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The Presidio

by Cyndy Ainsworth

The year 1995 marked the beginning of a new era for the Presidio. After more than 200 years as a military base, first for Spain, then for Mexico, and finally for the US Army, the Presidio is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. With more than 800 buildings, a golf course, two hospital complexes, and a full range of recreational and community services spread over 1480 acres, the transition "from post to park" represents a unique challenge: to create a park that preserves the natural and historic features that make the Presidio so special and yet also take advantage of selective development that will help pay the bills.

A visit to the Presidio today gives you the opportunity to reflect on the old Presidio with all of its history and visualize a future Presidio with new hiking trails, museums, education centers, and restored natural areas.

A good place to start your visit is with the historic buildings at the Main Post. Along the northwest side of the Parade Ground is a row of Georgian-style red brick buildings that served as the first permanent enlisted men's barracks. At 50 Moraga Avenue you'll find the Presidio's Officers' Club, where you can pick up a map, check out the schedule of guided walks, and see photographs of the Presidio in times gone by. If you are interested in the park transition plan, you should also look for a copy of "Creating a Park for the 21st Century," a brochure with a description of the specific plans for thirteen different areas of the park. The project office is also a good place to pick up a copy of ParkEvents, a quarterly calendar with information about the programs at all sites in the GGNRA, including Fort Point, the Marin Headlands, Ocean Beach and Fort Funston.

You can stroll along Funston Avenue past a row of fine Victorians formerly used as officers' housing to the Officers' Club at the far end of the Parade Ground. The Officers' Club building stands on the site of the original 1776 Presidio, one of the first buildings built in San Francisco. There's a portion of an adobe wall from an earlier building visible on the inside of the current building, but it most likely does not date back to 1776.

For a look at the less developed areas of the park, you can walk behind the Officers' Club to pick up the Ecology Trail. This fairly easy two-mile trail leads from the Main Post through a forest of eucalyptus, cypress and redwoods up to the overlook at Inspiration Point, then around past El Polin Spring and down Lover's Lane back to the Main Post. The trail isn't very well marked, though you can't really get lost, and you're likely to meet lots of walkers and their dogs out enjoying the open spaces.

For a bayside view you can walk or bike along the Golden Gate Promenade, which runs from the northeast corner near the St. Francis Yacht Club all the way to Fort Point under the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. For an even longer walk you can start (or finish) at Fort Mason and take in the picturesque boat harbor along Marina Green along the way.

Energetic hikers and bikers may want to follow the Coastal Trail that runs south from the Golden Gate along the bluffs at the western edge of the park. In addition to enjoying spectacular views of the Golden Gate and the Marin Headlands, you can explore some of the defense batteries that were built to protect the Golden Gate from attack by sea. This trail eventually takes you to Baker Beach, a good spot for picnicking, fishing, or sitting on the beach.

Even if you don't walk the Golden Gate Promenade to Fort Point, you should plan to spend some time exploring this classic pre-Civil War brick fortress. Built between 1853 and 1861 to protect San Francisco from sea attack, Fort Point was almost destroyed when the Golden Gate Bridge was being constructed, as the bridge plans called for the southern anchorage to be right on the site of the fort. Fortunately the plans were changed to move the anchorage offshore and the fort was saved.

At the fort there's a short video on the history of Fort Point plus an excellent self-guided audio tour that takes you all around the casemates and through the quarters. You can watch the daily cannon drill to learn how soldiers were taught to load and fire a Napoleon 12-pounder cannon, and yes, they really do fire the cannon. The most fun may be just wandering through the old fort pretending to be one of the soldiers quartered there. This is a great spot for kids-they really seem to get into the spirit of the place, and they don't notice that they're learning history while they're having fun.

One tangible benefit of the Presidio's conversion to national park is that the Presidio Golf Course, formerly restricted to military personnel, is now open to the public. Call (415) 561-GOLF for information and reservations.

There are also several restaurants throughout the Presidio. Check out their website for current information:

One of the more high profile tenants at the new Presidio is the Letterman Digital Arts Center, home of Lucasfilm Ltd., one of the world’s leading film and entertainment companies.

Presidio Details

Presidio Visitor Center
Presidio Officers' Club
50 Moraga Avenue
(415) 561-4323
Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Fort Point
(415) 556-1693
Open Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission is free.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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