San Francisco is very lucky to have this wonderful park in the middle of the city. When the decision was made to close the Presidio as a military base in 1989, sale to private developers became a real possibility; however, in 1994 the property was transferred to the National Park Service and in 1996 Congress established the Presidio Trust to administer the property and make it financially self-sufficient by the year 2013.
Today the Trust has restored and leased many of the countless buildings on the property and has met its financial goal to become self-supporting. The national park continues to be administered by the Presidio Trust, in partnership with the National Park Service, which has concurrent jurisdiction over open spaces in the park.
The national park that we now call the Presidio has actually been governed by three nations. There's a lot of history here. Ohlone people lived in this area for centuries before the Spanish arrived in 1776, fortified the site and called it El Presidio Real de San Francisco. After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, it assumed control of the Presidio until 1848, when Alta California, as the territory was then known, was ceded to the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The Presidio remained an active U.S. Army base until it was declared surplus in 1989.
The Beach Trail, Crissy Field Loop and the Walking Across the Bridge tours all cover areas that are part of the Presidio. This section covers attractions not mentioned in those walks. Check out this map of the Presidio, showing the current Visitor's Center, to get oriented.
Places to Eat
Presently, there are only two options for an evening meal: the Presidio Social Club (the old standby) and the relatively new Dixie. Two other restaurants, La Terrasse and Pres à Vi, are both gone. Dixie now occupies the space where Pres à Vi used to be.
There are many places for casual dining. Some are obvious, while others are tucked away in the buildings where people work, like Acre Cafe in the Thoreau Sustainability Center, Starbucks behind Building 1B and Kitchen 39 in Building 39 (in the space previously occupied by Dish). Kitchen 39 serves breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 5:00pm, as well as after-hours drinks, popcorn and snacks from 3:00pm to 6:00pm. The old La Terrasse location is now the Presidio Transit Center, where all the various PresidiGo bus loops intersect. It has a cafe open during the week from 7:00 to 5:00 on Mondays, 7:00 to 6:00 Tuesday through Friday. The decor is attractive, there is a pleasant patio where you can enjoy a meal al fresco on a nice day, and the food is excellent and reasonably priced. Try the very filling breakfast croissant or a wood-fired pizza. Highly recommended. The Disney Family Museum also has a cafe serving light food. You can visit the cafe without having to enter the museum. The Presidio Bowling Center has a grill, though it can be closed for private parties. The golf course has a cafe at the club house. On Sundays, there is an Off the Grid picnic from 11:00 to 4:00 on the Main Parade Ground.
The old Burger king with its fantastic views is now the Observation Post, a rentable venue.
Places to Stay
Inn at the Presidio is the only hotel on the Presidio. Group camping is available at the Rob Hill Campground, where two groups of up to 30 people each can be accommodated.
The Main Parade Grounds to Letterman Digital Arts Center.
Distance: 1½ miles.
In addition to the Northeast Corner walk described below, you may wish to explore the Main Parade Grounds and the Letterman Digital Arts Center. Begin at the Visitor's Center, currently located in Building 105 on Montgomery Street at the bottom of the Parade Grounds. In 2014 the Visitor's Center plans to move into the brick building nearby that's currently occupied by Republic Bank and the Post Office. Stop in Thursday to Sunday, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, to begin your visit.
Next door in Building 104 is the Disney Family Museum. it's open 10:00 to 6:00 every day but Tuesday. Tickets can be purchased online. The cost is $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and students, and $12 for children. There is an additional $10 charge for special exhibits, which can be purchased separately.
Building 103 next door has an exhibit called Presidio Milestones. Currently, it displays plans for the restoration of the Officer's Club, which is now underway.
Continue up the parade grounds until you're in front of the Presidio Bowling Center and turn right on Bliss Avenue. You pass the old Presidio Theater. When you come to the end, go up the stairway off Infantry Terrace, past a memorial to Vietnam veterans and on to the Presidio Chapel. There's a gate into the National Cemetery, but it's closed. if you want to enter, you will have to walk around to the front entrance on LIncoln. The cemetery is worth a visit; it's beautifully maintained and besides being interesting in and of itself, it offers lovely views of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Retrace your steps and walk back to the Parade Ground, stopping at the flag pole, which is the tallest in San Francisco. Spend some time looking around and reading the plaques. One shows the northwest corner of the original Presidio, established by Spain. There is also information on General John J. Pershing's home, which once stood on this very spot. While General Pershing was at the front during the Mexican War, a fire destroyed the residence and his wife and three daughters perished; only his 6-year-old son survived. Notwithstanding his family tragedy, he went on to command US forces during WWI.
