Who knew there were so many amazing things to do in The Presidio of San Francisco!
Presidio Park is now one of my new favorite places to visit in San Francisco and below are all my tips on what to do in The Presidio.
You may see the hills of San Francisco covered in an array of colorful and different shaped buildings.
While on the ground you hear the clanging of the cable car bell, and the busy movement of people bustling around the day, but tucked in the corner under the Golden Gate Bridge lies a natural escape in the middle of this urban jungle.
What is The Presidio in San Francisco?
The Presidio of San Francisco is a 1,500 acre footprint on a former military post, and a national historic landmark.
It is a major outdoor recreation hub and natural oasis, with 330 native plant species, 323 bird species, 30 butterfly species, three watersheds, a tidal marsh, and a freshwater lake.
The Presidio joined the Golden Gate National Recreation Area – one of the worlds largest national parks in an urban setting in 1994 when the army left.
It’s rare to find a national park in the middle of a bustling metropolis AND it’s also free for the public to enjoy.
That’s San Francisco – full of surprises and unique features.
Visiting the Presidio National Park was one of my favorite things to do in San Francisco last month during our California trip, not 13 years ago back in 2006 as I hadn’t even heard of it then. I only first heard of it five months ago!!
I’m so glad we’re able to let you know about it too so you don’t miss it when you visit San Francisco.
From refurbished red brick military buildings that hold museums, restaurants and hotels to dozens of hiking trails and even a golf course, there are many unique, fun and beautiful things to do in Presidio Park.
History of The Presidio of San Francisco
The Presidio is where the European San Francisco began.
In 1776, a military fort, El Presidio was established in this place. Previous to this it was home to the native Ohlone people.
Through the years it was taken over by the Mexicans and then the Americans in 1847. For the next 150 years the Presidio in San Francisco was used as a military base for thousands of U.S. Army soldiers.
In 1994 the Army left and the national parks added the Presidio SF to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Since then hundreds of historic buildings have been rehabilitated, native habits restored, and many biking and hiking trails have been created with scenic overlooks and vistas.
The park is also home to 3,000 residents and 200 organizations that work here. I love how nature and humans have blended together in this protected way.
The Presidio San Francisco is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is managed through a unique partnership approach: Presidio Trust, in partnership with the National Park Service.
Andy Goldsworthy’s art installations: Tree Fall, Wood Line and Spire. Earth Wall is inside the Presidio Officers Club.
Things to do in The Presidio
What is there to do at The Presidio in San Francisco?
Presidio Park is divided into four main regions, and exploring The Presidio by each region is what we did:
- Main Post
- Crissy Field
- Golden Gate
- Southern Wilds.
Each region offers something unique to experience: a rich history, inspired architecture, and stunning views, as well as endless things to do and see.
We’ve split up the things to do in Presidio Park San Francisco into these regions.
Main Post Region
Off the Grid Presidio Picnic
We visited the Presidio San Francisco for the weekly Sunday Presidio Picnic hosted by Off the Grid on the Main Parade Ground.
This is where you’ll find diverse food and culture and locals (and visitors) grabbing a picnic blanket and gathering in the Presidio surrounded by a wide array of food trucks from Thai to Vietnamese to Mexican and more.
Grab a local craft beer and a patch of grass and enjoy the (hopefully) San Francisco summer sun.
This is also a good opportunity to experience the history of where the military officers used to parade. On the edge of the ground are also various museums and the Presidio Visitor Center.
Presidio Officer’s Club
The Presidio Officer’s Club is San Francisco’s most historic building and the oldest structure in the park.
Inside the building you can still see the original walls from the original fortress. You”ll also find an interactive museum that tells the story of the Presidio San Francisco.
They had an interesting exhibit on the Japanese interment camps when we visited. Inside is also Arguello, a Mexican restaurant and a cozy fire with some comfy couches you can rest on for awhile.
Walt Disney Family Museum
Wondering what to do in The Presidio with kids? Go here.
