More than 200 years ago, on an enviable tip of the San Francisco Peninsula, the Spanish established a fort to strengthen their foothold in the region. Although the Presidio changed hands over time, it remained an important military installation with what was arguably one of the best views in the region. Thankfully for the public, in 1994 that fort was transferred out of military hands and ever since has been one of the must-visit sights in San Francisco for locals and tourists alike. It was also my first stop on a recent trip to San Francisco, done in conjunction with Marriott International to explore the many reasons why San Francisco is such a fun weekend getaway destinations. I found many things to love about the City by the Bay, but my time exploring the Presidio was the highlight of my visit.
What is the Presidio?
As mentioned, for more than two centuries the Presidio was an important military base before being transferred. Originally it was placed under the auspices of the National Park Service, but then a couple of years later a very unique Federal partnership was created. Today, the NPS is in charge of the coastal sections of the park, but the Presidio Trust, a government body specially created for the purpose, administers the rest of the Presidio. Today, the two agencies work together to manage the Presidio and create what I think is an incredible visitor experience.
Getting there is easy enough. If you have a car, it’s a short drive from downtown San Francisco. Or, if you’re like me, you can also easily hail a ride-sharing service to take you up to the Presidio. There is also a free PresidiGo Downtown Shuttle that offers round-trip transportation between downtown San Francisco and the park. Once there, you can use the equally free PresidiGo Around the Park Shuttle to explore the massive 1,491 acre park. I used the park shuttle once I got there and it couldn’t have been easier.
Disney Family Museum
Across the street from the Visitor’s Center is a very unique museum that I was excited to visit. Owned by the Walt Disney Family Foundation, a non-profit organization established by Disney’s heirs, the museum features the life and legacy of Walt Disney. I’d heard about it for quite a long time and I was excited to finally visit the museum to learn more about the man whom I so greatly admire. More than just an assortment of trinkets and artifacts, the museum is a modern and well thought out institution with plenty of interpretation and active engagement experiences to help visitors of all ages learn more about Disney. And learn I did, there’s a lot I didn’t know about the man, from his early days up through the creation of Disneyland. If you have the time and any interest in Disney, I strongly recommend spending a couple of hours here.
The Golden Gate Bridge
Naturally, one of the main reasons why folks trek up to the Presidio is to see and better appreciate the city’s iconic symbol, the Golden Gate Bridge. The recreation area is so much more than just the famous bridge, it’s a vast area that includes many important natural spots along the coast and is one of the largest urban parks in the world. Naturally though, my main interest was in the bridge but, as I quickly learned, there’s more than one way to appreciate this architectural marvel. Yes, you can admire it from the main visitors center and leave, but I wanted a different point of view so I hiked along one of the many trails in the park down to the water and the base of the bridge itself. I wasn’t alone either; the incredible weather had also inspired many others to join me as we clambered down the hill to admire the inherent beauty of the city. No matter how you decide to enjoy the Golden Gate Recreation Area, definitely plan on spending some time here, it’s well worth it.
Other experiences around the Presidio
There’s of course a lot more to experience around the Presidio, depending on how much time you have including these fun spots:
- Presidio Officers’ Club
- Korean War Memorial
- Letterman Digital Arts Center/Yoda Statue
- Crissy March Baker Beach
- Gallery at the Tides Thoreau Center
Where to Stay
San Francisco has had a long and very colorful history, and the wealth of hotels in and around the city are just as much a part of the tourist experience a is the Golden Gate Bridge. There are also many fantastic options, but here a few that I think are important properties to add to your list.
The Westin St. Francis San Francisco on Union Square – I love grand old historic hotels, and in San Francisco there is no other property with the legacy of the St. Francis. Since it first opened in 1904 this has been one of the city’s most prominent addresses and since it takes up a full block of Union Square, it’s also impossible to miss. Miraculously surviving the great earthquake of 1906, the hotel went on to welcome the world’s most important people over the decades, from presidents to royalty and everyone in between. Today it remains one of the city’s prominent luxury hotels, and the experience of staying in this legendary establishment was as much a highlight for me as was anything else I did in the city.
Palace Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, San Francisco – San Francisco being what it is though, the St. Francis isn’t the only legacy hotel; the Palace, or “New” Palace, is another grand old establishment. Built in 1909 it too enjoys an enviable location, making it ideal for a weekend getaway. The property meticulously embraces the wonderful excess of the Gilded Age, but is also a modern hotel with all of the amenities any luxury traveler today would expect. With so many great hotels in San Francisco, it’s hard to pick just one but the Palace should definitely be on your to-do list.
Four Points by Sheraton San Francisco Bay Bridge – If a coastal location is what interests you, then the Four Points is a great option. Down by the waterfront and centrally located in the high-tech city of Emeryville, the Four Points by Sheraton San Francisco Bay Bridge is convenient to both downtown San Francisco and Oakland. Also, the Napa and Sonoma Valleys are an easy scenic drive from this newly renovated hotel.
No matter how you decide to experience the Presidio, just make sure that it’s very high on your San Francisco to-do list.