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A Visitors Guide to San Francisco's Presidio

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Presidio San Francisco Crissy FieldWhen you are in San Francisco, you can’t miss out on a trip to the Presidio, the unique national park that is considered to be the origin of the beautiful city of San Francisco. It has a rich history, a treasure trove of scenic brilliance, and great food that is perfect for families, solo travelers, friends, photographers, and foodies alike.

Activities are aplenty at the park and it has friendly local businesses with interesting attractions that will make this destination a mandatory addition to your itinerary whenever you visit San Francisco. Also, it allows access to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. In fact, many tourists visiting the Presidio of San Francisco go on a Golden Gate Bridge walking tour while they're in town.

Why visit the Presidio of San Francisco

This beautiful setting has seen native people living here for millennia. However, when Europeans arrived this was the the starting point of San Francisco since its establishment as a Spanish military fort in the late 18th century.

After it became a US Army post, many generations have passed through its gates and served the country. After the army left in 1994, the post became a national park that is rich in military history and the terrain made it a paradise for numerous people who love nature and outdoor activities.

There are plenty of amazing places to visit in San Francisco, and the Presidio is certainly one of them. If you love the outdoors, scenic beauty, family outings, or even military history, you can’t miss out on this destination.

The Presidio Visitor’s Center is a great place to begin your day and then make your way to the Officers’ Club to look back at the history of the Presidio. Apart from being a museum, this place is also a venue for free talks and live music. You may even spot a group of kids following their teacher on a school trip.

After you indulge in your fair share of cultural activities, you may want to hit the trails on a bike or by foot and experience a complete workout of not just your body, but your senses as well. Wildflowers, lush greenery, old trees, and curious wildlife will bring new sights and smells to you perpetually throughout your ride or hike.

Don’t miss out on the sunset from one of the scenic outlooks and keep your phone or camera ready for the picture-perfect moments. You can take some amazing shots of the city and the Golden Gate bridge. You can also join the many tourists who love the Golden Gate Bridge walking tour while visiting the Presidio.

If you are a fan of pop culture you won’t be disappointed either. Walt Disney Museum and the Yoda Fountain at the Lucasfilm Center would bring out your inner child. You can also try out your putting skills in the high-end golf course.

The park hosts many events throughout the year that include outdoor festivals and live music. They may be organized annually, monthly, or even weekly. Even if you are a traveler on a budget, you can enjoy the events as most of them are free.

Things to do in the Presidio

San Francisco is a city full of surprises and Presidio is the 1500-acre jewel that crowns the city. With the variety of rich culture, diversity, food, and the events that take place here throughout the year, you can visit this historical landmark many times and your visit would never be the same twice.

The natural oasis has over 300 species of native plants and an equal number of bird species. In terms of terrain, it is equally rich in diversity with a tidal marsh, three watersheds, and even a freshwater lake. To experience the natural flora and fauna of this place, you can hop on a bike or rely on your legs to go through the forest via the 2.1 miles of paved trail.

Start at the Lombard Gate that has reclaimed its 19th-century look and make your way to the end of the pathway while taking in the smells of colorful and fragrant wildflowers and reveling at the marvelous military architecture. The park has over 700 buildings with air hangars, stables, barracks, and even the ornate officers’ quarters.

Tours of the Presidio of San Francisco

If you want to experience the Presidio of San Francisco on a great tour, you should consider a Hop on Hop Off Bus Tour. There are numerous stops on the route that will take you through the city and the gorgeous national park. You can visit all the major sites while snacking on some of the best food in San Francisco.

A Guide to a Quick Trip to the Presidio

You truly should start to start with the Presidio Visitor Center to begin your day and learn about the park with detailed maps and some interactive videos. Even when you are short on time, click some pictures of the San Francisco Bay view for Instagram and capture the awe-inspiring sights.

With a couple of hours, you should add the Presidio’s Officers’ Club to your itinerary. It is one of the most historic buildings in the park and is as remarkable on the inside as it is from the outside. The original walls of the fortress that are nearly 250 years old give you a feeling of antiquity while the interactive museum tells you about the Presidio of San Francisco in detail. Audio tours are available in four different languages.

Fun Activities in the Presidio

You can get on one of the bus tours to see all the attractions in their full glory. As you drive by Crissy Field, you would be able to get a look at the iconic Fort Scott and glimpses of the forest along with the majestic Golden Gate Bridge.

Art lovers and photographers may be tempted to become one of the 3,000 residents of the park with numerous temporary art installations and an impressive collection of Andy Goldsworthy’s works of art including Wood Line, Tree Fall, and the Spire. You can see all of his brilliant work by walking along the trail network that makes a 3-mile long loop.

However, if you prefer to take the bus tour some other day and decide to go around the park at your own pace while walking or on a bike, you'll need some food to sustain you! The Presidio Picnic hosted by Off the Grid is perfect for a good meal with your friends and family. You can find food trucks and vendors everywhere with the most diverse range of food to satisfy your palate.

