A Day In Presidio of San Francisco: History, Architecture & Nature | Golden Gate Bridge | Art Palace

Presidio of San Francisco | Introduction

Presidio of San Francisco is located at the northwest of Downtown San Francisco, at the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, and is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It was originally a military base for the U.S. Army but has transformed into a vast urban park.

In addition to historic buildings and old fortifications, the Presidio offers breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, and the Palace of Fine Arts. It is one of the most popular destinations in San Francisco and boasts beaches and over a dozen hiking trails. It is an excellent leisure spot within the city.

The Presidio covers a vast area, and if you wish to explore it thoroughly, you would likely need at least two days. If you prefer to visit specific recommended attractions below, you will likely need at least half a day.

Here's a simple half-day itinerary for visitors who want to explore the Presidio. Without stopping for extended scenic breaks, this route takes approximately one hour of walking time. The route includes activities such as hiking, enjoying the sea views, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, visiting the Palace of Fine Arts, and exploring historical sites.

Presidio of San Francisco | Transportation

If you are sightseeing in the downtown area of San Francisco, one of the most popular itinerary for visitors to San Francisco is to take a bicycle ride along the coast from the nearby Fort Mason, all the way through the Presidio and Crissy Field, and then ride up to the Golden Gate Bridge.

For those who prefer not to ride a bike, there are also multiple other options getting to and from the Presidio. You can take an Uber or use Muni buses within the San Francisco downtown area, including the 28, 29, 30, 43, 1, and 45 routes. Additionally, there's a free shuttle service called the Presidio Go Shuttle. You can board the Downtown Route, which runs from Embarcadero through the city and into the Presidio (For details, please refer to Official Route Map and Schedule).

Inside the park, if you prefer to take a shuttle, you can ride the South Hills Route of the Presidio Go Shuttle to travel between various attractions within the park (please refer to Official Route Map and Schedule).

Presidio of San Francisco | Top Attractions

Main Post

The Main Post area between Montgomery St and Funston Ave is the historical heart of the Presidio, showcasing the rich military history of this former army base. The Presidio has a history that dates back to 1776 when it was occupied by the Spanish, followed by the Mexicans for 25 years, and finally by the United States military for over 140 years. During World War II, it served as a major command center for the U.S. West Coast. In the late 1980s, these blocks were transferred to the National Park Service, and they have since been transformed into places for public recreation and historical exploration, preserving the heritage of the area for all to enjoy.

Visitor Center

The Visitor Center located at the front end of the Main Post opened in 2017 and is often the first stop for visitors arriving at the Presidio. It provides an excellent starting point for learning about the history of the Presidio and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. For those interested in the military history of the area, you can find a wealth of information here as well. It's a great place to get oriented and gather information before exploring the Presidio and its historical significance.

Infantry Row

In front of the Visitor Center is a vast lawn, next to it along Montgomery St stands a row of red houses known as Infantry Row. These charming houses were built in 1890 and are among the earliest red-brick military quarters on the U.S. West Coast. At the time, they were considered high-quality accommodations, highlighting the importance of this military base during that era. The expansive lawn in front, once used as a parade ground, has been transformed into a public park, providing a pleasant space where visitors can picnic and enjoy views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The brick buildings have been repurposed into museums, lodgings, and more. The Walt Disney Family Museum is also located here.

Presidio Officer's Club

The Presidio Officer's Club is the earliest building in the Presidio, having been built as an adobe fort by the Spanish when they arrived on the West Coast in 1776. What we see here is of course a renovated building that was taken over by the U.S. Army in 1900 and turned into a meeting place for officers, and then remodeled in 1930 in the Spanish Colonial Revival style.

Chapel of our lady

The chapel, established during the Civil War in 1864, has always been an important place of worship within the military base. If you wish to see some of the original Spanish architecture, you can also find remnants of the Spanish chapel walls next to the church. For those interested in archaeology, ongoing archaeological excavations are taking place in the Presidio. You can visit Pershing Square nearby to observe these activities.

Officer's Row

The row of houses on Funston Ave, parallel to Infantry Row, dates back to the Civil War era. These houses were originally used as military barracks accommodating officers with families. Single officers, on the other hand, lived in barracks located next to the chapel and at the bottom of Funston Ave, which is now the Inn at Presidio. During World War II, the Western Defense Command headquarters were also nearby. The entire surrounding area is a well-planned and fully functional community.

Letterman Complex

Letterman Hospital was built in 1899 to care for many soldiers returning from overseas with illnesses after the Spanish-American War. This hospital was once the largest in the U.S. military and made significant contributions to military healthcare until World War II. Now, it serves as the location for the Letterman digital art center.

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Presidio Tunnel Tops

Presidio Tunnel Tops will be opened in 2022 and is located next to the Visitor Center and in front of Infantry Row. At the entrance, there is a Campfire Center with a huge campfire where you can sit and watch the Golden Gate Bridge while keeping warm, which is very touching in the windy sea. You can see the Golden Gate Bridge from here, and it's a great place to sit for an afternoon.

My favorite part of Presidio Tunnel Tops is the approximately 0.4-mile trail for walking and enjoying the ocean views. The scenery is fantastic, making it a perfect place for a family stroll. Along the way, you can walk to Battery East Overview, find a good spot to sit and gaze at the Golden Gate Bridge. From this vantage point, you can also appreciate the entire expanse of Crissy Field, Angel Island, and Alcatraz Island.

From the trail, you can see the Presidio Parkway below and the Palace of Fine Arts. The adjacent path allows you to walk all the way down to Crissy Field.

Crissy Field

Crissy Field is known for its stunning coastal views and the Bay Trail that's perfect for running and biking. It has been recognized as one of the best places for running in San Francisco and is a regular part of the annual San Francisco Marathon route. Additionally, it features a wetland preservation area, making it a great spot for birdwatching. If you're looking to connect with nature, this is a highly recommended destination.

If you have enough time, it's worth strolling along the Bay Trail. This trail is always bustling with San Francisco residents on weekends, as it offers excellent and leisurely scenery. Not only is it a great spot for viewing the Golden Gate Bridge, but it also has a sandy beach nearby that's perfect for some water fun.

Palace of fine arts

The Palace of Fine Arts is often listed as a must-visit attraction in San Francisco travel guides. It was initially constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition and later repurposed for art and cultural activities. The architecture features a spectacular dome, marble columns, and sculptures that exude a classical ambiance. At the time, San Francisco was in the midst of rebuilding, and the construction of the Palace of Fine Arts symbolized the city's revival and rebirth. A beautiful artificial lake was designed around it, with a semicircular pathway for leisurely walks, creating a serene atmosphere beloved by residents.

Inspiration Point

Inspiration Point is a scenic overlook located in the southwest highlands of the Presidio. From here, you can gaze down at the San Francisco Bay, take in the historic buildings of the Main Post, and even get a clear view of Alcatraz Island. The Presidio actually boasts many outdoor hiking trails, making it a great destination for hiking enthusiasts. If you're planning a day trip and want to include a hike, I recommend taking a car to Inspiration Point and then starting your descent towards the Main Post for a rewarding hiking experience.

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Further reading

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