Across the street and to the left you can see the Officer's Club, which is under renovation. This is the oldest building on the Presidio, built in 1810. Next door is the Chapel of Our Lady, built in 1864. The inside has been recently been renovated. Take a peek inside through the glass doors; it's beautiful. Next door is the Inn at the Presidio. Our walk around the north eastern corner of the Presidio (see below) will start just behind this Inn.
Walk down Funston Avenue to Lincoln. There's a row of beautiful old houses here. At Lincoln, cross the street and turn right. You'll go by the Wayburn Redwood Grove, dedicated to Dr. Edgar Wayburn for his work preserving wilderness. Pick up the Presidio Promenade and follow it to building 1014, the Thoreau Center. There are some exhibits in the lobby, and the Whole Earth Library is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 11:00 to 2:00. Next, in building 1B, you'll come to the Letterman Digital Arts Center, a campus affiliated with the George Lucas entities Industrial Light and Magic, LucasArts, and Lucasfilm. It does not offer public tours but does have some Star Wars displays in the lobby, which is open to the public during normal business hours. You can visit the Yoda Fountain at the entrance to Building 1B. Walk between buildings 1B and 1C to access the beautiful park behind. When we complete our walk around the north eastern corner of the Presidio, we'll end here.
A Walk Through the Northeast Corner
Distance: 2½ miles.
History, art and exercise - an inspiring combination. That's what you'll get on this walk, where you'll follow the Ecology Trail, see two Andy Goldsworthy installations and end up at arguably the most beautiful public stairs in San Francisco.
Begin at the Inn at the Presidio and pick up the Ecology Trail in the parking lot just behind the Inn. Walk up to Inspiration Point. Keep right when the trail curves. From inspiration Point, across the street you'll see the first of two Andy Goldsworthy installations, "The Spire." To see it up close, walk up the hill and cross Arguello Street in front of the golf course. Follow the Bay Ridge Trail until you are in front of the Spire. When you are ready, retrace your steps and cross back to the east side of Arguello. Walk a bit further up the hill and turn left to follow the Ecology Trail / Mountain Lake Trail eastwards. Continue straight at the first marked intersection. When the trail reaches an unmarked T-junction, turn left. El Polin Spring will be below you. Turn right, down some steps at a marked junction, to get there. According to legend, all maidens who drank from this spring under the full of the moon would have many children and live a blissful life.
This area contains a lot of historical information, including the excavated foundation of one of the first homes in the area, that of Juana Briones. When you're done, take the switchback trail on the left side of the spring to reach the top of the hill. if you have children with you, you may want to continue straight to Julius Kahn Playground. Otherwise, turn left on an unmarked trail. Look for a baseball diamond on your left as you walk. After you pass a fenced area of trees, turn left again, then at the end of the fence, turn right and continue east to Lover's Lane. Ahead, you will you see an opening in the trees and the second Andy Goldsworthy piece, "Wood Line." Follow the piece down the hill if you wish, then return to Lover's Lane and continue up the hill until you come to a street with no signage (which will be W. Pacific Avenue); turn left and follow the street for a short distance until you reach Presidio Blvd. Cross and follow the Mountain Lake Trail to the Broadway Gate. You will emerge in a cul de sac at the corner of Broadway and Lyon Streets.
This last block of Broadway is colloquially known as the "Gold Coast;" a reference to its residents, which include Gordon Getty. Broadway used to provide vehicular access to the Presidio (although the gate was not always open) but it was turned into a pedestrian-only gate when the Presidio became a national park. Look around a bit, decide what you'll do if you win the next Powerball, then head down the Lyon Street Steps. The first block is best - a beautiful garden. The next is steeper and the third is a loop. You will likely notice people climbing these steps for exercise - it's a serious workout! Join them if you're in shape, then when you're ready desend to the bottom and follow Lyon, now a proper street, towards the Lombard Gate. If you fancy a beer, try Liverpool Lil's. We'll end our walk by entering the Presidio through the pedestrian gate just below the Lombard Gate. Here you'll find yourself in a beautiful park behind the Letterman complex, designed by Lawrence Halprin. Don't miss the pond in the back or the two statues along the walkway; one of Philo Farnsworth, the inventor or television, and the other of Eadweard Muybridge, the father of cinema. Both men had San Francisco connections.
There are many bicycle and hiking trails in the Presidio. The Presidio Golf Course, an 18-hole course, and the Presidio Bowling Center are open to the public. The many tennis courts and athletic courts are open to the public if they have not been reserved by an organization. Try bird watching at Simmons Loop.
The Presidio YMCA offers day and weekly passes, and Crossfit accepts visitors. The following companies also offer fitness options; Body of Work, It’s Yoga Kids and Presidio Fitness.
The Presidio has a drop-in Volunteer Program. Get involved!
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