The Presidio – From Military Base To Urban National Park

One of the prettiest drives in San Francisco is through the Presidio, where the scent of eucalyptus trees fills the air. With commanding views overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Bridge, it is one of the most desirable pieces of property in California. For more than 200 years it was a military base until it was decommissioned in 1993. It’s future undecided, there were endless debates and arguments about how the Presidio would evolve.

Today the Presidio is successfully and jointly managed by the Presidio Trust, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and the National Park Service. There’s so much to do and see in the Presidio — Fort Point, the Palace of Fine Arts, the new Walt Disney Family Museum. This unique urban park should definitely be on your “top places to go in San Francisco” list.

Take an Urban Hike through the Presidio

The best way to experience the Presidio is by walking it.

So we recommend you sign up for his urban hike through the historic site — following your guide through groves of pine, cypress and eucalyptus trees. (All this is within the San Francisco city limits!)

You visit the National Cemetery, the final resting place of more than 30,000 Americans including military veterans, and Lover’s Lane (one of the oldest foot trails in the Presidio, nicknamed for the site where soldiers visited their sweethearts in the 1860s).

The Presidio San Francisco Battery Trail
old abandoned gun emplacements on Battery Trail that once guarded the entrance to San Francisco Bay

Hike the Ecology Trail as you soak in views of Alcatraz and the Palace of Fine Arts. From the Tennessee Hollow Watershed to Inspiration Point you see rare serpentine grasslands and eucalyptus canopies. This hike definitely shows you a different side of San Francisco — the varied forests, green spaces, and monuments of the Presidio.

The Palace of Fine Arts – at the Presidio

At the Presidio’s eastern end is one of San Francisco’s most admired buildings, the Palace of Fine Arts.

Its domed rotunda, arches, and lily pad pond were designed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition and was modeled after a mysterious painting titled The Island of the Dead.

The Palace of Fine Arts – at the Presidio
The Palace of Fine Arts – at the Presidio

The hands-on science museum, The Exploratorium, was formerly located here, but that has now moved to Pier 15. However, it’s still home to the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre. 3601 Lyon Street.

Fort Point National Historic Site

Fort Point National Historic Site is a brick guardhouse, built around 1860 and today is run by the National Park Service. The fort was once the base of operations for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Fort Point National Historic Site
Fort Point National Historic Site

The Golden Gate Promenade — which extends from the bridge past the Palace of Fine Arts and onward through the Marina District to Fisherman’s Wharf — is the most scenic way to approach Fort Point at the northern end of the Presidio.

Walt Disney Family Museum

New to the Presidio is this attraction that takes you on a journey into the life and legacy of animation legend Walt Disney. Learn the fascinating story of Walt’s life told through exhibits narrated in his own voice, 200 video screens, and early drawings, cartoons and films.

Walt Disney Family Museum
Disneyland Model at Walt Disney Family Museum

Watch classic Disney films playing in the Fantasia-themed theater, see a model replica of the original Disneyland, and catch stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge through the museum’s wall of glass.

The collection includes thousands of artifacts including rare clips, scripts, musical scores, original animation cels, and cameras used to create the DisneyWorld masters. See family photographs and home movies from Walt Disney’s estate. With 40,000 square feet of interactive galleries and exhibits, the museum is a good reason to visit the Presidio.

A Cool Place to Stay in the Presidio

The Inn at the Presidio is a wonderful place to settle in for your SF vacation.

Once an elegant home for officers, called Pershing Hall, the Georgian Revival building has been carefully restored into a modern guest inn with 22 luxury rooms, 17 of which are large suites with their own fireplaces. There’s also plenty of space for weddings and other celebrations. It’s the perfect place to discover California’s most unique national park.


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