The Presidio: San Francisco’s Pastoral Playground
This former military post delivers everything S.F. visitors are looking for—and then some.
The Lodge at the Presidio boasts unparalleled views of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
Photo by Kentyn Reynolds.
Want to explore San Francisco without all the crowds and traffic? Avoid the lineup on Lombard Street, skip the crammed cable cars, and ignore the Union Square frenzy. Instead, head to the City’s pastoral playground: the Presidio. Surrounded by groves of fragrant eucalyptus and panoramic Golden Gate Bridge views, this former
U.S. Army post is home to miles of hiking and biking trails, a golf course, museums, gourmet restaurants, and
two luxury inns.
Encompassing 1,500 acres of some of the most beautiful real estate in the country, the expansive oasis has been transformed by the Presidio Trust, a federal agency created to preserve the area as a natural, cultural, scenic, and recreational resource. The former military barracks and officer’s quarters are still standing but have been repurposed. Building 563, for instance—formerly a 1903 enlisted men’s barracks—is now home to the Presidio Social Club, a popular and convivial retro-chic restaurant known for its hearty comfort food. Where double-tiered soldier bunks used to be, a room-length marble bar is now the focal point. presidiosocialclub.com.
Other dining destinations include Arguello, offering Mexican cuisine in an indoor-outdoor setting, and The Commissary, serving Spanish-influenced dishes in the former mess hall of the Montgomery Street Barracks. (Both restaurants are under the direction of award-winning restaurateur Traci Des Jardins.) For beer lovers, 100-plus selections await at Sessions at the Presidio, a sleek gastropub with a heated patio that overlooks the Letterman Digital Arts Center's park-like grounds. arguellosf.com, thecommissarysf.com, sessionssf.com.
Additional attractions abound in the Presidio, providing something fun for everyone. Disneyophiles won’t want to miss the Walt Disney Family Museum, where Walt Disney’s life and legacy are illuminated through innovative, interactive galleries. History buffs will enjoy the Presidio Heritage Gallery, located in the stately Presidio Officers’ Club, which features interpretive exhibits about the Presidio’s role in shaping California and serving the nation. Meanwhile, the Park Archives and Records Center—housed in a former cavalry stable—provides public access to more than five million documents, historic images, artifacts, and objects associated with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. waltdisney.org, presidio.gov.
Visitors can also knock down a few strikes at the 12-lane Presidio Bowling Center; practice their putting at the Presidio Golf Course; or simply explore the area by foot or on bike, pausing for a picturesque break at one of the eight Bay-facing vista points. If you’re not sure where to start, the William Penn Mott, Jr. Presidio Visitor Center is a great resource, offering maps, videos, historical context, and friendly staff who can help you plan your day. presidiobowl.com, presidiogolf.com, parksconservancy.org.
You can even extend your visit with an overnight stay at one of the Presidio’s two casually elegant hotels: the Inn at the Presidio, housed in a Georgian Revival–style building built in 1903, or the newly opened Lodge at the Presidio, which sits on Infantry Row. You can’t go wrong with either option; both are converted U.S. Army barracks, so each uniquely combines historic elements with contemporary luxury.
Each spot also features sumptuous, Ralph Lauren–esque furnishings, hosts a complimentary wine hour with hearty appetizers, and boasts rocking chair–bedecked front porches from which to survey the Presidio scene. A bountiful European-style breakfast buffet is included as well, making the two unique values in a city where hotel prices continue to climb. Both are even members of Historic Hotels of America, the Inn having received its Award of Excellence for Best Small Historic Hotel in 2012 and 2016 and for Sustainability in 2017. The Lodge, however, gets our vote for its proximity to the Golden Gate Bridge. Taking full advantage of its location, the 42-room hotel offers several accommodations with sweeping views of the iconic landmark (those without room views can still admire the gorgeous vistas next to the fire pit out in the courtyard). presidiolodging.com.
With museums, recreation, gourmet restaurants, shopping (the Presidio Visitor Center has one of the best collections of San Francisco–themed gifts in the area), and first-class overnight accommodations, the Presidio delivers everything S.F. visitors are looking for—and then some. Bonus: Parking spots are always plentiful!