Last Updated on December 21, 2023

The same year our country became an independent nation, The Presidio was established as Spain’s northernmost outpost in the Americas. It served as a Mexican fort before becoming a premier U.S. Army post. The Presidio was the most important Army post on the Pacific Coast.

Managed by the Presidio Trust in partnership with the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, this 1,491-acre site became a national park in 1994. It is also a National Historic Landmark District.

More than 1,200 historic features, including a 300-acre historic forest, 470 historic buildings, and 30 archaeological areas, are managed by the Trust. The archaeological projects date from Native Ohlone settlements through the occupation of the Army.

The Presidio, an urban park, features 24 miles of hiking and biking trails, eight scenic overlooks, and San Francisco’s only campground. Biodiversity is unusually high, with 350 species of birds, insects, fish, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles, along with almost 400 native plant species, some of which are threatened, rare, or endangered.

Rehabilitated housing is home to 3,500 people at The Presidio. Public, private, and non-profit organizations employ 4,000 workers at some 200 companies that also rent space at The Presidio. Rent from these sources supports the park as no government funds are provided.

The Presidio provides the urban environment of San Francisco a place to escape, recharge, and reconnect with nature and each other. Let’s see how it’s done.

1. The Presidio Theatre

Opened in September 2019, The Presidio Theater was remodeled from the historic Army movie theatre, built in 1939. The 600-seat theatre now features state-of-the-art technical equipment, a courtyard and pavilion for events, and large rehearsal space.

2. Wood Line

Andy Goldsworthy Woodline - Presidio  San Francisco
©Julie Diebolt Price

Andy Goldsworthy, a British artist, created Wood Line, Spire, Tree Fall, and Earth Wall at The Presidio. These four installations are the most extensive collection of Goldsworthy’s work in North America. He was inspired by The Presidio’s interplay of built environment and wild open spaces. You can visit them individually or explore them together in a three-mile hike.

3. Walt Disney Family Museum

The Walt Disney Family Museum celebrates the life and work of Walt Disney as an animator and filmmaker. Two floors of permanent galleries offer deep insight into his career with personal artifacts exhibits, detailed moving models of Disneyland, and the first-known drawings of Mickey Mouse.

The Walt Disney World War II exhibit, housed in a separate building near the Main Parade Ground, shares the incredible and responsible work Disney Studios did to support the war effort. This Blue Star Museum collaborates with the Department of Defense, Blue Star Families, and the National Endowment of the Arts. The Walt Disney World War II Museum offers free admission to active-duty military personnel, including National Guard and Reserve and their families.  

4. Main Parade Ground

Presidio  San Francisco Main Parade Ground
©Julie Diebolt Price

The inviting, expansive lawn of the Main Parade Ground sees a lot of activity during the day. The grassy expanse is a popular dog and people exercise area, playground for children, and a teaching location. It’s a perfect place to gather, play, and have picnics.

In the heart of The Presidio, the Main Parade Ground is framed by rows of historic buildings and enjoys magnificent San Francisco Bay views.

5. Archaeology Dig Site

El Presidio de San Francisco fort excavation is located at Pershing Square on the Main Parade Ground. On display are cannons, cannonballs, and the dig site. Volunteer excavators work to reveal artifacts and features dating from the Native Ohlone settlements to the Spanish, Mexican, and American occupations.

6. San Francisco National Cemetery

San Francisco National Cemetery, perched on the hills in The Presidio overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, was the first national cemetery on the West Coast. Approximately 30,000 Americans are interned here, including Civil War generals, Medal of Honor recipients, Buffalo Soldiers, and a Union spy.

7. Pet Cemetery

Presidio San Francisco Pet Cemetery
©Presidio

The Presidio Pet Cemetery is an “unofficial” final resting place honoring the companions who faithfully served the military families who lived in The Presidio. Surrounded by fencing, it is open to the public for visits.

8. Fort Point National Historic Site

Fort Point National Historic Site
©Julie Diebolt Price

Under the south end of Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Point National Historic Site defended the San Francisco Bay following California’s Gold Rush through World War II. It became a National Historic Site in 1970. Programs and admission are free, and Fort Point is open to visitors Friday through Sunday.

9. World War II Memorial

The West Coast Memorial to the Missing was built in the late 1950s to honor those who lost their lives in the Pacific during World War II.

10. Museum of the Society of California Pioneers

The Society of California Pioneers, founded in 1850, is housed in one of the historic Montgomery Street barracks overlooking the Main Parade Ground. The museum showcases the Society’s collection, and rotating exhibits document California’s founding and early history.

11. Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center

The Golden Gate Bridge attracts more than 10 million visitors each year. This sensory experience features 746-foot-tall towers, sweeping main cables, signature International Orange color, and Art Deco style.

The Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center provides information services, houses exhibits, and memorabilia. You can also get that coveted stamp in your National Park Passport at this location. Public restrooms are available in the parking lot, and the Roundhouse Café is just a few steps away.

Parking is limited at the Welcome Center. Public parking is a few blocks away near the Batteries along Merchant Road and the California Coastal Trail.

12. Trails and Overlooks

Presidio Trails
©Julie Diebolt Price

Trails are well marked over the 24 miles of routes at The Presidio, with twelve multi-use trails at varying difficulty levels.

Eight overlooks and vistas offer breathtaking views of San Francisco, the Bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

13. Crissy Field and Marsh

Once the post became a national park, the first significant transformation was the restoration of Crissy Field. Now a birdwatching hot spot, visitors and locals run, walk, and cycle along the Bay Trail to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

Former airplane hangars facing the bay are now home to a rock-climbing gym, a trampoline house, and other recreational uses. Sports Basement provides bike rentals for families to cruise the famous waterfront or cycle further afield.

14. Beaches and Picnics

In good weather, you can enjoy the sandy shorelines at Marshall’s Beach and Baker Beach on the west side of The Presidio and the northern waterfront of Crissy Field.

If you don’t want to go in the water, stay on the Bay Trail to Fort Point. You can watch thrill-seeking, hearty souls windsurfing under the Golden Gate Bridge. The turbulent water there is 370 feet deep.

Five picnic areas with benches, tables, grills, and restrooms throughout The Presidio are at Baker Beach, Crissy Field, El Polin Spring, East Beach, and Immigrant Point.

15. Presidio Golf Course

Renowned for its spectacular forest setting and challenging play, Presidio Golf Course was once restricted to military officers and private club members. Now, the 18-hole golf course is open to the public. It has a pro shop, driving range, and a full-service restaurant.

16. Lodging at The Presidio

Lodge at Presidio San Francisco
©Presidio

There are three options for lodging at The Presidio.

The Lodge at the Presidio is housed in the iconic Montgomery Street Barracks, a Colonial Revival-style building built between 1895-1897 by the U.S. Army to house six artillery companies, a cavalry troop, and two infantry companies. The historic streetscape was later dubbed “Infantry Row” and faces the Main Parade Ground.

The Lodge is the closest hotel in San Francisco to the Golden Gate Bridge. Opened in 2018, this 42-room hotel is a modern take on a national park lodge. You can’t go wrong with a view of the Bay, the Bridge, or the forest from the rooms. Rocking chairs on the front porch give you a ring-side seat to all the activity on the grassy Main Parade Ground or look out into the bay and watch passing ships.

Presidio Tunnel Tops, a new construction between the Visitor’s Center and the Lodge, opened in 2022. It features scenic overlooks, gardens and paths, a Gateway Plaza with food and visitor services, a campfire circle and picnic grounds, and an “Outpost” and a Field Station where kids can explore nature.

The economical Presidio Parkway Inn offers 22 rooms in the rehabilitated Pershing Hall, once home to U.S. Army bachelor officers.

Rob Hill Campground, located on a bluff above Baker Beach, is The Presidio’s overnight camping facility, open from April to October. Plan for a stiff ocean breeze at this location.

17. Warming Hut

Presidio San Francisco Warming Hut
©Julie Diebolt Price

Pick up some park gear and eco-friendly merchandise at the Warming Hut. You can also get snacks and drinks or get warm from the gusty winds outside. At the end of Crissy Field, you can’t get a better view of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can almost reach out and touch it.

18. Presidio Bowling Center

Presidio Bowling Center and Grill feature 12 lanes of bowling and a full menu of pub favorites in the grill. Beverages include 45 different beers, ciders, seltzers, and 19 different wines. Presidio Bowl hosts parties, corporate outings, or simply an evening out.

The Presidio of San Francisco is as old as our nation. Established in 1776, it was the beginning of the City by the Bay. Perfect as a destination for families, baby boomers, millennials, and history buffs, this is just another reason to leave your heart in San Francisco.

Author

  • Julie Diebolt Price

    Julie Diebolt Price is an award-winning professional photographer, educator, author, and travel writer. She writes about two things: photography and travel. Julie educates and mentors aspiring photographers. As a journalist who loves traveling, she creates memorable experiences, and shares of them with words and pictures.