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17 Free Things to See and Do in San Francisco's Presidio

17 Free Things to See and Do in San Francisco's Presidio


By avatar  Stacy
Posted On 09/02/2018 17:28:21
Trip Date 07/15/2018  

Destinations | California | San Francisco | The Presidio of San Francisco | Free Things to do in San Francisco | San Francisco on a Budget



What was a Spanish military fort named El Presidio in 1776, followed by a Mexican and more recently a US military post, is now a national park named The Presidio. During each of our two previous trips to San Francisco, we spent some of our time in The Presidio. Following each visit I've been more amazed than the last at how much there is to see and do for free in the park, and our 2018 visit was no exception.

After three visits we still haven't seen all that there is but I can honestly say that this park, which has been undergoing what is called a "post to park transformation", has something for everyone. There is history, scenery, nature, opportunities to exercise, culture, art, movie memorabilia, vista points and more.

If you live in San Francisco, or have a planned visit, take a look at both the Presidio Visitor Guide plus our experiences below to give you some ideas. Choose what you and those with whom you are traveling would most enjoy seeing and doing, or try to see and do all 17 which can be enjoyed at no cost!


Transportation around The Presidio

One of the most amazing things about The Presidio is the free transportation offered around the park (plus limited transportation from Downtown to the park) each and every day of the week. The PresidiGo Shuttle Map provides information on the three available routes (Downtown, Presidio Hills and Crissy Field) to help you plan your visit. If you travel on Muni or Golden Gate Transit, you'll likely find that you can easily connect with a PresidiGo Shuttle.

The two "around the park" routes are each 30 minute loops. Although there is no open top nor commentary, you can ride them much like a hop-on hop-off bus. They'll take you near most of the points of interest, vista points and trailheads, through neighborhoods and you'll even be able to enjoy some views while on the bus. When you get to a place that you'd like to stop and spend more time, just hop off and when you are ready, hop back on. You don't even have to worry about how many hours are left on your ticket since the shuttle is absolutely free!

. . . And now, the 17 Free Things to Do in San Francisco's Presidio grouped into three categories - can you make it to all of them?

  • 11 Points of Interest
  • 3 Places to Relax and Enjoy the View
  • 3 Trails to Hike and Get some Exercise

11 Points of Interest in The Presidio

Depending on how much time you spend at each of these, and whether you ride the shuttle or hike between them (or a combination of both), seeing these 11 points of interest could easily fill an entire day. Among the list below, you'll find some are historical locations as well as:

  • places where kids can run and play;
  • places where everyone can relax for a bit;
  • places where you can take a tour to learn something new; and
  • lots of photo opportunities!


1. Spire

PresidiGo Stop: Inspiration Point (Presidio Hills Route)

Accessible on foot via the Bay Area Ridge Trail, Spire is a sculpture created by Andy Goldsworthy. A total of 37 Monterey Cypress trees that were being replaced due to age were fastened together by the artist for the sculpture which stands 100 feet tall. I find it interesting that the young cypress trees planted around the sculpture will eventually grow so tall that the sculpture will no longer be seen.

Since his creation of Spire, Andy Goldsworthy has created three additional pieces for the park - Earth Wall, Tree Fall and Wood Line which can all be visited on a 3 mile loop hike in the park.


Spire by Andy Goldsworthy

Spire by Andy Goldsworthy

2. Wood Line

PresidiGo Stop: Letterman Digital Arts Center (Downtown Route)

The second of Andy Goldsworthy's sculptures is located near Lover's Lane in The Presidio. Similar to Spire, Wood Line was also created from trees, but the difference is that Wood Line is crafted from eucalyptus branches. At over 1,200 feet long, Wood Line fills in a space created among the eucalyptus trees where some Monterey Cypress trees previously stood. You'll often see both adults and children alike attempting to balance on the wood line! (Following a trail to reach Wood Line from Inspiration Point, our hike took us on bark, pavement, beach-like sand, dirt and up some stairs.)


Wood Line by Andy Goldsworthy

Wood Line by Andy Goldsworthy

3. San Francisco National Cemetery

PresidiGo Stop: Golden Gate Club (Crissy Field Route)

Open from 6:00 AM - 6:00 PM each day, walking through the San Francisco National Cemetery where members of the armed forces and some of their family are buried is a moving experience. As the first national cemetery on the west coast, it dates back to late 1884 when the nine acre cemetery (including the site of the old post cemetery) was first established by the War Department. Through the years the cemetery has expanded from 9 to 29 acres. Surrounded by tall trees and a stone wall, the San Francisco National Cemetery lies on a hill with an excellent view of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.


