SAN FRANCISCO’s BEST ●Attractions●Historical Sites
Presidio of San Francisco
Lombard St./Lyon St. Free.
Getting there by public transportation:
•PresidioGo Downtown shuttle M-F 6:30am-7:30pm (restricted use); Sat-Sun 11am-6:30pm; every 30 minutes. Free. Clean-fuel compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles run two continuous 30-minute loops that link with Muni and Golden Gate Transit stops. Service between the Transbay Terminal, Embarcadero BART, Union Street/Van Ness Ave., and the Presidio.
•Around the Park shuttle has a Presidio Hills route and a Crissy Field route that serve more than 40 destinations within the Presidio, including Crissy Field, Baker Beach, and Fort Point.
•Presidio parking Daily; $2.20/hr..
Used as a fortified military post by Spain, Mexico, and the U.S., the Presidio was established by Spain in 1776, taken over by Mexico in 1822, and then taken over by the U.S. as an Army post in 1846. The longest operating military post in the U.S., it played a role in every major military conflict for the next century and a half and also was critical in providing refuge to 1906 earthquake victims.
Well, the guards are gone, and the Presidio is now transforming from an Army post into part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The views or the Golden Gate Bridge and bay are still spectacular, and hiking and biking trails are available. Begin a visit of the Main Post at the Visitor Center. And don’t miss the sweet Pet Cemetery or the poignant 29-acre San Francisco National Cemetery overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.
Presidio Visitor Center 210 Lincoln Blvd. Free. This is a good spot to get oriented and pick up brochures and maps. A particularly nice “Frequent Flyers” brochure shows color pictures of the area’s birds, and “Kids on Trails” is a free souvenir activity guide to the Ecology Trail that begins just behind the Inn at The Presidio.
Free Shakespeare in the Park September. At The Presidio's Main Post Parade Ground Lawn. Free. Performances are staged in this park and at other Bay Area locations.
Andrew Goldsworthy art installations Free. English artist Andrew Goldsworthy currently has four permanent installations here, making The Presidio home to the largest collection of Andrew Goldsworthy sculptures on public view in North America.
image courtesy of artist and venue
●Spire Open daily. Installed in 2008, this work consists of the trunks of 37 Monterey cypress trees from the Presidio that were selected and felled because they were declining. The trunks are bound together to form a 95-foot-tall spire with a 15-foot-wide base. A forest has been replanted around the artwork and will eventually engulf it.
●Wood Line Open daily. A snake of eucalyptus logs slithers along the Presidio’s oldest footpath, originally known as Lover’s Lane. It was installed in 2011. My visit inspired a poem:
Rest secure and calm
as the wood trail snakes
through the forest
toward something promising.
●Tree Fall 95 Anza Ave., (415) 561-2767. Sat-Sun 10-4. Located inside the historic Powder Magazine building featuring 4-foot-thick stone walls, this 2013 installation plays with what is beneath the ground. A tree trunk covered in dried cracked clay is suspended inside without touching the walls and is viewed without any artificial light.
●Earth Wall 50 Moraga Ave., Officers Club patio. Tu-Sun 10-6. Installed in 2014, this piece is made of dead-found Eucalyptus logs protruding from a rammed-earth wall. A tree line shows above the wall and gravel ground is below. This is to be Goldsworthy’s last piece at the Presidio.
Baker Beach Off Lincoln Blvd./25th Ave.
Crissy Field Center 603 Mason St./Halleck St., at the shoreline of The Presidio. Free. The post’s former landing strip is now a spectacular shoreline park, with several boardwalks leading through the scenic dunes and restored tidal marsh. A large grassy expanse, a nature center, and picnic tables are available. Inside a former torpedo depot, the Visitor Center cafe is a model of sustainability. It uses recycled products, and the deli menu is prepared with mostly local organic products. A warming hut also has a small cafe and provides remarkable views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The 3.5-mile Golden Gate Promenade--also known as the Bay Trail--offers spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay. The waters here are popular for windsurfing. Running the length of Crissy Field, the Promenade starts near the Yacht Harbor and ends by the Fort Point Coast Guard station.
Fort Point National Historic Site Located directly under the south anchorage of the Golden Gate Bridge, at end of Marine Dr.
Letterman Digital Arts Center 1 Letterman Dr. Built on the site of the post’s former hospital, George Lucas's new center is spread over 23 acres featuring views of the Palace of Fine Arts and the Golden Gate Bridge. A water fountain topped with a Yoda statue is in front of the public lobby in Building B (open weekdays during normal business hours), where you can see movie memorabilia, including items from the “Star Wars” series.
