The San Francisco Presidio is the only park – and only national park – in the U.S. to win the prestigious Green Flag award — Photo courtesy of Presidio Trust
In the middle of the urban paradise that is San Francisco, there’s an oasis of green that makes you feel like you’re far away from the city.
The Presidio, once a U.S. Army post, is an extraordinary national park filled with museums, restaurants, hiking trails, food trucks, art installations, recreational destinations and unparalleled views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
A National Historic Landmark District, the Presidio has transformed its former military buildings into modern venues that stay true to their rich San Francisco history. It covers just about 1,500 acres – almost five percent of the city. Free shuttles are available to take you back and forth from downtown.
You may want to start your day at the Visitor Center, where you can check out exhibits and videos, pick up maps and plan your itinerary.
Continuing to make history, the Presidio was just named the first park in the United States – and America’s first national park – to earn the prestigious Green Flag Award®, which recognizes the highest possible standards for visitor experience and management of parks and green spaces around the world.
“In a relatively short space of time, the San Francisco Presidio has been transformed from a former military outpost – designed to ‘keep people out’ – into one of the most welcoming and well-facilitated public resources the judges have ever visited,” reads the evaluation.
Here are 10 reasons you should visit yourself.
It would be wise to toss a coin into the Yoda fountain — Photo courtesy of Presidio Trust
You don’t have to travel to a galaxy far, far away to visit the beloved Jedi Master because he’s holding court right outside the Letterman Digital Arts Center, headquarters of Industrial Light and Magic, Lucasfilm Ltd., LucasArts and the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
The life-sized bronze statue stands above a fountain, where you can toss in a coin or two to ensure that the force will be with you. You can also step into the lobby to see “Star Wars” props, memorabilia, costumes and life-sized Darth Vader and Boba Fett statues. Ready are you?
The Walt Disney Family Museum
Check out the special Oscar Walt Disney won for “Snow White” – complete with seven dwarves — Photo courtesy of The Walt Disney Family Museum
Be prepared to spend hours in this fascinating museum founded by Diane Disney Miller to pay tribute to her father – the man behind the Disney magic.
You’ll get to see the transformation of Mickey Mouse, the painstaking, frame-by-frame process of animation and a breathtaking model of Disneyland along with early drawings, cartoons, films and music.
As you listen to Walt himself narrate some of the exhibits, it is impossible not to be inspired by the scope of his vision, his persistence in bringing it to life and the impact he’s had by creating one of the most recognizable and powerful brands in the world.
Presidio Social Club
Presidio Social Club is all about upscale comfort food — Photo courtesy of Presidio Social Club
Located in a historic building erected in 1903, this contemporary eatery serves up comfort food with a totally modern vibe.
It’s got a country club feel minus the attitude, giving you added options to sit on the outdoor deck and take in the picturesque park or plant yourself at the counter for a craft cocktail. Don’t be surprised when after indulging in dishes such as the Cubano sandwich, the cheddar-bacon biscuits or mac and cheese, you find yourself channeling the restaurant’s history as a military barrack – and saluting.
Lodge at the Presidio
Lodge at the Presidio features breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge — Photo courtesy of Ben Davidson
The Lodge at the Presidio, located in the Montgomery Street Barracks, once housed a cavalry troop and artillery and infantry companies, none of whom could ever have dreamed of the luxurious elevation of their accommodations.
This historic boutique hotel is the closest lodging to the Golden Gate Bridge and, in some rooms (and by the fire pit on the outdoor patio), the views are just stunning.
Breakfast in the homey living room is included, as is an evening wine and cheese reception. Take some time to explore the hotel’s eclectic art, which reflects the Presidio’s rich military history and gorgeous natural setting.
Presidio Picnics are all about the food trucks — Photo courtesy of Jesus Camacho
Over the past eight years, locals and visitors have gathered on the Presidio’s Main Parade Ground on Sundays from March through October for a community picnic filled with food and culture.
Presented in partnership with Off The Grid, the weekly gathering features more than 30 of the city’s best international mobile food creators, from Lobsterdamus to MOMO Noodle to Milk & Waffles. Spend the day on the seven-acre lawn so you can make your way through them.
Presidio Officers’ Club
The Heritage Gallery at The Museum at the Presidio Officers’ Club — Photo courtesy of Dan Friedman
Once the exclusive gathering place for Army brass and their families, the Presidio Officers’ Club has become a gathering place for the public, opening as a museum and cultural destination after an award-winning renovation.
Within its adobe walls, you can attend free concerts, lectures and dance performances, participate in crafts, visit exhibitions about the history of the area and even witness a live archaeology dig.
Stay for a meal at Arguello, chef Traci Des Jardins’ highly-acclaimed restaurant, where you can enjoy authentic Mexican-inspired dishes – including fresh-from-the-comal (griddle) tortillas – and drinks on one of San Francisco’s most popular outdoor patios.
Goldsworthy in the Presidio
Andy Goldsworthy’s art installation, “Wood Line” — Photo courtesy of Brian Vahey
World-renowned artist, Andy Goldsworthy, is celebrated for his site-specific creations which use nature as both their canvas and their medium.
There are four Goldsworthy installations – “Spire,” “Wood Line,” “Tree Fall” and “Earth Wall” – in the Presidio, and you can visit them individually or on a guided (or self-guided) art tour via a three-mile hiking loop. Don’t wait. These pieces are ephemeral and are only on exhibit at the whim of nature itself.
El Polín Spring
El Polin Spring is a beautiful spot for a picnic — Photo courtesy of Martin Lum
Grab your binoculars and head to El Polín Spring, which lies within the Presidio’s largest watershed and is an ideal spot for bird watching. In fact, you may see over 300 different species.
This outdoor classroom is also a great place for a picnic, with tables and grills at your service. Keep in mind, though, that according to legend, if a woman drinks from El Polín Spring’s naturally-occurring fresh waters under the full moon, she’ll have many children and a long life.
Crissy Field and Beach is where San Franciscans play — Photo courtesy of Charity Vargas
Crissy Field is a recreational paradise that has something for everyone, from outdoor activities like running and cycling to rock climbing and trampolines inside former airplane hangars and warehouses.
Its East Beach is considered one of the best kitesurfing sites in the world. Even if you don’t try it yourself, the Golden Gate Bridge provides the ultimate backdrop for watching these acrobats soar through the air.
Presidio Golf Course
The Presidio Golf Course is scenic and challenging — Photo courtesy of Robert Kaufman
Built in 1895, this is one of the oldest golf courses on the West coast – and, thanks to a variety of terrains, one of the more challenging.
Once a private club, the course is now open to the public and has hosted an eclectic list of golfers from Babe Ruth to Charles Schulz. After a scenic round, which winds through towering eucalyptus and Monterey pine trees, settle into the Craftsman-style Clubhouse, where you can eat, drink and admire sweeping views of the oldest part of the Presidio Forest.