For participating in recreational sports, you can visit the Presidio Bowling Center and the Presidio golf course.

Romantic Activities for Couples

The Presidio of San Francisco is the perfect place for your long-awaited romantic getaway. The 30 different species of butterflies at the park would accurately mimic the pitter-patter of your heart when you walk along with your partner through one of Presidio’s trails. Lover’s Lane would reignite new sparks and the grand ocean view that you can witness from the Batteries to Bluffs trail makes for an unmatchable romantic setting during the sunset.

Visit the Presidio Officers’ Club on a Thursday with your partner for great discussions about art, culture, and more from distinguished hosts that include filmmakers, authors, and artists. At the Presidio Sessions hosted on Friday nights, spend a romantic date while the historic building is brought to life by talented musicians.

The Presidio of San Francisco has several scenic overlooks that can be the perfect place for a romantic Valentine’s date. Go along the trail to stop at one of these perfect spots to look at the sun go down the horizon as you lean heads with your partner while caressing each other’s touch.

You can also decide to get pampered along with your partner at SenSpa with a side-by-side couples massage.

Activities for Families in the Presidio

Families and kids would love the Presidio of San Francisco for a wide range of outdoor activities. You can share an adventure with your child with the Presidio Explorer Backpack. It turns your kid’s visit throughout the park into a fun adventure with challenge cards and an adventure map. It also comes with tools like a compass, magnifying glass, binoculars and more. You get to search for hidden spots, unique places, and wild creatures with your family.

Bond with your kids at the Batter’s Box SF with softball and baseball batting cages. Kids 7 years old and above get to practice their swings at slow and fast pitch settings. There are wiffle balls for children within the age group above 3 and below 7 years.

One biplane hangar was renovated into a House of Air, a trampoline park that brings out pure joy from both kids and adults. Since then, San Francisco locals and tourists haven’t looked back and had a permanent spot to show their fun and active side. The 8,000 square feet of real estate that sells happiness at an affordable price has a thoughtful design and has been segregated according to activities, ages, and interests.

Regulars know it as “JK”. Julius Kahn Playground is a beloved and cherished part of the community where adults get to appreciate the splendid view that stretches as far as the Marin Headlands and kids get to socialize, make new friends, and play around.

The old Crissy Field warehouse turned into the swimming school of La Petite Baleen has the best programs to teach your toddlers the essential life skill with consistency, fun, and compassion. Don’t worry if you forgot goggles and swimsuits for your little ones. Everything is available on site. It is located right next to the House of Air.

How to get to the area--driving, parking, and public transportation

Public Transportation

There are plenty of public transportation options available to get to the Presidio of San Francisco. From outside San Francisco, you'll want to take a BART train to get to downtown SF.

From there, you can avail the PresidiGo downtown shuttle that will take you to the park from various destinations including the Embarcadero BART, Transbay terminal, and Van Ness Avenue. The service runs seven days a week and makes round trips. To get around the park, you can avail the PresidiGo Around the Park Shuttle.

You can also catch an SF MUNI bus that provides service within close proximity to the park.

Presidio is the first of the few national parks on the west coast to offer electric bike-sharing. Get on one of the dockless e-bikes from JUMP and conquer the hilly trails of Presidio. It’s eco-friendly, fun, and you won’t be a sweaty mess at the end of your ride. The electric bikes are affordable as well. You can unlock a bike by downloading the JUMP app from the App Store or Play Store and get a ride for as little as $3 for 20 minutes.

Parking

If you want to drive up to the park, you can park at one of the regulated parking areas in the park. Regulated hours and charges differ according to location. However, the hourly charges usually range from $1.80 to $2.50 and the daily charges range from $9 to $11.

To purchase a permit, you need to visit one of the nearby Pay-and-Display pay stations. If you decide to pay a visit during a federal holiday, you can get free parking and if you are lucky enough you may get to park your car during the non-regulated hours.

The park is open throughout the year, 7 days a week. You can plan your visit any time you want. Just don’t forget to dress in layers. The famous fog of San Francisco may turn the weather from mild to chilly without prior announcements.

Restaurants in the Presidio

At the park, there’s plenty of good food to go around in popular restaurants. However, before we delve into permanent establishments, you shouldn’t miss out on the Presidio Picnic hosted by Off the Grid. It celebrates the spirit and diversity of San Francisco with around 30 different food vendors to offer diverse sensations to your palate.

Budget Restaurants

Arguello (Yelp rating: 3.0 stars, 315 reviews- While you are visiting the Presidio Officers’ Club and absorbing all the historical knowledge, you may want to make a quick stop at Arguello.

The Mexican restaurant is offered by the award-winning chef Traci Des Jardins along with the Presidio Trust. It has an expansive patio where you can enjoy your favorite Mexican cuisine out in the Sun. However, seating at the patio is on a first-come-first-served basis. You may also be able to witness a chef making some savory tortillas on the griddle if you are lucky.