San Francisco National Cemetery

San Francisco National Cemetery

4. Korean War Memorial

PresidiGo Stop: Golden Gate Club (Crissy Field Route)

Dedicated on August 1, 2016, the Korean War Memorial stands along the Presidio Promenade Trail. Located very near the San Francisco Memorial Cemetery, this memorial was erected in honor of those who served and those who sacrificed their lives while in the armed forces during the 1950 - 1953 war.


Korean War Memorial

Korean War Memorial

5. Yoda Fountain

PresidiGo Stop: Letterman Digital Arts Center (Downtown Route)

Fans of Star Wars won't want to miss their chance to see the wise and powerful legendary Jedi Master, Yoda. The two foot tall "life-sized statue" stands atop a bronze fountain just outside Lucasfilm Ltd. (Building B in the Letterman Digital Arts Center). As with fountains all over the world, visitors often toss coins into the water wishing for good luck, or maybe in this case, wishing for the force to be with them!


Yoda Fountain

Yoda Fountain

6. Star Wars Movie Memorabilia

PresidiGo Stop: Letterman Digital Arts Center (Downtown Route)

An assortment of memorabilia from movies in the Star Wars franchise is located inside the lobby of Lucasfilm Ltd. (Building B in the Letterman Digital Arts Center). Open only on weekdays, some of the most photographed are the full size statue of Darth Vader followed closely by Boba Fett, R2D2 and a Stormtrooper. Although no tours of Lucasfilm Ltd. are offered, visitors can step inside the building to get a closer look at the replicas and smaller pieces sitting on tables and bookshelves in the lobby. (Do remember that this is a place of business, so it's important to quietly look around the first floor lobby only so that the privilege is not taken away from future visitors.)


Stormtrooper (left) and R2D2 (right)

Stormtrooper (left) and R2D2 (right)

7. Main Parade Ground

PresidiGo Stop: Presidio Transit Center (Presidio Hills, Crissy Field or Downtown Routes)

With share chairs (comfortable moveable seating) for the enjoyment of visitors, the large grassed in Main Parade Ground is a place to relax, enjoy a picnic or just people watch while taking in the view of the bay. Believe it or not, the large grassy area was a paved parking lot for the 60 years before being replaced with grass (and a military training and ceremony site before that).


8. Presidio Picnic / Presidio Twilight

PresidiGo Stop: Presidio Transit Center (Presidio Hills, Crissy Field or Downtown Routes)

If you time it right, your visit may coincide with one of many events that take place on the Main Parade Grounds including:

  • Between 11:00 AM and 4:00 PM each Sunday from mid-March to mid-October, the grassy lawn is home to Presidio Picnic, a giant family picnic complete with music, games and people of all ages sprawled throughout on blankets, chairs, inflatable couches and even in tents. You'll find some people who brought their own picnic lunch and others who choose to purchase from one of the large number of on-site Off the Grid food vendors surrounding the perimeter of the lawn.
  • Beginning in mid-May, Presidio Twilight runs on Thursday evenings between 5:00 PM and 9:00 PM through mid-September. Just like Presidio Picnic, Off the Grid food vendors offer food for purchase, however the atmosphere feels different with live music and sunset activities. The fire pits and cabanas lit with lanterns add to the ambiance of the weekly evening event. Both are available for all in attendance - but you'll need to arrive early before they are already spoken for!


Presidio Picnic

Presidio Picnic

9. Baker Beach

PresidiGo Stop: Baker Beach (Presidio Hills Route)

In addition to the awesome views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Pacific Ocean and more, Baker Beach is another great option for some rest and relaxation. With grills and picnic tables available to those arriving before they are all taken, you can enjoy a picnic lunch - especially on a sunny afternoon. Although the water is cold and choppy, the sandy beach is great for sunbathing, building a sand castle or a stroll along the shoreline. Keep your eyes open, as you may see a dolphin or sea lion playing about in the water!


Baker Beach

Baker Beach

10. Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center

PresidiGo Stop: Golden Gate Bridge (Crissy Field Route)

The Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center is located in the Visitor Plaza at the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. In addition to offering souvenirs for sale, the Welcome Center (9:00 AM to 6:00 PM daily) is home to displays which include artifacts from the construction of the bridge as well as videos. Make sure to spend some time wandering through the outdoor plaza to see the perfectly manicured gardens as well as the exhibits which will help you learn about the engineering and history of the bridge.


Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center

Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center

11. Fort Point

PresidiGo Stop: Golden Gate Bridge (Crissy Field Route)

Built to protect the city of San Francisco, Fort Point is one of a few free national historic sites. This civil war era fort is located at the end of Marine Drive on the southern base of the Golden Gate Bridge. The lighthouse that stands at the site today was the third lighthouse built at the fort and was in use from 1864 through 1934 when its beacon was blocked from the then under construction bridge. A self- guided tour of the red brick fortress will take you through the parade ground, casemate and powder magazine on the ground floor. The enlisted men's and officers' quarters are located upstairs, and from the rooftop you can enjoy a fantastic view of the Golden Gate Bridge. (The initial plan for the construction of the bridge called for the demolition of the fort, however the chief engineer adjusted the design to include the overhead arch, thereby saving the fort from its early demise.)


Lighthouse at Fort Point

Lighthouse at Fort Point

3 Places to Relax and Enjoy the View in The Presidio

The overlooks below are just three of the eight overlooks located throughout the Presidio. Each of the overlooks are accessible by one the trails in the park as well as by a short walk from one of the PresidiGo Shuttle stops. There are also a limited number of parking spaces relatively close by, however, do be prepared to pay for parking at many of the overlooks. If you have more time, or want to spend one full day enjoying the views from all of the overlooks, take a look at Scenic Overlooks in The Presidio where you can find out about:

  • Golden Gate Overlook
  • Immigrant Point Overlook
  • Lobos Valley Overlook
  • Marine Cemetery Overlook
  • Pacific Overlook


1. Inspiration Point Overlook

PresidiGo Stop: Inspiration Point (Presidio Hills Route)

If you ask anyone who is familiar with the overlooks in the Presidio, you are likely to hear that the view from Inspiration Point is a must see. There are a couple of benches where you can sit, however, be prepared to join the crowd near the ledge for the best views. On a clear day you'll have an excellent vantage point for seeing Alcatraz, Angel Island, the domed roof of the Palace of Fine Arts and, of course, the San Francisco Bay. You will also have views of historic homes as well as grasslands and the tops of more trees than you can count. In addition to reaching the overlook via PresidiGo, several hiking trails pass nearby and there is a small parking lot if you are in a car.


Views from Inspiration Point Overlook

Views from Inspiration Point Overlook

2. Crissy Field Overlook

PresidiGo Stop: Lendrum Court (Crissy Field Route)

If you are walking between the Main Parade Ground and the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center on the Presidio Promenade, you will pass right by the Crissy Field Overlook. (In addition to the nearby PresidiGo stop, there are a few nearby parking spaces for those traveling through the Presidio via car.) You'll definitely want to allow some time to stop and enjoy the view with the Palace of Fine Arts standing between the San Francisco skyline and the grassy field below.

Be sure to get a good look at the field originally known as Crissy Army Airfield. In addition to the sandy beach and trails, you will likely see kids running and playing, people lounging about or maybe some sort of competition in progress on the field that was once the army's westernmost airfield. If you are lucky enough to be visiting on a day with nice weather, you'll be able to see both Alcatraz and Angel Island as well as a variety of boats in the San Francisco Bay filled with people enroute to one of the two destinations or just enjoying a day of sailing.


View from Crissy Field Overlook

View from Crissy Field Overlook

3. National Cemetery Overlook

PresidiGo Stop: East Washington (Presidio Hills Route)

Spend some time sitting upon one of the two benches in the National Cemetery Overlook accessible from the Bay Area Ridge Trail. From this vantage point above the San Francisco National Cemetery, you'll be able see the 29 acres where veterans have been laid to rest surrounded by tall trees, a stone wall and an excellent view of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Seeing the thousands of white markers on the grassy hills where members of the armed forces and some of their family are buried is a very moving experience. (If you are driving through the Presidio, there is a nearby paid parking lot plus, of course, a stop for the PresidiGo shuttle.)