After recently spending 10 days visiting Disneyland, I wasn’t sure how much more Disney I would enjoy in the US.
But, it seems there is always room for more Disney, and this is one of the best things to do in the Presidio with kids!
I also enjoyed a visit to this museum quite a lot. Walt Disney was a highly creative and persistent man. I loved learning more about his story – his triumphs, failures, risks and the inspirations that lead him to create a magical enduring world.
The story is told through interactive exhibits and galleries.
You get to see the first drawing of Mickey Mouse, a large model of Disneyland, and sit on the original seat from Griffith Park Observatory where he sat and got the inspiration for a theme park that parents and kids could enjoy together.
There was a special Mickey Mouse exhibit while we visited that told more of the story of Mickey. The girls enjoyed learning how to draw Mickey Mouse. They did an excellent job.
- Get your Skip the Line Ticket in advance here
- Walt Disney Family Museum is included in the San Francisco Explorer Pass and The Go San Francisco Card. Both offer savings on multiple San Francisco attractions.
Star Wars Fans: Lucas Film’s and Yoda Statute
I’m not a Star Wars fan but even I thought this was cool.
Lucas films Industrial Light Magic and LucasARTs is housed in the Letterman Digital Arts Center.
Outside the building is a life sized bronze statue of Yoda.
The Lucasfilm Lobby features props, memorabilia, costumes and a life-sized Darth Vader statue. See if you can spot the small Chewbacca statue, and my favorite – the photo of Michelle Obama dancing with Chewy.
Nearby here is Sessions at the Presidio, a modern gastropub featuring more than 100 craft beers!
Southern Wilds Region
Lovers Lane & Wood Line
Andy Goldsworthy is a name you will quickly learn after a visit to Presidio Park.
He is one of the world’s most talented site-specific artists. and the Presidio Trust hosts the largest collection of his works.
He has four installations in the Presidio. (You can enjoy all four on a 3 mile hiking loop).
We saw Wood Line thanks to our friend Michael, who runs private San Francisco tours via his company the Boutique Traveler who took us here on his city driving tour. We wouldn’t have known about it otherwise. It was one of my favorite things to do in the Presidio.
I loved how Wood Line blended into the natural surroundings, so much that it took me a little too long to realize the wood I was standing on for a photo was actually part of the snaking line of woods down the path.
When I stopped to take in the view of it filing up a gap in the Eucalyptus Grove, my mind was blown.
Lovers Lane is the oldest footpath through the Presidio and connects the Presidio Gate with the Main Post. It was created in the 18th Century as a shortcut by Spanish soldiers to get from the Presidion to Mission Dolores. It is 0.6 miles of natural beauty.
As an Australain, I loved the huge presence of Eucalyptus trees on this walk.
The 6.4 mile Presidio Immersion Hiking Trail encompasses Lovers Lane.
Ecology Trail & Inspiration Point Overlook & The Spire
We hiked the easy 1.4 mile return Ecology Trail which takes you up to Inspiration Point.
Along this trail you’ll find redwoods, eucalyptus trees, shady paths, wildflowers and beautiful vistas.
Inspiration Point gives you a panoramic view of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz and Angel Island.
You can also see the grasslands, historic homes of the Presidios and of course, my favorite canopies of Eucalyptus trees.
Across from Inspiration Point Overlook is Andy Goldsworthy’s Spire. You can see it reaching up to the skies with the Monterey cypress trees surrounding it from here. It’s composed of materials found onsite.
You can also get up close to the Spire on the Bay Area Ridge Trail.
On the way back on the Ecology Trail you can detour to El Polin Springs. We ran out of time to do it. It was one of the parks great restoration efforts and is now a place for picnicking, bird watching and serenity sampling.
The Ecology Trail is also part of the Heart of the Park hiking Trail. A 3 mile walk that takes you around the grounds of the old military parade ground and buildings and a few overlooks.