Main Parade Ground In 1898, this 7-acre expanse of grass served as training site for soldiers, who lived in the adjacent red-brick barracks. It’s hard to believe now, but in 1937 the area was paved over to serve as a parking lot. But fortunately, in 2011 it was changed back to a green space, so now you can enjoy picnicking here. Sometimes Share Chairs are available to borrow at no cost, but it is a good idea to bring along a blanket.
On Sundays April through October, you can participate in the Presidio Picnic. Bring your own picnic or purchase goodies from a variety of food trucks featuring international cuisines. Usually a free live performance is part of the fun.
Mountain Lake Park Entrance at Lake St./Funston Ave.
Presidio Bowling Center 93 Moraga Ave./Montgomery St. Fee. This inviting 12-lane bowling center offers easy parking in a spectacular location. A fast-food cafe whips up a good cheeseburger and fries and 40-plus beers.
Presidio Golf Course 300 Finley Rd./at Arguello Gate. Open since 1895, this hilly 18-hole golf course offers twilight and early bird discounts. One of the city's top courses, it opened to the public in 1995. In the clubhouse, the Presidio Cafe offers a full bar and seasonal menu.
Presidio Officers’ Club 50 Moraga Blvd. Free. This storied former Victorian building was converted to Spanish Colonial style in a 1934 remodel. Once an elite gathering place for military brass and accessible only with an officer, the lovely main Moraga Hall—which was always a celebratory room--has been recently brought back to life as the site of an array of free public programs that include lectures and films. The adjacent Mesa Room, which was a billiard room in the 1930s, now is a museum where you can see exposed adobe walls, 1930s stencil work, and hand-distressed wall beams. Upstairs, the high-ceilinged Ortega Ballroom is modernized with concrete floors and exposed ductwork and has been transformed into the Presidio Heritage Gallery museum. It displays artifacts, photographs, and rare videos as well as some of the 60 species of bee that live in the Presidio. Downstairs, a patio is home to the Presidio’s fourth Andrew Goldsworthy art installation, “Earth Wall.”
●Arguello Owned and operated by local celebrity chef Traci Des Jardins, this small restaurant is just off Moraga Hall--the main room of the Officer’s Club. Bar bites and cocktail service are available there. It is named for Luis Antonio Arguello, who was Presidio commander from 1806 to 1822 and then became the first Mexican Governor of Alta California. Mexican cuisine is the specialty, including tacos and Tequila cocktails. I was particularly fond of the carnitas tostada, but the meaty mushroom quesadilla and the shrimp taco were also delicious. A simple but tasty jicama salad with orange, avocado, and a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds made a good starter and some powdery wedding cookies provided a nice ending. An outdoor courtyard with fire pit and heaters is particularly inviting in good weather.
Presidio Theatre 99 Moraga Ave. Recently restored and reopened, this 1939 mock-Spanish theater features many historic details as well as wide aisles, good sight lines, and a perfect rake of the 600 seats.
The Walt Disney Family Museum 104 Montgomery St.
Inn at the Presidio 42 Moraga Ave. 3 stories; 22 rooms. Some gas fireplaces. Children under 12 free. Pets ok. Evening wine & cheese reception; continental breakfast buffet. Self-parking. This unfussy inn is the first public lodging to open in the Presidio of San Francisco, a National Historic Landmark that is within the walls of one of the country’s oldest former military posts. It operates inside historic 1903 Pershing Hall (previously the post’s bachelor officers’ quarters), allowing guests to experience a taste of the privilege once reserved for top brass. The check-in desk is an actual desk, and guests can relax comfortably in a chair during check-in. Mellow ‘40s and ‘50s music softly sets the mood. Though the property has no restaurant or bar, several dining options are available within the Presidio gates, an easy walk away. At the inn, the original mess hall and officer’s lounge serve in their original capacity at breakfast. And though the inn has no on-site fitness facilities, plenty are available nearby within the gates, including a golf course, bowling alley, YMCA gym with indoor pool and hot tub, urban spa, fitness/Pilates/yoga studio, indoor rock-climbing studio, and trampoline park. An Ecology Trail begins behind the inn’s parking lot, and guests can additionally relax in an inviting army of rocking chairs located on the front porch and balconies as well as in front of a gas fire-pit on an outdoor patio in the back. Guest rooms are contemporary in style and spacious, though they do retain their original old-time wavy glass windows.
Lodge at the Presidio 105 Montgomery St. 3 stories; 42 rooms. Parking $9. Pets ok. Evening wine and cheese; continental breakfast. Housed in a former 1890s army barracks, this is San Francisco’s closest lodging to the Golden Gate Bridge. Reflecting that fact, most rooms have stunning bay views. Public spaces include a spacious living room with fireplace, an outdoor patio with fire pit and view of the Golden Gate Bridge,
and a front porch with addictive teak rocking chairs. Original artwork pays homage to military men at rest and to the nature found right outside the door. Guest rooms feature high ceilings and spacious bathrooms with carrera marble vanities.