View from National Cemetery Overlook

View from National Cemetery Overlook

3 Trails to Hike and Get some Exercise in The Presidio

With double digit miles of trails, some for hikers, some for bicyclists and some for both, there are plenty of opportunities to get some exercise. Take a look at the Presidio Trail Map to help you decide where you'd like to start and find the nearest trail that will get you where you want to go. (Looking at the map, you will notice that some of the trails intersect with others making it easy to hike on parts of multiple trails during your day. Additionally, there are several places where more than one trail occupy the same path!) The 3 trails below are those that we can recommend based on our experience in hiking all or a part of each.


1. Bay Area Ridge Trail

PresidiGo Stop: Deems Road (Presidio Hills Route)

A small section of the 550 mile Bay Area Ridge Trail which winds around San Francisco lies within the boundary of the Presidio. Along the 2.5 mile portion in the park you will find several of the points of interest recommended above including Spire, Wood Line and Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center as well as 2 of the 3 overlooks.

2. Presidio Promenade

PresidiGo Stop: Storey Avenue (Crissy Field Route)

At just over two miles, the Presidio Promenade passes by the greatest number of the points of interest and overlooks described above, so if your goal is to combine sightseeing with hiking, this is your best bet to get the biggest bang for your buck! Starting near Lombard Gate and ending at the Golden Gate Bridge, you'll pass very near all of the following along your walk:

  • Yoda Fountain
  • Star Wars Movie Memorabilia
  • Main Parade Ground (also site of Presidio Picnic and Presidio Twilight if you are hiking on a Sunday afternoon or Thursday evening during parts of spring or summer)
  • San Francisco National Cemetery
  • Korean War Memorial
  • Crissy Field Overlook
  • Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center


Presidio Promenade

Presidio Promenade

3. California Coastal Trail

PresidiGo Stop: 25th Avenue (Presidio Hills Route)

Believe it or not, the California Coastal Trail extends for 1,200 miles from Mexico to Oregon along the Pacific coast. From the 25th Avenue Gate to the Golden Gate Bridge, a 2 3/4 mile portion of the trail near the coastline lies within the Presidio. You'll pass by Baker Beach and Battery Chamberlin (a disappearing gun built in 1904; demonstrations for visitors occur during limited hours on the first full weekend of every month) during the early part of your hike. As you continue along the trail, you will also pass both the Pacific Overlook and Golden Gate Overlook.


Tips for Visiting The Presidio in San Francisco

Depending on the weather, below are a few suggestions to help ensure that you enjoy your day at The Presidio:

  • Take a look at the Presidio Visitor Guide to plan a day that will be enjoyable for you and everyone in your group.
  • Depending on the location of your lodging, the Presidio can be very easily reached via public transportation (Muni line 43 or the free PresidiGo Downtown Shuttle). If arriving on foot, by bicycle or by public transit are not an option, there are also a limited number of metered parking spaces.
  • It's best to dress in layers for any visit to the Presidio as it is such a big place and the wind conditions and temperatures can feel completely different depending on where you are and what time of day it is. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes (you'll probably do a lot of walking) as well as a hat and sun screen.
  • If you plan to picnic, bring a beach towel / blanket, beach tent or umbrella to help provide some shade.
  • Depending on the day and time of your visit, there are options to purchase food at venues throughout the Presidio (in addition to the Off The Grid vendors on site during Presidio Picnic and Presidio Twilight), however you can also pack your own snacks or lunch and drinks (no glass).
  • If you plan to join in on the fun of Presidio Picnic or Presidio Twilight, plan to arrive early to have the best choice for staking your claim on a preferred spot.
  • Don't be disappointed if you don't see it all! After three visits, there is still more that we would like to see.

Angel Island State Park

If you have another free day in the area and are interested in more opportunities to explore, consider a visit to Angel Island State Park where you can enjoy both great views of the entire San Francisco Bay Area along with a variety of hiking trails. Take a look at our post titled Day Trip to Angel Island for an overview of our ferry ride as well as options for filling your time on the island.

San Francisco Points of Interest

We'd love to hear about your favorite free or low cost points of interest in the San Francisco Bay Area including your recommendations for how to get there, what to see and do as well as any tips that you can offer to someone who would like to visit.




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17 Free Things to See and Do in San Francisco's Presidio



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Created On 08/25/2018 18:43:18  
Updated On 09/05/2018 07:42:42
Scheduled On 08/27/2018 15:28:21
Posted On 09/02/2018 17:28:21
Last Editor Stacy
Location  Presidio, San Francisco, CA, United States
LinkId  17FreeSFPresidio
StoryId  1535236998217





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