1995 Sink Hole and explore the Lobos Valley Nature Trail at the southwest corner of the Presidio. You can return to the starting point on PresidiGo, a free park shuttle, or you can walk back through the Presidio. Once you leave the bridge there is nowhere to buy food or drinks on this walk until the return leg - but there are plenty of beautiful spots for a picnic, so come prepared with a backpack of goodies.
Cross under the bridge and walk south away from the bridge. This area is crisscrossed with trails; just head in the direction described. There are many gun emplacements in the area to scramble around. Please follow the park service’s signs concerning closures. Near the corner of Lincoln and Merchant you’ll see new cement steps leading to a circular plaza. The park service has something in mind, but currently it’s empty. We are looking for the Batteries to Bluffs trail that starts just after Battery Godfrey and Battery West.
The trail will come close to the road before dipping down the cliff. At this point, look up to your left. The Park Service cleared this area to provide better views, and it built a new vista point. Unfortunately it was open only a short time before being closed, in December 2012, when geologists noticed the area was slipping. Head down towards the shore. There are a series of steps on this trail. As you near the ocean there is a trail to your right for Marshall Beach, which is more secluded than Baker Beach.
When you’re ready to move on, continue to Battery Crosby. The trail goes up some steep steps and across the top of Battery Crosby. Turn right after the battery and head up to Lincoln Blvd. After following the path next to the road for a short distance, take the sand ladder down to Baker Beach. This beach is large and offers fantastic views of the bridge. Explore battery Chamberlain. The battery was built circa 1900 and features retractable 6" guns. There is a demonstration of the gun on the first full weekend of each month, typically between 11:00 and 3:00. Call (415) 561-4323 to confirm the time, as it varies.
Rest rooms are located in the parking lot just south of the battery and there is a sheltered picnic area with BBQs available. There are also some port-a-potties further on. Relax on the beach and when you’re ready, proceed to the beach's southern end. After you cross some fresh water running across the sand, you’ll find steps leading up to the Sea Cliff neighborhood, with houses right above you. The gate at the top of the steps is closed in the evenings. The water trickling onto the beach comes from Lobos Creek, the last remaining free-running creek in San Francisco. We’re going to walk along the creek to Lincoln Blvd. The trail is very hard to see. Find the southwest corner of the fence surrounding the Presidio's water treatment plant adjacent to the beach. Walk with the fence to your left and the natural area to your right. In a bit it opens out and you can hear the creek. Some of the homes in this area are quite close. Their property line extends down to the creek so in this area the creek is not fenced off, as it is across the road. Please be respectful of private property.
When you reach the road look for a stop sign and crosswalk, and cross Lincoln Blvd. Turn right and walk along Lincoln Blvd. for a bit. This was the site of a giant sink hole in 1995 which entirely destroyed one home and damaged several others nearby, in the process forcing evacuation of almost a city block. It formed when an unreinforced brick sewer failed during a severe storm. It took down the large trees that hid nearby houses from view and it created a temporary lake in this area. A new home now sits on the site. Above and behind it is the childhood home of the photographer Ansel Adams. A group of concerned residents tried to persuade the city to turn the lots into open space to preserve the view of the Adams's home, but they were unsuccessful.
Return to the intersection where you crossed Lincoln Blvd. Here you will find the entrance to the Lobos Valley Nature Trail (to your east) as well as a PresidiGo stop. After you explore the area, you may return to your car using the free PresidiGo service, or walk back through the Presidio.
The Lobos Valley Nature Trail was created by the Park Service on what was, during the days of Army stewardship, the site of a neighborhood ball field and favorite dog walking area. Today there are sand dunes and native plants. The creek, south of you remains fenced off because it provides water to the Presidio. Many of the trees planted by the army have been removed because they were near the end of their lives.
Follow the trail until it enters the remaining woods, then turn right and walk up the hill. The complex of buildings ahead of you once served as a Public Health Service Hospital. The Park Service restored the hospital building's façade and has converted it to housing. When you reach Washington Blvd., cross the road and head up the informal path, bordered by pine branches, which joins a formal trail running around the back of the former hospital building. This vantage point gives you an opportunity to see what’s been done to the building as well as the location of a Marine Cemetery, recently uncovered. On the other side of the building there is some formerly military housing and some smaller buildings. When you see the end of a road, turn right and walk in back of the housing, to Belles Street. This street curves around to your left and ends in front of Arion Press, a fine art press using vintage equipment to produce limited edition books with original art. Their gallery is open 10:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday, displaying some of their equipment and examples of their work. They offer 1½ hour tours about historic printmaking every Thursday at 3:30 pm. The fee is $10 and reservations must be made in advance. A minimum of five people is required to conduct a tour, so bring a group or be prepared for a cancelation.
When you’re ready, retrace your steps and continue on the trail. In the future you could visit Mountain Lake Park, but it’s currently under renovation and dominated by construction equipment. Instead, turn left onto the Park Trail - which at this point is just a service road - and follow it up the hill and through the Presidio Golf Course until you come to The General Store, a small cafe and snack bar near the corner of Washington, which is the only source of food and drink on this walk. Cross Washington and follow the trail signs. The trail crosses the Bay Area Ridge Trail. If you’ve parked in one of the lots along the cliffs, you might want to take that trail back instead, which will save you a bit of hill climbing. If not, continue on and the Park Trail will enter the woods in a bit. When you reach the sign for the National Cemetery Overlook, go right and shortly you will come to an overlook with a nice bridge view. The park service has added a stone bench at the highest point where you can rest. The Cemetery is just over a short stone wall, but there is no entrance from here. Retrace your steps and continue right on the Park Trail. The trail crosses Lincoln Blvd. and ends at the Presidio Promenade near the stables. Turn left and follow the Promenade. Most of the stable area is torn up at the moment for Presidio Parkway construction, but you might see some of the Park Service's horses in their nearby paddock. The trail follows along the Crissy Field overlook with fantastic views of the City, before reaching the East Battery Parking lot and our starting point. If you parked in another lot, continue on under the bridge until you reach your car, ending this walk.
To the west, this trail links to the Land’s End Loop. After you've visited Lobos Valley, continue up Lincoln Blvd. until you reach 25th Avenue. Notice that the street name changes; at 25th Avenue you are no longer on the Presidio and Lincoln Blvd. has become El Camino del Mar. Turn right onto 25th Avenue and then turn left onto Sea Cliff Avenue. Amble west through the lovely Sea Cliff neighborhood until this street rejoins El Camino. Turn right and continue until you enter Lincoln Park. The Land's End trail head is on the right.
To the north this trail links to the Crossing the Bridge walk and the Crissy Field Loop walk. Proceed to the Bridge Plaza for the former walk. From there look for signs to Fort Point to reach the latter.
In the Area
From Baker Beach it’s a short distance to California and Clement Streets, where there are many restaurants and the 4-Star movie theater. When you reach 25th Avenue, turn left instead of right and walk 2 blocks to California Street; turn left and at 22nd Avenue you’ll find Angelina’s Café, a popular neighborhood spot. There is a grocery across the street. Alternatively, continue on 25th beyond California Street one more block to Clement and you’ll find a vibrant neighborhood with lots of restaurants.
If you use PresidiGo to return from this walk, you can use it to explore the attractions on the main post.
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