Cafe RX (4.0 stars, 118 reviews) - Here you may find a bigger crowd of park workers compared to tourists and for the right reason. The walk-up eatery offers food that is fulfilling in a friendly atmosphere within a reasonable price. Apart from sandwiches, salads, and bagels, you will also find specials inspired by Latin American cuisine, like tamales and pupusas. The cafe also offers food items for those on a gluten-free or vegetarian diet.

Presidio Social Club (3.5 stars, 1,175 reviews) - If you want to experience old school American dining with a modern twist, this is the place to be. Don’t worry, the restaurant doesn’t force you to wear a tie and jacket. Like the Presidio itself, this restaurant welcomes everyone! Everything from deviled eggs and meatloaf to prime rib or grilled liver and onions is available on the menu. You can also go for the contemporary items on the menu like a vegetable curry over quinoa or a kale salad.

Irrespective of the options you choose, everything is sourced locally and made with fresh seasonal ingredients. If you have a sweet tooth, spiced pumpkin “tiramisu”, brioche beignets, or butterscotch cream pie would sustain your cravings.

Sessions at the Presidio (3.5 stars, 498 reviews) - Sessions at the Presidio deserves to be on a must-visit list when it comes to restaurants. The establishment is famous for its alcohol and the naming originates from one of the beer styles it offers. However, a pure food lover would have a splendid time with or without a pint of beer. Co-owners Chef Michael Bilger and Evin Gelleri, and the General Manager take their food very seriously. The menu is well thought out with large portions that are meant to be shared among friends and ingredients that are sourced sustainably and organically.

Moderately Priced Restaurants

The Commissary (3.5 stars, 351 reviews) - This restaurant serves some of the best California cuisines with a hint of Spanish influence and made to San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants back in 2015. It enjoys a prime location at the center of Presidio at the Montgomery Street Barracks.

The restaurant offers premium quality food and ambiance along with reclaimed lighting fixtures from the Army gymnasium table tops repurposed from salvaged wood. If you are lucky, you may book a reservation during one of their special events with dinners from renowned guest chefs.

Bars at the Presidio

Right within the Presidio of San Francisco at the restaurants mentioned above, you get open bars that serve everything from feisty cocktails to craft beers. At the Sessions at the Presidio, the place that gets its name from session beers, you can sit on one of the padded stools in front of the open bar to watch the skilled bartenders in action as they make your drink with style and charisma.

At the Presidio Social Club, you can sit in front of the wide marble bar as the bartenders dressed in white shirts as red ties make some of the best cocktails that take off all the fatigue after a long day of exploration in the park. Don’t forget to try out the Aged Reasons Rye or the Old Fashioned.

If you are looking forward to a cozy and chill spot for a swank date along with some good alcohol, the Laureate Bar & Lounge fits the description perfectly. With its contemporary lounges and candlelight setting, you can make some great memories and impress your date.

Hotels in the Presidio

The Presidio of San Francisco is a major attraction of San Francisco and has fabulous hotels in the park and within its close proximity. There’s a place that fits everyone’s budget. Psst! You can also enjoy a camping experience within presidio’s group campground at Rob Hill.

Budget Hotels

Knights Inn - This hotel is within walking distance (300m) from the Presidio National Park and just 3km away from the Golden Gate Bridge. Famous tourist spots like Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf are within close-distance as well.

Inn at Golden Gate - Here you will get luxury within a budget. It offers all the necessary amenities like Free WiFi, breakfast, parking, and is located within walking distance of the park.

Upscale Hotels


Inn at the Presidio - As we go a bit higher on the price ladder, the Inn at the Presidio is one of the best places to stay for experiencing a once in a lifetime adventure in San Francisco. It used to be the home for bachelor officers at one point. Now, it has been reinvented as an elegant place to stay for tourists with a piece of history to offer. If the name wasn’t apparent enough, it is located within Presidio right next to the Presidio Officers’ Club.

Lodge at the Presidio - The historic boutique hotel has been newly rehabilitated and provides you one of the most iconic views of the bridge, the lush forest that spans across 300 acres, waves crashing at the Bay area, and a skyline with unparalleled grandeur. After a free breakfast, you can print all that scenic beauty in your memory from the front porch. If you are back by the evening, you can participate in the cheese gathering while sipping on wine.

Hotel Drisco - If you want to pamper yourself in luxury, Hotel Drisco is the place to be. The 4-star hotel offers you the charm and elegance of old Victorian San Francisco. Apart from the favorable proximity to the park and the usual amenities, it also has a 24-hour gym and round the clock room service.

About The Author

Britt

Britt is a San Francisco Bay Area native, and has spent 25 years in this magical city. He has traveled to over 30 countries, and has never found a place he loves as much as this one! If you come to San Francisco, you might join one of Britt's tours of the city. A graduate of the University of Maryland and University of Southern California, he has been leading tours for Free Tours by Foot since 2015.
Updated: September 27th, 2021
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