San Francisco’s Presidio: From Swords to Plowshares
By Mary Charlebois
Less than three miles from the heart of city, the San Francisco Presidio sits on the northern tip of the Peninsula. Today the magnificent property is part of the Golden Gate Recreation Area, a National Park. For over 200 years it was a military base.
San Francisco Bay has had many residents and cultures. For 10,000 years it was occupied by the Ohlone people. At different times, Spain and Mexico set claim to the land.
In 1776 it became a US Army Post. After 219-years of military use, in 1994, the Presidio was transferred to the National Parks Service.
Preservation Number One
Today, the Presidio is a custodian of natural and human history. Preservation of the landscape and ecology is job one.
Like me, you might expect an Army base, turned National Park, to be all about the military. I was surprised and pleased to find that while the military was honored, it was only part of what is illuminated in the largest green space in San Francisco.
It’s a National Park resort
The Presidio is a ‘spend the weekend’ destination. You can eat, sleep and play here and never leave the property or run out of activities. Should you want to see the sights of the city, free transportation is available to and from transit centers.
Book a room in one of the two exceptional hotels in the park. A group campground is available on four wooded acres above Baker Beach.
The Lodge at the Presidio and The Inn at the Presidio are former barracks that have been repurposed as boutique hotels. The Lodge has 42-hotel rooms and is the closest San Francisco hotel to the Golden Gate Bridge. The Inn’s spacious twenty-two, 2-room suites are family friendly and close to trailheads.
Both serve complimentary breakfast and evening wine tasting for guests.
Sip the sun down at firepits on the patios. The Lodge evening fire has a Golden Gate Bridge view, the Inn has a forest view.
Rates are exceptional for San Francisco hotels of this quality.
The group campground accommodates 30 people. Fire ring, grill, food storage, picnic tables, and restrooms are available for campers in the only San Francisco group camp.
What’s to do?
Several Presidio visits are required to experience it all. The park is a multi-generational vacation haven.
All ages and interest can immerse in history, nature, architecture, music, art, food, and learning activities. Letterman’s Digital Arts Center, Walt Disney Family Museum, House of Air, and Batting Cage are favorite pastimes.
Twenty-four miles of hiking trails take you from deep forest to beaches in the shadow of Golden Gate Bridge. Climb to Inspiration Point for a view of the entire bay. Visit sculptures by artist Andy Goldsworthy in a guided art-hike through the woodlands.
You can dig with an archeology team unearthing dwellings and artifacts from pre-European settlers. Join a stargazing party or wildlife talk. Go beachcombing, visit the organic community garden, explore the visitor center, and wander the wetlands.
Go biking; bring your own, rent one, or borrow one from the hotel. There are a golf course and pro-shop, bowling alley, game room, and yoga studios. Try guided tours or rocking chairs and benches for occupying the peaceful open urban oasis. The performing arts theater is being restored and will soon be staging theater and music.
What’s to eat?
Sixteen eateries are scattered around the post. Everything from ‘grab and go’ to fine dining.
The Commissary is a Spanish-influenced restaurant located near The Lodge. Executive Chef Eric Minnich honors the traditional flavors of Spain with sustainable and locally-sourced ingredients.
The Commissary is an elegant dining experience. Bar Manager, Tony Stewart, works with the seasons for his cocktail program.
Family-friendly Arguello pays homage to Chef Traci Des Jardins’ Mexican roots. California-inspired Mexican food and drink are served indoors or outside on the patio.
The outdoor comal (griddle) is used for tortilla-making. Tequila is a specialty, featuring spirits from all regions of Mexico. Shots, flights, and cocktails are offered.
Community picnic on Sundays from March to October. Take part in the Presidio Picnic. Bring your own or try the Food Trucks that take part in the celebration that includes food, music, dance, family, and the community.
Getting there and getting around
PresidiGo Shuttle is a free ride to and around the Presidio. It runs on a regular schedule 7-days a week. Shuttles have wheelchair ramps and bike racks.
Catch PresidiGo at the Transbay Terminal, Embarcadero BART, and Union Street/Van Ness Avenue. PresidiGo routes serve 40+ destinations within the park.
If you drive, you’ll find plenty of parking at $9 per day.
The San Francisco Presidio is open, green, and uncrowded. The park adds new museum exhibits, special events, walks, talks, recreational activities, and new menus frequently. It’s idyllic for people of all ages, interest, and abilities.
For more details on Presidio activities, special events, lodging, and food, visit www.presidio.gov
Mary Charlebois is a freelance journalist and photographer. Her home base is on California’s Mendocino Coast. She travels by train, plane, bus, boat, shoe sole, and auto. She digs into the culture, people, and history wherever she goes and isn’t opposed to a little adventure along the way.