This guide is to the Presidio National Park in San Francisco will help you spend a day there exploring its natural resources, history, and quirky spots. Check out all the amazing things to do in the Presidio.
What is the Presidio of San Francisco (sometimes called San Francisco Presidio National Park)?
The Presidio served as a military garrison for over 150 starting with the Spanish colonization in 1776. For the first 50 years, it was a forbidding, wind-swept outpost where soldiers huddled in huts “guarding” the harbor. As the Spanish colonization of California grew, so did the Presidio. Over time, the fort became a strategic asset, ultimately becoming America’s most important military installation on the Pacific Coast.
It was an active post until 1970’s before becoming redundant for the military. In 1994 the decision was made to preserve both the history and the natural resources of the land and the Presidio became part of the national park system. Today, San Francisco’s Presidio National Park is an mash-up of natural resources, historical sites, housing and commercial interests. In order to manage these potentially competing interests, an unusual partnership was struck between the National Park Service, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) and the Presidio Trust. The National Park Service cares for 300 acres of coastline, the Presidio Trust manages the interior assets in the Presidio and the GGNRA provides philanthropic and programmatic support. The assets managed by the Presidio Trust generate income, making the park financially self-sufficient.
Presidio of San Fransico is considered as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area unit along with Alcatraz Island. You’d be hard pressed to find another US National Park with this unusual mix of resource management. At 1,400 acres, the Presidio is the world’s largest national park in an urban setting. It has 3,000 residents, 200 businesses, 24 miles of hiking and biking trails, a golf course and Yoda (more on him later).
Getting to and Around the Presidio
San Francisco’s Presidio National Park is located in the northwest edges of the city, anchored by the Golden Gate Bridge. The things to do in the Presidio mentioned below are quite spread out and are most easily accessed by car. This also gives you the flexibility to drive across the bridge or combine your time in the Presidio with other San Francisco activities.
If you don’t have a car, you can use MUNI buses or the free PresidiGO shuttle. The PresidiGO runs between downtown and the Presidio every forty minutes, taking twenty minutes to get to the park. Within the Presidio, the shuttle runs two loop routes every thirty minutes and they stop at most of the major sites.
Where to Stay in the Presidio National Park
Inn at the Presidio: This 22 room B&B is a registered historic landmark that once housed the unmarried officers. It now offers a central location, rocking chairs, wine and cheese and stellar reviews on Trip Advisor.
Lodge in the Presidio: The Lodge is a 42 room boutique hotel that is also in a historic building. It’s well furnished, eco-friendly and peaceful. Check reviews or book at Trip Advisor.
Rob Hill Campground: The Presidio runs the campground from April to October. It’s expensive at $125/ni for a camp spot. However, it’s located in a beautiful, quiet high spot in the park. Check availability here.
If you are interested in staying elsewhere in San Francisco, check out this guide for the best hotel neighborhoods.
Where to Eat in the Presidio
For fine dining, check out either the Commissary or Arguello. The Commissary offers Spanish influenced California cuisine. Arguello has Mexican food and craft cocktails designed by chef Traci des Jardins. They are both located near the Officer’s Club.
If you want something more casual, then plan a picnic. You can pick up sandwiches and supplies at the Warming Hut or the Beach Hut Cafe. Both are located in Crissy Field. The Presidio Trust also hosts regular picnic events featuring food trucks and entertainment on the main parade ground, near the Visitor’s Center. There is a Sunday midday picnic from March through October. There is also a Thursday night twilight picnic from May through October.
Top Things to Do in the Presidio of San Francisco
What follows is a one-day itinerary that will take you to all of the top things to do in the Presidio. It starts on the beach…and it ends on the beach. In between, you’ll find cultural touchstones, landmark historical sights, hikes and epic views.
For your first stop, start at Crissy Field and walk west toward Fort Point. If you are an early riser, you’ll get beautiful golden views of the bridge at dawn. Crissy Field was once the main airstrip for the Presidio. The natural dunes have since been restored and it’s now a dog and kid-friendly beach.
The NOAA Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
As you walk west, stop into the NOAA Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary facility. The Farallones Marine Sanctuary is 3,200 square miles of marine preserve that stretches from Boninas to Monterrey. The visitor’s center has exhibits on the marine sanctuary’s ecosystem.
