What’s more San Franciscan than turning an army base into a natural wonderland?
If you haven’t been to the Presidio in while, or if the park is entirely unfamiliar, now is the perfect time to visit. Here are 13 brand new, new-ish and classic spots that help explain why this 2.4 square mile chunk of green at the city's northern edge—and the rest of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area—drew 15 million visitors last year.
Honor Those Who Served
The San Francisco National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 30,000 servicemembers and their families. There are eight war memorials in the Presidio, as well, including the WWII West Coast Memorial to the Missing, the Korean War Memorial and the Marine Cemetery Vista. And the Presidio Pet Cemetery honors the pets and mounts of the armed services who lived at the Presidio over the decades.
Peek at the Tunnel Tops
Though it doesn’t open until July 17, you can peer through the chainlink fence and see the fabulousness that awaits. Stretching from the Visitor Center north to Mason Street, the Tunnel Tops will be the biggest new park area in SF in years, restoring the long-blocked connection between the Main Post and Crissy Field. Until then, use the addition to the Tennessee Hollow Trail across the new Quartermaster Reach or Halleck Street to pass under/over Presidio Parkway.
Stroll the Trails on Battery Bluff
The ribbon was cut on the Tunnel Tops little sister in April: Battery Bluff is another spectacular new public parkland recovered during the Presidio Parkway project. Trails crisscross the bluff side with viewpoints peppered throughout. The historic army batteries have been restored and coated with a graffiti-resistant coating that seems to be working so far. Though not accessible from the Crissy Field-side, visitors can reach the park on the Presidio Promenade Trail or sidewalks from the Main Post.
Fire a Cannon at Fort Point
So... you can’t really fire off any ordnance at this pre-Civil War fortress. But now that the pandemic has subsided, Fort Point is once again open from Thursday to Monday. And if you haven't been there since your school field trip, it is worth another look. You can wander the floors, peer into the courtyard, marvel at the seven-foot-thick brick walls and head to the roof to get up-close-and-personal with the underside of the Golden Gate. Oh, and the city views are brilliant, too.
Loop Crissy Field
From East Beach to Torpedo Wharf, House of Air to Sports Basement, The Standard’s guide to Crissy Field maps out a long stroll or day-long excursion to San Francisco’s big front yard. Bike, scooter, wander, picnic, run or just plop down on the grass to take in the people-watching and other fabulous views.
Drink Something Warm
Getting a decent cup of coffee to brace yourself against what can be blasting fog has always been a bit challenging in the Presidio, but that is changing. The Warming Hut on Crissy Field has reopened with a variety of drinks and snacks. And Equator Coffees took over the Deco-era Round House Cafe at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge last year, offering foodie-approved pour-overs and cafe-fare. Thirsty for something colder? Grab a beer on the patio of Presidio Bowl for a view across the entire Main Parade Lawn.
Hike Somewhere New
While first-timers never get too much farther than the Golden Gate Promenade along Crissy Field, locals know that the trails less taken make all the difference. There are 24 miles of hiking trails in the Presidio to keep you busy. A cool summer morning is ideal for taking on the Batteries to Bluffs-Sand Ladder combo. A favorite cross-park trek takes Mountain Lake Trail from the Presidio Gate, around the back of the lake, connects to Lobos Creek Valley Trail and ends at Baker Beach. And the best north-south traverse, the Park Trail, heads south from the Cavalry Stables through the trees, passing the National Cemetery Overlook, which comes highly recommended from the Presidio Trust CEO, Jean Fraser.
Play Tourist at the Visitor Center
The Presidio Visitor Center reopened last week after more than two years offline. If you’ve not been inside, make it your first stop in the park. Delving into the Presidio’s long and complex history, the center does a great job explaining the history of the human, animal and plant inhabitants of the area with hands-on displays, ranger-led talks, interactive exhibits and one of the best bookstores and gift shops in the city.
Brunch at the Main Post
The longtime Union Square eatery, Colibri Mexican Bistro, reopened in the Presidio Officer’s Building in June, with both outdoor and indoor seating. (Don’t miss Andy Goldsworthy’s Earth Wall on the rear patio wall.) The restaurant joins Presidio Social Club and Sessions at the Presidio as destination-worthy sit-down restaurants for a post-hike beer or pre-theater meal. (The opening of the Main Post’s Presidio Theatre in late 2019 was also missed by many because of the pandemic.)
Rent a Bike
It’s easier than ever to bike around the Presidio. Head to Sports Basement in Crissy Field and rent a cruiser or mountain bike, depending on your preference. Or hit the Main Post and grab a Bay Wheels bike-share of the basic or electric flavor. Once you’ve got your ride, consider spending a leisurely day cruising the “Around the Park” loop, or check this bike map for shorter rides around the park.
A wander in the forests near the Main Post begins and ends with Andy Goldsworthy’s natural creations. Start near the top of Lover’s Lane for a meander with Wood Line as it moves down through the trees. Head for the Lucasfilm HQ for a glance at its Yoda Fountain and the nearby statue honoring the inventor of TV, Philo Farnsworth. From there, consider a stop at the Walt Disney Museum, a peek at Goldsworthy’s Earth Wall behind the Colibri, and a trek back up the Ecology Trail to Goldsworthy’s Spire.
Watch the Sunset
If Karl clears out, there are few places like the Presidio to watch the pelicans swoop in the setting sun. The Golden Gate Overlook parking area delivers through-cypress views of the bridge and access to endless views out to the Pacific. Just scramble around and pick your perch on Battery Godfrey or Boutelle. Prefer a sunset with your toes in the chilly San Francisco sand? Baker Beach is your spot.
Walk the Golden Gate
Have you done it? Me either. I’m going to do it this year.
Maryann Jones Thompson can be reached at [email protected]