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Presidio's Greatest Lists: Top Ten Free Presidio Experiences

Thursday, Jul 11, 2019 Category Entertainment and Culture; Art; Food and Drink; Kids and Family; History; Nature and Science; Recreation and Wellness

The Presidio is a national park in San Francisco that welcomes more than five million visitors each year. Here you'll find everything you'd expect from a national park, and many surprises – including all the affordable ways you can explore the Presidio.

To help you get started, we've curated ten free adventures that will introduce you to all the Presidio has to offer.

1. Plan Your Adventures at the Presidio Visitor Center

Presidio Visitor Center

Newly opened in 2017, the Presidio Visitor Center is THE place to begin your national park adventure. When you walk in the door, you're greeted by a huge topographical map that beckons you to plan your journey. Interactive digital displays and videos serve up ideas for trails to walk, destinations to visit, and places to eat – from cafés to food trucks to restaurants. Move into the next room to dive deep into each of the Presidio's four major regions, from the waterfront at Crissy Field to the wild open spaces found to the south in the park. Stop by the Presidio Visitor Center, which is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm to learn about the Presidio and get your questions answered by helpful staff.

2. Take a Photo With a Bay Area Icon

Golden Gate Bridge

We're just going to say it: the Presidio has the most picturesque views of San Francisco's International Orange icon, the  Golden Gate Bridge. Head out on an Instagram-worthy adventure of your own to capture this beauty from several different locations. Start with an "up-close-and-personal" view from the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center. We also recommend grabbing a snap from beneath the span at Fort Point National Historic Site, from Torpedo Warf at Crissy Field, and from Baker Beach. Share your favorite photos at #PresidioSF.

Photo Credit: Scott Sawyer

3. Explore History and Culture

Officers Club event

The Presidio Officers’ Club, one of San Francisco's oldest buildings, has been reborn as the park's cultural center – and it’s a true time machine, and admission is free! The Officers' Club is a museum, a concert hall, a classroom, and a restaurant rolled into one. Begin by taking a journey through 10,000 years of Presidio history in the Heritage Gallery and surrounding rooms. Friendly docents will be happy to share stories of Buffalo Soldiers, Army nurses, and a secret Japanese language school. You can also take in the club's current special exhibition, EXCLUSION: The Presidio’s Role in the World War II Japanese American Incarceration. If you really want to "dig" into history (see what we did there?), check out the Archaeology Lab or the seasonal Live Excavation. The Officers’ Club also hosts free live music, theatre, dance, film, and dialogues. Stop by the Presidio Officers’ Club Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm.

4. Bird Watch

bird watching in the Presidio

Are you a long-time bird lover or is this the first time you've put on a pair of binoculars? Well, we have birding for every birder. Located along the Pacific Flyway, the Presidio attracts hundreds of migrating bird species. Popular birdwatching sites in the park include El Polin Spring, where you can spot Allen Hummingbirds frolicking in the restored stream, and Crissy Marsh, where Buffleheads or Belted Kingfishers are frequent visitors. At both locations, you'll find picnic tables and public restrooms.

Photo Credit: Featherweight

5. Walk Through a (Mostly) Outdoor Art Gallery

Spire by Goldsworthy on Art Hike

Did you know the Presidio is home to the largest collection of art works by Andy Goldsworthy on public view in North America? See all four of his popular Presidio installations while enjoying a three-mile self-guided tour. The route reveals  Spire (pictured above), Wood Line, Earth Wall, and Tree Fall. Or hitch your wagon to our free monthly Guided Art Hike and learn more about Goldsworthy's inspiration, the Presidio's historic forest.

See our events page for the next art hike >>

Photo Credit: Charity Vargas

6. Hit the Beach

Baker Beach

The Presidio has some of San Francisco’s most famous, and most visited, beaches – in particular, Baker Beach (pictured above), Marshall's Beach, or Crissy Field’s East Beach. All offer visitors a different kind of water-side experience. Baker Beach and East Beach are great spots for a picnic while you dip your toes in the water and feel the sand beneath your feet. They also offer some of the most spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge.​

7. Experience a Trail That's Welcoming to Everyone

biking in the Presidio

The Presidio has a 24-mile network of trails – some perfect for walking, biking, rolling, or strolling, some easy and some more difficult. Take your pick! A new 2.7 mile route has been designed to be welcoming to everyone – whether you're travelling by foot, bike, wheelchair or stroller. It showcases four scenic overlooks, the Presidio forest, and San Francisco Bay views.

See this handy – and printable – trail map and choose your adventure >>

Photo Credit: Charity Vargas

8. Have a Picnic in the Park

picnic in the Presidio

When people think "park" they often think "picnic." If that sounds like a grand idea, pack a lunch and come experience one of the Presidio's six picnic sites. You can't go wrong at Crissy Field West Bluff, El Polin Spring or Baker Beach, where you can enjoy Pacific Ocean views along with your macaroni salad. For lawn picnicking, check out the Main Parade Ground, just steps from the Presidio Visitor Center. Or stop Sundays late March through mid-October to enjoy food trucks and a scenic view from a prime spot on the lawn at Presidio Picnic. Admission is free.

Check out our picnics page for details on park picnic spots >>

9. Discover Native Natural Gems

Nature in the Presidio

The Presidio is a 1,500 acre natural oasis, and home to 330 native plant species, 323 bird species, 30 butterfly species, three watersheds, a tidal marsh, and a freshwater lake (among many other natural gems!). A perfect day trip is a visit to Mountain Lake, located along the Presidio's southern border. Here you can enjoy the sounds of Pacific chorus frogs, see damselflies, or glimpse a western pond turtle perched on a rock. We also encourage you to take the Mountain Lake Promiseand observe your wildlife findings via the iNaturalist app.

10. Take a Self-Guided Tour on the Park’s Free Shuttle

PresidiGo shuttle

One of the best ways to get to the park is on our free PresidiGo Shuttle. The shuttle offers free trips to and from downtown San Francisco and the Presidio seven days a week. Pick up a shuttle at the Embarcadero BART, the Transbay Terminal, or Van Ness/Union. Once in the park, connect to the Around the Park PresidiGo Shuttle to visit more than 40 national park destinations, from the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center to Crissy Field to Baker Beach. The free shuttle is one of our best kept secrets – help us get the word out by trying it yourself and telling a friend!

See the PresidiGo Shuttle schedule >>