Happy Wanderer: S.F.’s Presidio a gem of a national park

EASTBAYTIMES.COM: December 6, 2022

It’s one of America’s smallest national parks — with one of the most photographed structures on Earth. San Francisco’s Presidio is just 1,491 acres, but its sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge draw more than 5 million visitors a year.

As a military base, the Presidio defended the Golden Gate for two centuries before the U.S. Army left in 1994 and it became a national park. Two years later, Congress set up the Presidio Trust to care for the park and its surprising resources.

“We really are a city,” says the Presidio Trust’s public relation manager, Lisa Petrie. “We’ve inherited this old infrastructure — we have our own roads, electric grid … and 3,000 homes plus 200 businesses.”

Unlike other national park support organizations, the Presidio Trust doesn’t get a direct annual appropriation — its budget comes from managing the park’s businesses and housing stock along with visitor amenities.

From art installations to eateries, two boutique hotels, a bowling alley, golf course, community theater and more, the Presidio packs a punch, and there’s no entrance fee. Visitors can pay to park at the Presidio or take the free Presidio Go downtown shuttle or San Francisco Muni 30 and 29 lines. Visitors can also bike to the park or take a cab, Uber or Lyft.

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the Presidio Tunnel Tops, which opened in the park last July. A $118 million project that was 20 years in the making, the Tunnel Tops are built on and around the Presidio Parkway tunnels. There are grassy meadows, picnic tables, food trucks, a campfire circle and trails — all with mind-blowing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and waterfront.

At the Tunnel Tops Outpost, kids can climb on play structures made from fallen tree trunks, boulders and other natural structures. In fact, the whole Presidio is a play-and-learn “power spot” for urban kids, says Damien Raffa, a Presidio park experience and partnerships specialist.

“[It’s got] immersive wild habitats, serendipitous opportunities for climbing and balancing and creating with nature,” Raffa says, adding that kids can find colorful creatures in the Presidio such as red velvet ants and green hairstreak butterflies. A field station acts as a curiosity lab to encourage children to explore with their senses.

One of the more memorable ways to see the Presidio is on a Segway. Oakland hills resident Drew Foster, who owns Segway Off Road, gives exhilarating private tours on beefed-up Segways with deep-tread tires. Riding what Foster calls “the world’s first robotic human transport,” you cruise on paved paths along the San Francisco waterfront and go off-roading to places like Baker Beach and the Presidio’s forested dirt trails.

The smiles on folks’ faces when you glide past the Palace of Fine Arts make the ride even more fun. Foster stops several times for photo ops of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Inspiration Point, Fort Point and more on a route that’s eye-candy every mile of the way.

You may be surprised to find four installations by world-renowned nature artist Andy Goldsworthy in the park. He first visited the Presidio in 2006 and was impressed with the interplay of city and nature. Goldsworthy’s art can be seen along a 3-mile hiking loop on the Presidio’s network of trails. His 1,200-foot-long “Wood Line” sculpture is especially impressive, made from eucalyptus branches in the parks largest eucalyptus grove.

With so much to do in the Presidio, you may want to spend the night. There are two options that blend history with luxury accommodations. The Lodge at the Presidio has 42 rooms with bridge, park or skyline views and gives you a complimentary breakfast and an evening wine reception.

Inn at the Presidio has 22 spacious rooms and is elegant and historic, having served as the home for bachelor officers. Both inns are within walking distance of one of the best Mexican restaurants in the city. Colibri is the perfect use of the former Presidio Officers’ Club, with its turn-of-the-century cantina vibe and amazing made-to-order guacamole, handmade tortillas, smoky mezcal cocktails and more.

The restaurant even has happy hour, almost unheard of in a national park setting. It’s just one more example of the unique offerings in this gem of an urban national park.

Ginny Prior can be followed on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and at ginnyprior.com. Email her at ginnyprior@hotmail.com.


For help planning your trip to the Presidio, visit presidio.gov online. For more information on Segway tours, go to segwayoffroad.com. To find out more about the Colibri restaurant, visit colibrimexicanbistro.com.


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