Here are some great ideas for exploring the Presidio, from hikes to art walks to learning history and more.

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Presidio of San Francisco
April 3, 2018

10 Great Ways to Experience the Presidio

Before there was San Francisco, there was the Presidio. First occupied by the Ohlone people for thousands of years, the Presidio was later a military post for two centuries under the flags of Spain, Mexico and finally the United States. Today, the Presidio is a national park and a National Historic Landmark District that welcomes more than five million visitors each year. On its grounds, you can hike 24 miles of trails, enjoy art and culture, eat at the city's largest outdoor picnic, and much more.

You may know the Presidio as home to historic event space, The Walt Disney Family Museum, and The Commissary, award-winning chef Traci Des Jardin's mecca for California cuisine, but that's certainly not all there is. Here are just 10 other ways (of many) to experience the Presidio:

Get Your Bearings at the Presidio Visitor Center

Newly opened in 2017, the Presidio Visitor Center is the perfect place to start your visit. Maps, interactive displays, videos, and a friendly staff help direct you to trails, destinations, and dining options throughout the park, from the Crissy Field waterfront to the natural open spaces within the park's interior. Make sure to check out the retail section of the visitor center for park gear like water bottles, guidebooks, and gifts by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

Find the Perfect Instagram Shot

You can't beat the Presidio's views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Best bets for a great snapshot are from the entrance to the bridge at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, underneath it at Fort Point National Historic Site, at Crissy Field's Torpedo Wharf, or along Baker Beach. Share your favorite shots with #PresidioSF.

Explore History with Culture

The Presidio's cultural center, the Presidio Officers' Club, is a museum, restaurant, concert hall, and classroom all in one. First established in 1776, the club's adobe walls still stand and set the stage for the Heritage Gallery's exhibit that tells the story of 10,000 years of Presidio history. Be sure to check out special temporary exhibits, and Thursday nights' Presidio Live music, film, and cultural presentations. Most of the club's activities are free to the public. P.S. Keep a lookout for the weekly taco and margarita specials at Arguello, located inside the club. 

Look for Birds

Whether you're a first-time birdwatcher or an expert, the Presidio offers excellent opportunities to catch a variety of birds in flight. Located along the Pacific Flyway, hundreds of migrating species use the Presidio for nesting, including Allen hummingbirds and belted kingfishers. El Polín Spring and Crissy Marsh are two great locations to spot birds, both with picnic tables and public restrooms.

Visit the Presidio's Outdoor Art Gallery 

The Presidio is home to Andy Goldsworthy's largest public art collection in North America. To see it all, enjoy a three-mile self-guided tour, which will take you to his four sculptural installations: SpireWood LineEarth Wall, and Tree Fall. You can also take a monthly Guided Art Hike with expert docents leading the way. Learn more here.

Explore the City's Best Beaches

Some of San Francisco's best beaches are located right within the Presidio. Baker Beach is known for its view of the Golden Gate Bridge, while Marshall Beach, accessible via the California and Batteries to Bluff Trails, offers a more secluded experience. East Beach at Crissy Field is great for biking or jogging along the Golden Gate Promenade and is one of the city's most popular picnic spots.

Take a Hike

With its 24 miles of trails, the Presidio offers a variety of hiking experiences for everyone. Whether you walk briskly or leisurely, alone or with friends, you'll find a trail perfect for you. There's even a new 2.7-mile trail that is accessible for all abilities and modes of transportation, including bikes, strollers, or wheelchairs. Check out the trail map here.

Enjoy the Outdoors with a Picnic

With multiple designated picnic areas at the Presidio, the park is a perfect destination for a picnic. Crissy Field's East Beach and West Bluff have picnic tables, grills, and restrooms, as does Baker Beach. El Polín Spring is a great interior option, nestled in the heart of the park and surrounded by nature. Immigrant Point has a scenic vista overlooking the Pacific Ocean and great stone walls to sit on. Pershing Square is adjacent to the Presidio Officers' Club, making it a great spot for a break from your cultural expeditions. Don't forget the seasonal Presidio Picnic, in partnership with Off the Grid. It happens every Sunday, mid-March through early October.

Escape to Nature within the City

The Presidio's 15,00-acre footprint is a natural oasis, with 330 native plant species, 323 bird species, 30 butterfly species, three watersheds, a tidal marsh, and a freshwater lake. One great idea for escaping the city while staying close is a trip to Mountain Lake at the southern edge of the park, where you'll likely hear native Pacific chorus frogs as the sun sets, or catch a western pond turtle perched on a rock.

Get a Free Ride

The PresidGo Shuttle offers free rides between downtown San Francisco's Embarcadero and the Presidio. Check out the schedule and map here. Extend that ride by hopping on the Around the Park shuttle, which can take you to more than 40 destinations within the park, including Baker Beach and the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center. Did we mention it's all free?

For more on these suggestions and even more things to do, visit the Presidio online here.

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