Best Things To Do
The Presidio, San Francisco, CA
The Presidio is filled with extraordinary things to do which even locals often miss. In many ways it surpasses the largest man-made park in the U.S., Golden Gate Park. E.g., The Presidio is:
- almost 50% larger… 1491 acres versus 1017 acres
- more historically interesting … its military history started in 1776
- less crowded … yet contains over 800 interesting buildings
- far more natural beauty… with miles of wild but accessible coastline.
Alcatraz is in the background.
Historically, el Presidio was the northernmost military outpost of New Spain (Mexico) and was established in 1776 along with Mission San Francisco de Asis (Mission Delores). These are the two oldest settlements in San Francisco. The Presidio served continuously as a military post from 1776 until 1994 when it became a national park.
The National Park Service still manages the coastal 20% of the lands. The Presidio Trust, established by Congress in 1996, manages the interior 80% including about 800 buildings and other manmade features. The Trust’s mandate is to enhance the Presidio as a public resource while making it financially self sufficient (accomplished by 2005).
Lyon Street Steps
Lyon Street runs north and south along the east side of the Presidio. The portion between Broadway St and Vallejo St is the Lyon Street Steps, one of the most magical spots in San Francisco and indeed in the world. Don’t miss it!
Lincoln Blvd Tour
Lincoln Blvd provides access to several interesting parts of the San Francisco Presidio. Heading west on Hwy 101 at Lombard/Broderick we recommend you take the left hand turn to stay on Lombard St. Continue west on Lombard for a couple of blocks to the Presidio’s Lombard Street Gate at Lombard St/Lyon St.
After the gate veer right on Letterman Drive and then veer right again on Lincoln Blvd. Keep on Lincoln Blvd as it twists and turns through the rest of the park. Whenever appropriate find a place to park and take some of the many side trips described below.
The Letterman Digital Arts Center, northwest of Lombard/Letterman Dr, was redeveloped by George Lucas Films from the 23 acre Letterman Hospital site. The Center includes beautifully landscaped public walkways and a Starbucks coffee shop. At the very southeast corner of Lucasfilms is a patio guarded by Yoda standing on top of a fountain. Behind the 26″ Yoda, inside Lucasfilm’s main lobby, is a full-size 6’6″ Darth Vader. On weekdays you can go inside the lobby and see Darth up close along with a nice collection of Star Wars artifacts; on weekends you have to look through the windows.
We like to walk north through the Lucasfilm park, then walk across Hwy 101 at the Lyon St stoplight, and through the Palace of Fine Arts area and by the old Exploratorium site (note: The Exploratorium moved 4/17/13 to Pier 15 on The Embarcadero). You’ll find many a pleasant bench, grassy knoll, and view to enjoy.
Continuing west on Lincoln Blvd, immediately after Lincoln Blvd/Graham St notice the Main Post Parade Grounds to your left (i.e., northwest) and the Walt Disney Family Museum. On the parade grounds is where you can find the pleasant “Picnic at the Presidio” run by several food vendors on most Sundays from April-October. At the south end of the long central grassy parade area is the newly restored but not too exciting Officer’s Club featuring Arguello’s, modern Mexican Cuisine by award-winning local chef Traci Des Jardins. These grounds have been the center of much military history for over 200 years starting in 1776. Check out the 325 lb cannon balls, the tallest flag post in SF, and signs nearby about General Pershing’s house and the original Spanish military post.
For an inexpensive snack try the Bowling Center adjacent the tennis courts west of the Officer’s Club. They have a good grill. We sometimes sit on the steps out front with our dog to enjoy the multi-million dollar view while eating a burger.
At the Visitor Center, at 36 Lincoln Blvd/Graham Street and open Thu-Sun 10 am-4 pm, you can get an excellent free printed map detailing many of the Presidio’s attractions & trails. The Presidio Promenade walk from Lombard Gate to the Golden Gate Bridge is a good one for a bike ride (it’s flat enough for wheelchairs as well). As this map shows there is also an Ecology Trail loop starting behind the Officer’s Club (also behind Bldg 42 at Moraga/Funston) which climbs south to Inspiration Point Overlook. This trail is a good for walking your dog and getting an inspirational view :).
For golfers the Presidio Golf Course Clubhouse and Presidio Cafe are located across the street from Inspiration Point Overlook. This is a pleasant 18-hole course, driving range, & putting green. Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Bing Crosby and Arnold Palmer have all played here.
Now, go back on Lincoln Blvd which takes a quick short right and meanders west past the beautiful San Francisco National Cemetery, 1 Lincoln Blvd, on the left. Some 30,000 American soldiers are buried here including Civil War Generals, Buffalo Soldiers, and over 30 Medal of Honor recipients.