Presidio Golf Course
Located just minutes from downtown San Francisco, The prestigious Presidio Golf Course was originally a private course just for those serving in the military, but opened for public play in 1995.
It is now recognized as one of the nation’s top public courses, and game of golf here is popular with both the locals and those visiting San Francisco!
This 18-hole golf course plays 6,500 yards and consists of challenging golf winding through beautiful Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine trees in The City’s trademark hills.
Book a tee off time and learn more here.
Golden Gate Region
Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center & Battery East Vista
We did not go into the welcome center here but did stop on the South East side for views of the iconic art deco International Bridge!
Named for the Golden Gate Strait below it, not for it’s color, the Golden Gate Bridge is recognized as one of the seven modern wonders of the world.
It attracts more than 10 million people a year and is just another reason to visit Presidio Park on your San Francisco trip.
The welcome center will tell you more of the story behind the bridge or you can just enjoy the views and prepare yourself to drive, or bike, or walk, over it’s 1.7 mile span.
Odds are you’ll see part of the Golden Gate covered in fog – it’s pretty either way.
The Battery East Trail zigzags through fragrant bluffs to the Fort Point National Historic Site and Crissy Field.
Golden Gate Overlook
One of my favorite views of the Golden Gate Bridge was at the Golden Gate Overlook. I love how the bridge fits in perfectly between two trees.
You can also get a good look at the old batteries here that once defended the Gate.
A little further south west is the Batteries to Bluffs Trail which is a short 0.7 mile trail that traces the wild bluffs of the Presidio’s Western shores.
You get coastal panoramas, views of the Golden Gate Bridge and a path down to Marshall’s Beach.
Surprisingly, San Francisco is not a city that makes me think of beach culture, but it’s definitely there.
While swimming is definitely not recommended in this part of the pacific ocean due to cold temperatures and dangerous conditions, it’s a place to take a walk and enjoy one of the best views of Golden Gate Bridge.
Baker Beach is also a place to enjoy sunset.
There is a 2.7 mile one way trail along the bluffs to Baker Beach from the Golden Gate Bridge (actually probably better to do it vice versa for better views).
It’s part of the 12,000 mile California Coastal Trail that goes from Mexico to Oregon.
Crissy Field Region
One area we did not get to explore was Crissy Field in the Presidio Park, despite it being something many people in our community recommended as one of the best things to do in San Francisco.
Always leave room for a return visit.
Crissy Field is located on the northeastern side of Presidio San Francisco and offers walking trails, bay views, beaches and wild open spaces.
It’s the spot for picnics, ball games, bike riding, and recreation activities, and loved by locals and those visiting San Francisco!
The former airplane hangers and warehouses have been transformed into trampoline parks, climbing walls, and swimming pools.
You get a great view of the bridge here from down below looking up – a unique perspective.
The Golden Gate Promenade/ Bay Trail is a 4.3 multi-use trail that stretches along the San Francisco Bay shoreline . It connects many of Crissy Field’s main destinations and gets you up onto the Golden Gate Bridge.
You’ll get great views of the city skyline, Marin Headlands and the Bridge.
Crissy Marsh is where the freshwater of the Presidio’s watershed meets the salty waters of San Francisco Bay. This is a great spot for bird watching.
Best Picnic Sites at Presidio San Francisco
Apart from the weekly Presidio Food Truck Picnic, the following places in Presidio Park are prefect for a picnic:
- Crissy Field East Beach or West Bluff
- Immigrant Pint
- El Polin Spring
Things To Do Near The Presidio
Even though these two places are not actually in the Presidio, they are right on the edge of it and worth mentioning
Lands End Trail
The Lands End Trail is actually still a part of the Golden Gate Recreational Area and is one of my favorite places to visit in San Francisco.
This reminded me so much of Australia with its rugged coastline trail, views of the bay and the bridge, and trees and wildflowers.
It was tranquil and pretty and you’ll feel like you’re in a small coastal town.
It’s a 3.4 mile return trail.