NOAA: Free. Open Wed-Sun 10a-4p.
Fort Point National Historic Site
After Crissy field, carry on walking west to Fort Point. While walking over there, stop and take 400 pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge. The fort is located below the bridge and it guarded SF against the gold rush through WWII.
Fort Point: Free. Open Fri-Sun 10a-5p. Guided tours are available which take 30 minutes.
Presidio National Park Visitor’s Center
You can park in one spot and easily do the following three things in the Presidio. Start at the Visitor’s Center because it’s the heart of the park. It has maps and interactive exhibits on the park.
Visitor’s Center: Free. Open everyday 10a-5p.
Walt Disney Family Museum
The Walt Disney Family Museum features exhibits on the history of the Walt Disney company, artwork from some of Disney’s best animators and exhibitions of local community art programs.
Walt Disney Family Museum: $25 for adults, free for kids under 5. Open daily 10a-6p.
The Officer’s Club
The Presidio Officer’s Club is a museum and cultural center. They have permanent exhibits on the history of the Presidio and the people who served there. They also offer cultural events and guided tours of the Main Post. See what’s on by checking their event’s page.
Officer’s Club: Free. Open Tues-Sun 10a-5p.
Strictly speaking, Yoda has nothing to do with the military history and natural resources of the park. But seek him out you must because it’s one of the most fun (and goofy) things to do in the Presidio. You can find the Yoda statue at the Lucas Films building. If you visit during normal business hours, you can also go into their office lobby which is stuffed with Star Wars paraphernalia, including Darth Vader’s original cape!
The Yoda Statue: Free and open all the time.
Lucas Film lobby: Free. Open Mon-Fri 7a-7p.
The Goldsworthy Lines
Next, move onto Lover’s Lane and the Goldsworthy Lines. The “lines” are part of an art installation by Andy Goldsworthy and they mark out a peaceful wavy path through the eucalyptus trees. It’s a short but very peaceful stroll through the trees and along the lines.
Goldsworthy Lines: Find them by mapping “Lovers Lane” and then enter the grove of trees. Free and open all the time.
The Golden Gate
Your next stop will be San Francisco’s most iconic view…but first you need to do something creepy. On your way over from the Goldsworthy Lines to the Golden Gate Visitor’s Center, stop off at the pet cemetery. At its peak, San Francisco’s Presidio Park was home to 2,000 families– and their pets. This touching little cemetery pays homage to all of the family pets who lived there.
Pet Cemetery: Free. The gate isn’t always open but you can see the headstones from outside the fence.
Golden Gate Bridge Views
Now, you are ready to move on to the bridge. It’s gets very busy at the bridge and parking can be tricky. If the parking lot to the east of the bridge is full, then take the road that goes under the bridge and find a spot on the west side. For the full scoop, check out this guide for the best ways to find killer Golden Gate Bridge views and logistics for visiting the bridge. At the very least, walk partway out onto the bridge to get great views of San Francisco.
Visiting the Bridge: It’s open all of the time and parking is free.
The California Coastal Trail
Next, go under the bridge and take a walk along the California Coastal Trail.
The trail is just one of the many trails in the park. But it’s a good one because it will give you views of the ocean, the Marin headlands and old gun batteries which were once part of the fort.
Finish Your Day at the Beach
Since you started your day at the beach, it’s only fitting to end it there. Baker Beach is located on the very southwestern edge of the Presidio National Park. You can get to it by walking the coastal trail mentioned above, or you can drive down to it. It’s a beautiful jewel of a beach that is well-loved by local residents and dogs.
On the far north end of the beach, you are likely to find a small patch of nude sunbathers. The nudity thing is perplexing because it’s dang chilly in SF, but anything goes in San Francisco, even when it’s cold.
Go beyond the Golden Gate Bridge! Exploring these additional things to do in the San Francisco Presidio will give you an appreciation for the city’s history and culture. Have fun and happy trails.
Check out some of our favorite Presidio of San Francisco Products.
Carol Guttery is the founder of Wayfaring Views. She is a travel writer, photographer, philanthropy consultant. She’s been tackling the world for forty years and has been to 43+ countries and territories.