This former military base is given over to pleasure pursuits, with a golf course, cycle tracks, hiking trails and some great picnic spots.
The longest running military base in US history dates back to 1776, on a site which is now a National Historical Landmark District. Today the strict discipline and tough exercise regimes of military life have given way to more leisurely pursuits. The Presidio is the place where the locals go to let off steam in the picturesque shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Where to start? From a championship golf course to a network of hiking trails, the accent is firmly on the great outdoors. This rugged stretch of Pacific coast brings stunning scenery right to the city’s doorstep, with over 590 hectares of countryside just a short trip from the centre. Explore the old fortifications, wander through the pine woods or take a dip in the ocean. Stroll along the shoreline at Baker Beach, then head inland to follow the hiking trails that provide plenty of fabulous panoramic viewing points.
Cycling, jogging and rollerblading are popular at Crissy Field, a former army airfield and coastguard station now transformed into a sandy bay-side playground. This is also one of the best spots for an impromptu picnic with the Golden Gate Bridge as a romantic backdrop.
The Crissy Field Center opened in 2001 as an environmental education centre, and some of the other buildings have been preserved as they were in the 1920s. Other reminders of the area’s military past can be found in the parade grounds at Moraga and the San Francisco National Cemetery, where more than 30,000 American military personnel and their families are buried.
The Presidio is home to a variety of institutions such as the Walt Disney Family Museum and the Letterman Digital Arts Center, part of the George Lucas film empire, where the cute Yoda Fountain is an unmissable photo opportunity for die-hard Star Wars fans. The Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary protects an area of 3,237 square kilometres off the coast of San Francisco, including the feeding grounds of many indigenous species of seabird as well as migrating grey whales and great white sharks.
You can reach the Presidio easily by San Francisco Municipal (Muni) bus, Golden Gate Transit services or the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. Travel around the park on the free PresidiGo shuttles which leave from the Transit Center opposite the park’s informative visitor centre, or hire a bike to explore the attractions at your own pace. If you must bring the car, there’s pay parking available on-site.