We walked just a short way along it as we were short on time. I recommend going further and walking down to the Lands End Labyrinth which looks super cool!
Palace of Fine Arts
Anything goes in San Francisco, including Greco-Roman colonnades and a soaring central rotunda.
One of the out of the ordinary San Francisco attractions was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. It’s the only remaining building from that Expo.
The Palace of Fine Arts is worth visiting for a stunning photograph and a walk around the tranquil lagoon and grounds. You may even spot some turtles or baby swans.
You can also see the Palace from many viewing spots around the city.
It’s located on Baker Street in the Marina, at the eastern edge of the Presidio. It’s two-and-a-half miles west of Fisherman’s Wharf and three miles northwest of Union Square.
Open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Where to Stay at Presidio Park
What better way to enjoy this natural oasis and urban escape then to stay at the Presidio. It is now on my wishlist for a future San Francisco trip.
I could only imagine how wonderful it would be to walk out your door and have all these amazing things to do in Presidio Park waiting for you.
You could dive so much deeper and be offered a more enriching Presidio Park experience. This area was definitely my favorite places in San Francisco.
Inn at the Presidio San Francisco
The Inn at the Presidio used to be the home of the bachelor officers when it was an Army post.
It now a historic hotel of America and is located in a beautiful natural setting not too far from the Officer’s Club. Many of the park’s trails begin outside the back of the Inn.
Lodge at the Presidio
Rooms at the Lodge at the Presidio offer views of the Golden Gate Bridge or San Francisco Skyline. It’s located within the Montgomery Street Barracks off the main parade grounds.
Rob Hill Campground
Above Baker Beach in the Presidio Forest is Rob Hill Campground.
There are 30 campsites with BBQ grills, campfire circles and picnic tables. Camping season is April through October. Be sure to make a reservation and it’s tent camping only!
Places to Stay in San Francisco
If you don’t wish to stay in the Presidio Park, we recommend these hotels in San Francisco.
Kimpton Sir Francis Drake
Situated in the heart of Union Square, the boutique hotel, Kimpton Sir Francis Drake offers a funky, yet fresh stay with spacious and comfortable rooms.
We had two interconnecting rooms for our family of four. Our girls loved having their own space (as did we).
Our room was huge – plenty of space for me to do morning yoga even. The hotel provides yoga mats and free Gaia yoga videos on the TV.
They also have free wine hour every evening from their popular Starlight Lounge with views over the city.
IHG members receive a $10 voucher to use at Scala’s Bistro. As we got one for each room, this was adequate to provide us with a bagel and pastry breakfast on the run each morning.
Transportation is also right at your doorstep.
Hotel Zoe Fisherman’s Wharf
One of the newest hotels in San Francisco, Hotel Zoe offers sophistication in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf.
It’s one block away from the Mast St Cable car turnaround and a very short walk to nearby attractions and surrounded by grocery stores..
Nearby is Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square, one of my other things to do in San Francisco near Fisherman’s Wharf.
Although the rooms were smaller here than at the Kimpton, they were very comfortable and modern.
The service at Hotel Zoe was one of the best we’ve ever had. The valet/bellman spent so much time sharing his insider tips with us it was awesome!
Hotel Zoe gives you access to a 24 hour fitness center across the road. It’s also Pet friendly and has an evening happy hour and hosted coffee in the lobby each morning.
Airbnb is another great option for accommodation in San Francisco.
- Click to find the best place for you.
- Here are some options for staying right on the border of the Presidio.
Getting To and Around Presidio Park
The free PresidioGo Shuttle is a convenient way to travel between Downtown San Francisco and the Presidio.
It operates 7 days a week and the one-way trip takes about 25 minutes. You can pick it up near the Transbay Terminal or the entrance to the Embarcadero BART station.
We caught it from the Presidio Transit Center back into downtown.
The PresidioGo shuttle also takes you around to more than 40 destinations in the Presidio.
The Presidio is also bike friendly, and the San Francisco MUNI can also get you there.