After passing the cemetery watch the street signs to be sure to always stay on Lincoln Blvd which twists and turns. Immediately after you go under Hwy 101 you will see Crissy Field Overlook to the right. This gives a nice view of historic Crissy Air Field, Crissy Field marsh, Golden Gate Promenade (Bay Trail), SF Bay and the City skyline.
Keep following Lincoln Drive until you see the parking lots on either side of Golden Gate Bridge(completed 1937). There is a Gift Center on the southeast side but it is basically a tourist trap.
From the Gift Center, which is basically a tourist trap, you can walk across the Golden Gate Bridge(1.7 miles across one way). Or, you can walk to the Fort Point Overlook located off the southeast parking lot to see old historical Fort Point immediately below the bridge.
From Golden Gate Bridge head southwest on Lincoln Blvd and quickly turn into one of the parking lots on the right hand side to see some of many old gun emplacements. There are several very nice ones nearby with good ocean views.
Next continue to drive on Lincoln past Lincoln/Merchant Rd. There is a small turnoff right at Lincoln/Langdon Ct where you can park near the Battery Godfrey Vista. You will notice on the left side as you go in a sign for the Batteries to Bluff’s walking Trail. This trail goes up and down the bluffs & past Marshall Beach. It eventually ends up about .7 miles away at Battery Crosby. Proceed walking Battery Crosby Rd to Lincoln Blvd. From here you can take a flatter, less rigorous walk along Lincoln Blvd back to your car.
Or, if you proceed about half a block further south from Lincoln/Battery Crosby Rd you’ll see a marked cross walk across Lincoln and heading up the hill via new stair steps. Immigrant Point Outlook on Washington Blvd is at the top. After admiring the view head back north on Washington Blvd to the starting point of the Batteries and Bluffs Trail. By the way, this loop does require some climbing but is worth the effort.
Now get in your car again and head further south on Lincoln Blvd until you see the exit for Baker Beach on your right. Drive down to the shoreline where you will find one of SF’s best beaches for sun bathing and for picturesque views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sometimes you can see big waves offshore, dolphins, pelicans, and sea lions. At the north end of the beach clothing is optional (actually it’s supposedly illegal but the old fat nude dudes don’t agree) so you will probably see some of them at this end as well.
Golden Gate Promenade
Along The Presidio’s northern coast is the Bay Trail. One good way to get there is to go to the area south of Marina Blvd around Baker St and find a parking spot in the residential area there. Then walk north towards the Marina Yacht harbor, site of St Francis & Golden Gate Yacht Clubs.
When you hit the beach you can turn right and walk along the Marina or turn left and proceed walking west along the coast towards the Golden Gate Bridge. This latter walk is now called the Golden Gate Promenade.
Continue west for about 1.7 miles (one way) to Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge. You’ll find on this walk a variety of attractions including:
- Crissy Field Was one of the U.S. Army Air Service’s most important airfields in the 1920s. Crissy Field was involved in several air milestones including the beginning of both the U.S. Air Mail service and night flying. It has now been restored to 100 acres of native dunes, marshes & native plants … similar to when the original Ohlone Indian natives used the area for gathering grounds.
- World class wind & kite surfing They take off from Crissy Field and sail out towards the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Torpedo wharf fishing pier & the Warming Hut Licenses are not required for fishing or crabbing at Torpedo Wharf. The Warming Hut & Bookstore is oriented more for tourists.
- Golden Gate Bridge A little past the Warming Hut, across Marine Drive you will see a signed walk up to Golden Gate Bridge. This is an optional walk.
- Fort Point Bear right and walk along Marine Drive on to Fort Point, located immediately under Golden Gate Bridge. Inside the fort is very interesting. It was completed just in time for the 1861 Civil War but quickly became obsolete when rifled cannons were developed which could easily blast holes through its masonry. Inside were 126 cannons to protect the Bay; however, no shots were ever fired in combat. By the way, this portion of the walk can get quite cold if the weather is overcast & windy.
The Presidio of San Francisco is blessed with great natural beauty & weather. Plus, during the last 10 years, intelligent management and substantial private donations have helped it become one of the most beautiful, interesting, and accessible parks in the world. These changes are well worth checking out, especially if you are a local who has’t been there for a while.
- Map of Presidio Things To Do. Exact locations and details about what to see & do at the new Presidio National Park.
- The Presidio website and park service website
- Yoda, the Jedi warrior – Star Wars fans come to the Presidio from around the world to see the Yoda statue at Lucasfilms, Letterman Digital Arts Center, The Presidio.
- Marina Walk & Map – The Marina District shoreline from The Presidio to Fisherman’s Wharf.
- Lyon Street Stairs – The most beautiful steps in San Francisco run along the east side of The Presidio.
- Golden Gate Park & Map – Another great SF park, but very different since it is basically man-made on flatter ground.
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