San Francisco’s Presidio National Historic Landmark has been the centerpiece of the city by the bay since 1776. When Spain colonized California, the Presidio (or fort) was established here for the purpose of guarding San Francisco Bay. Comprising 1,500 acres, the Presidio is a vast and varied park with plenty to do for everyone. This park stretches along the Bay all the way to the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can walk or bike the Presidio, but even better, two different free shuttles will give you a complete overview of the grounds.
If you have not been to the Presidio before, begin at The William Penn Mott, Jr. Presidio Visitor Center. Also, The Presidio Visitor Center is housed in a circa 1900 guardhouse in the heart of the Presidio. The center has a broad front porch, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. There is an interactive map, one of the most advanced in the National Park’s System, as well as two floors of permanent and changing exhibits. Therefore, The Visitor Center is a vibrant hub for enjoying the Presidio; get a guide map at the Visitor’s Center.
Palace of Fine Arts
Visit the Palace of Fine Arts, a creation of the famous San Francisco architect Bernard Maybeck, whose works were always fanciful, romantic, and poetic. This attraction may be his most visited creation and is one of the iconic buildings of San Francisco. Maybeck designed it for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. While the precedents for the structure came from ancient Greece and Rome, the work is entirely original. With the beautiful arches, columns, oversized urns, and domes reflected in the pools, it provides aesthetic wonder. Graceful by day it is spectacularly lighted at night; at any time, it is an idyllic setting for photography.
Walt Disney Family Museum
See the Walt Disney Family Museum, is all about the life and legacy of animation and theme park legend, Walt Disney. It is housed in a portion of the old red brick Preside buildings. The museum presents the story of the Disney Family and the way that Walt made still drawings come to life through his animation art. Most noteworthy, you will enjoy the models, maps, photos, and drawings. There are pictures of the Disney family, fascinating letters, and many tender personal effects, telling the tale of the man behind the mouse. Also, the museum shop has plenty of take-home treasures for visitors. Additional features of the Presidio that will appeal to families with children include the climbing gyms and trampoline parks.
Other historic landmarks include the San Francisco National Cemetery, Lover’s Lane, and the Presidio Chapel. Also, The San Francisco National Cemetery can rightly be called the West Coast’s Arlington. In 1884, 9 acres were designated as San Francisco National Cemetery, which included the site of the old post cemetery; it is the first national cemetery on the West Coast. Those interred here include many Medal of Honor recipients, as well as Annie Fox, chief nurse at Pearl Harbor, the first woman to receive the Purple Heart in 1942 for “outstanding performance of duty” during the attacks, and Pauline Cushman, a Union spy during the Civil War.
Lover’s Lane is almost entirely straight. This one-mile walk is among the oldest paths in the Presidio, going back to when it was a shortcut for missionaries and Spanish soldiers to go from the Mission Dolores to the Main Post.
The Presidio Chapel
The Presidio Chapel is a beautiful stucco and tile structure in an inspiring location. Built by the U.S. Army in 1931, the chapel’s Spanish mission revival architecture includes arched stained-glass windows, a magnificent fresco, a high ceiling with redwood beams, wrought-iron chandeliers, and sturdy oak doors, In addition, the memorial garden is lined with flowers.
Fort Point National Historic Site
Fort Point National Historic Site is located in the Presidio, directly under the south approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. Fulfilling the “fort” role that the Presidio was created for, Fort Point is an impressive fortification. Constructed in the Gold Rush era and used during the Second World War. Now, the fort is a museum about its history, as well as the building of the Golden Gate Bridge. Created to preserve the fort was the extra soaring arch of the bridge.
Art and Dining
In the Presidio art abounds. Art lovers will enjoy finding the various art installations by Andy Goldsworthy. Most noticeable his sculpture titled Spire, at 100 feet tall. There are three more Goldsworthy works to see: Wood Line, Tree Fall, and Earth Wall. Located at the Presidio Officer’s Club is the Earth Wall. It dates back to the mid 20th century; a fabled location once only open to officers, now open to the general public.
Also, this is where you should plan to have lunch on your visit to the Presidio, at the Arguello restaurant, which features Mexican cuisine. The décor is wonderfully evocative, with its stucco and wood in an old California hacienda theme; the food is delicious. On fair days, plan to dine on the patio.
Other dining options include the Commissary in the Main Post, the Round House Café at the Golden Gate, the Warming Hut Café, and the Presidio Café at the circa 1895 Presidio Golf Course, in the Bernard Maybeck-inspired clubhouse.
Finally, if you wish, you can have a relaxing stay in the Presidio, at the Inn at the Presidio, a charming boutique hotel with 22 spacious rooms. The Inn features artisan details and memorabilia reminiscent of the hotel’s rich past. Just steps away, you can also dine at the Presidio Social Club, a classic Northern California vibe restaurant in a 1903 renewed military barracks building.
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