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19 Awesome Reasons to Explore the Presidio of San Francisco

19 Awesome Reasons to Explore the Presidio of San Francisco

These are all of the best places to hike, play, eat, and even sleep.

Every year, 13 million people visit Golden Gate Park but only 5 million visit the Presidio—despite the fact that it’s 50 percent bigger and offers a full 500 acres more to explore. And while we love Golden Gate Park (of course), it would be silly of us to pretend like the Presidio’s history isn’t far more fascinating.

Originally a Spanish fort built in 1776, the Presidio was seized by the U.S. military at the start of the Mexican-American War and eventually became a U.S. Army post where generations of soldiers lived and worked — until the 1990s, when it became a national park.

It’s currently home to tons of renovated historic buildings, miles of hiking paths and creeks, a life-sized Yoda statue, gorgeous outdoor art, a wine bunker (yup, it’s SF’s only underground wine storage facility), controversial eucalyptus trees (they were planted by the Army in the 19th century despite protest from nearby residents), and (thanks to the Presidio Trust) it has become one of the most beautiful and interesting parks in the country… perhaps even the world.

Lovers’ Lane Trail
We’re in love with this short trail (.6 miles) because it’s the oldest footpath in the Presidio, only takes about 30 minutes to walk, and is parallel to Andy Goldworthy’s “Wood Line” installation (a zigzagging sculpture made of felled tree trunks).

 

Andy Goldsworthy Hiking Loop
If you want to see all four of Andy Goldworthy’s art installations in The Presidio—and are up for a little exercise—the best way to do so is via a three-mile hiking loop. You can start wherever, but we like to start at “Spire,” his first installation, which is made of 37 Monterey cypress trunks that stretch 100 feet into the sky. Walk along the Mountain Lake Trail to get to “Wood Line,” then along Lovers’ Lane to see “Tree Fall” at the Main Post (open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and “Earth Wall” at the Presidio Officers’ Club (open Tuesdays through Sundays​ from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.).​

 

Batteries to Bluffs Trail
If you’re looking to go on a fairly mellow walk (.7 miles) with dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean, then check out this trail along the Presidio’s western shoreline, which has just enough change in elevation to get your heart rate up. For reasons that shouldn’t need to be explained, sunset is an amazing time to do this quick hike.

 

California Coastal Trail
This 2.7-mile stretch of trail starts near Baker Beach and ends at the Golden Gate Bridge. It only takes about 50 minutes—but that’s not including all of the stops you’ll make to take Instagram pics. This is also the trail to go to if you want to check out the Battery Chamberlain, one of 17 gun batteries along the Presidio’s coast and the only remaining “disappearing gun” on the West Coast. Visit on the first full weekend of every month from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to see a demonstration of the 50-ton gun that was built in 1904.

 

Presidio Golf Course
There’s nothing to be teed off about at this gorgeous 18-hole public course that was once only open to military officers and public club members, and is now known as one of the best public golf courses in the United States, not to mention one of the oldest courses on the West Coast (it was built in 1895). The hilly course has tight fairways between Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine trees and is open every day from dusk to dawn. Fees for SF residents range from $35 to $82 depending on the time of day and whether you’ll be walking or using a cart.

 

Presidio Bowling Center
This 12-lane bowling center that’s open every day of the year is right up our alley, and not just because hanging out there allows us to bowl you over with tons of predictable puns. Spare you? No way. That’s not how we roll. Head there late night on the weekends for glow-in-the-dark bowling, or whenever to drink one of 50 (!!!) beers or 19 wines by the glass. Just don’t use any of these jokes on the cutie in the lane over or you’re sure to strike out.

 

The Walt Disney Family Museum
If you’re a Disney fan, then you have to visit this museum dedicated to looking at the life and times of the creator of Mickey Mouse (and so much more). There are galleries dedicated to different times in his life, including his boyhood in Missouri, move to Hollywood, transition into feature films, and more.

 

House of Air
Jump for joy at this indoor “Adrenaline Park,” housed in a historic airplane hangar. There’s open jump time on the trampolines, trampoline dodgeball, and our secret favorite for when we want kid-free trampoline time: fitness classes. Fun fact: 10 minutes of jumping on a trampoline is equivalent to 33 minutes of running. And it’s waaaaay more fun.

 

Batter’s Box SF
There aren’t a ton of batting cages in SF, but this one still somehow flies under the radar. Whether you’re looking to hit fastballs or slow pitch softballs, this spot has state of the art pitching machines that will entertain you… and help you work on your swing. A 30-minute rental for slow pitch softball will run you $40; it’s $20 more ($60) for fast pitch baseball/softball. You can also do it by the round (15 balls for $10), but that’s a fast way to break the bank.

