Each time we return to the Bay Area, we always spend some time in one of my favorite cities—San Francisco. When I first catch sight of the Golden Gate Bridge, it still takes my breath away. Whether a ghostly blur in the morning fog, or a bright orange beacon in the sun, San Francisco’s iconic bridge will always make me smile in wonder.
If you want to experience the Golden Gate bridge and some of the best views of the bridge, itself, skip walking across the span and go to the Presidio of San Francisco instead. You’ll avoid the logjam at the impossibly crowded viewpoint parking areas on both sides of the bridge. The windy walk is not so pleasant due to the noise of so many cars whizzing by that drown out any conversation. If walking the Golden Gate Bridge is on your bucket list—go ahead. But my preference is the nearby Presidio, a former Army Base that has been thoughtfully restored to benefit the people of San Francisco and beyond.
Located in the northern part of the city, near the Golden Gate Bridge, look for the signs on Lombard Street to enter the Lombard Gate of the Presidio. There is still construction going on, so check the park’s website for more updated information. I recommend stopping at the Letterman Digital Arts complex for a quick visit. These Leed Certified buildings beautifully replicate the original Letterman Hospital that served thousands of soldiers and veterans while the fort was still active. They are now home to to Lucas Arts studios and other high tech companies. Take a selfie with Yodo in the garden and then stop by Starbuck’s for a quick espresso. Even at this lower level of the park you can enjoy expansive views of the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz and the bridge.
Drive further up Presidio Drive and you’ll find plenty of parking in the huge lot near the Visitor’s Center. Parking isn’t free, but the funds help support this oasis of open space with well groomed trails that extend throughout the 1.491 acres of the park.
Stop in at the Visitor’s center for a bit of history about the Army base, one of the oldest continuously operated Army Bases in the U.S., established by the Spaniards back in 1776. There are several exhibits and displays and the park rangers can share some fun stories about the early days at the base. You can also find a few helpful maps for exploring the park and its many trails.
In the same group of lovely brick buildings (on Montgomery Street) is the Walt Disney Museum, a gallery and several small eateries if you’re ready for a snack.
Just south of the parking lot on Montgomery Street, it’s an easy walk to the Officers’ Quarters for a bit more history and a gourmet lunch or happy hour in their attractive and more upscale dining area. Nearby, you can even spend the night at the Inn at the Presidio, a boutique hotel in the middle of the park.
But the sunny weather and clear blue skies called for a hike. So we left the paid parking lot and drove a bit south to find free parking near McDowell Avenue and the Calvary Stables. We followed the trail that meandered up above the old cemetery where we could enjoy the bay views and the smell of eucalyptus as we explored the well kept trails of the Presidio.
We headed south (away from the bridge) past the military cemetery, located behind the Officers’ Club and up higher on a hill. There are several viewpoints with even better vistas for taking photos of the bridge and the hills in Marin County. From this area visitors can wander the inland trails towards the golf course and the city or stay south and follow the coastline towards Baker Beach. The trails pass through groves of eucalyptus trees and past old military structures and housing. There is plenty of open space because the park will only refurbish and repurpose past structures—no new additional buildings are allowed.
If you want to take a longer walk, you can even connect to the city’s other trails, such as China Beach and the Coastal Trail, which goes as far south as the Sutra Baths and the Cliff House restaurant. You could spend all day exploring these connecting trails.
When you return to the stables, head toward the underbelly of the bridge to find Fort Point. This area is a historic Civil War site and provides wonderful views of the infrastructure of the bridge. Although it’s only open Friday through Sunday, it has a small bookstore and is another dramatic setting of the park.
You can continue along the bay path to reach nearby Crissy Field (an old airfield)—just a few blocks away. This open space provides more flat trails for walking and biking as well as picnic areas along the bay.
Whatever you choose to do, save some time for the Presidio of San Francisco, one of San Francisco’s treasures—and a great place to spend your time in this scenic and wonderful city.