 

Crissy Field
Whether you’re in the mood to stroll out to Fort Point and the Golden Gate Bridge, hang out on the beach with your pup, fish or crab at Torpedo Wharf (you don’t need a license), go windsurfing or kiteboarding, or just cook out at one of the picnic areas with grills, Crissy Field is stunning and has endless opportunities for a fun day with the family.

 

Pet Cemetery
Is it weird to include a pet cemetery as something “fun”? Maybe. But this cemetery, the final resting place for animals owned by families stationed at the Presidio, is so fascinating that we had to include it. The cemetery is marked by a white picket fence; inside you’ll find headstones with the names of pets, when they lived and died, and sometimes a few final words. “Trouble—1956-1965. He was no trouble.”

WHERE TO EAT

Presidio Social Club
This eatery is one we love so much we find ourselves going back again and again. First, we’d never imagine that old military barracks could be transformed into such a light and spacious place to enjoy a meal, but that’s exactly what it is. Second, the cocktails. Whether it’s a barrel-aged Negroni or the Manhattan Project (the bartender’s search for the ultimate Manhattan—the drink, not the place—and features a different whiskey every week), we always order a proper drink before dinner. Then, of course, there’s the food. Deviled eggs with caviar, Gruyere cheese toast with tomato fondue dip, a very satisfying hamburger… And on top of that, you have to save room for dessert because: pineapple upside-down cake, brioche beignets, and butterscotch pudding with dark chocolate topping. Ask your server for a dessert wine recommendation to really end the evening right.

 

Arguello
Inside the historic Presidio’s Officer Club, you’ll find one of Chef Traci Des Jardins’ two Presidio restaurants. Arguello features authentic Mexican cuisine and a contemporary vibe, and though we do love the interior, it’s hard to refuse a seat on the heated patio if a table is available. It’s there you’ll find the outdoor comal where the tortillas are made. It’s also a great spot to pop in for a cocktail and a bite; you can’t go wrong with the $8 paloma and $10 chicken taquitos during happy hour.

 

The Commissary
Traci Des Jardins’ second Presidio restaurant is housed in the former mess hall of the Montgomery Street Barracks, which were built in 1895 and lie adjacent to the Main Parade Ground. It’s a perfect mix of contemporary and historic—look for the lighting fixtures from an Army gymnasium—and though we love sitting by an open kitchen and watching the action, the front porch is perfect for intimate evenings and private conversations. The menu is driven by sustainable, local ingredients and showcases Northern California cuisine with Spanish influence. The Bomba rice with mussels, squid, Spanish chorizo, and scallops is not to be missed.

 

Sessions at the Presidio
If you like beer, then you’ll love Sessions at the Presidio, a huge bar and restaurant with over 100 craft beers, including 24 on tap, a full bar, and plenty of wine. We happen to think that beer and fried chicken pair perfectly, and if you agree, head there on Sunday for “Fried Chicken Night.” It’s also a great choice for a post-hike lunch or brunch. Whenever you go, ask about the specials. Recently we tried a Chesapeake Bay soft-shell crab BLT that was insane.

 

Off-the-Grid Presidio Picnic
Head to the Main Parade Ground from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on any Sunday between mid-March and October and you’ll find a lively crowd feasting on food from a vast array of food trucks while taking in the views of the Bay. There are also lawn games, yoga, stuff for the kiddos, and dogs are allowed if they’re on leash.

 

Off-the-Grid Presidio Twilight
Presidio Twilight is like the slightly more grown-up version of Presidio Picnic. It’s in the same spot and there are just as many food vendors and trucks, but at this picnic you’ll find lantern-lit cabanas, fire pits, lawn games, and possibly a bit more imbibing. It happens on Thursdays from 5 to 9 p.m., starting in mid-May and running through early October.

Inn at the Presidio
There aren’t many options for places to stay in The Presidio, but this tranquil 22-room boutique hotel is an adorable choice. It’s located right along the Main Post (where the action all takes place) and was built in 1903 as a home for unmarried officers. There are three floors of hotel rooms, all of which feature details and memorabilia of the hotel’s past and many of which have gas fireplaces. Enjoy your evening wine and cheese reception on the outdoor patio with fire pits, or sit in a rocking chair on the front porch if that’s more your speed.

 

Rob Hill Campground
Don’t want to splurge for a boutique hotel? The Rob Hill Campground is the only campground in all of San Francisco and is perched on four wooded acres at the highest point in the Presidio. Campground season is April 1 to October 31; the sites book up fast, cost $125 per site per night, and require a minimum three-night stay. It’s a little pricey for camping, sure, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience we kind of think everyone should have.