San Francisco’s Green Spaces: The Presidio

I don’t know about you, but I always gravitate towards green spaces on maps.  If it has the word park, garden, or–even better–botanical in it, I’m there.  I’ve honestly can’t think of a single place I’ve been where I didn’t visit at least one green space–from St. James Park in London to the Audubon Park in New Orleans, I search out trees and grass just about everywhere I go.  So it should come as no surprise that, upon unfolding my San Francisco Travel map, the first thing I noticed were the multiple large swaths of green scattered throughout the city.  I decided to make it my goal to visit as many of these green spaces as possible during my four days in town, and I’m happy to say that I made it to four of the largest (though to be fair, as you shall see, one was completely by accident.  But more on that later.)

And so I bring to you a four-part series on green spaces in San Francisco. We shall begin in the Presidio because, well, that’s where I started.  By my second day in the city I felt confident that I could find my way there using a combination of public transport and my own two feet–which I did, though the last leg of the bus ride was a bit scary, as I was the only remaining person on that bus.  It is definitely off the beaten tourist track–and off the beaten bus track, for that matter.

The Presidio is probably the least green of the green spaces in San Francisco, so don’t expect open rolling anything.  It began its life as a Spanish fort, became a military base and then was ‘retired’ in 1994 and turned into a park.  Today, parts of it look rather like a housing development and a college campus had a baby.

I spent the better part of a morning wandering around, and discovered that this might not be the park I was looking for.  But that’s because I didn’t know where I was going or how to best appreciate the area.  Now I do–and I’d like to share that with you.

Go for a Run

I could have enjoyed much more of this park running than walking. Oh well--next time!

I was sad that I didn’t come prepared to run, as the Presidio is the best place I can think of to do so.  First, it lacks the scary hills I was anticipating when I chose to leave my running clothes back on the east coast.  And second, it is darn near empty and full of shady paths to enjoy.  If you are visiting San Francisco and want someone to run, I highly recommend it.

Bring a Bike

See? Huge.

The Presidio is huge.  Having a bike would seriously help.  Hell, having a car would seriously help.  If it looks large on your tourist map, trust me, it is even larger in real life.  It would have been a nice bike ride had I had a bike with me.  Alas, I did not.

Visit Crissy Field Beach

Chrissy Beach--people were actually going in the water. Insane. I was cold standing on the shore!

While it required some scary crossing of streets, a trip to Crissy Field Beach should be on everyone’s list, especially if you are already in the neighborhood.  While I’m not positive that it is technically part of the Presidio–though I believe it is–it is located on the northern coast of the city looking out over the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.  You won’t find a prettier spot to stop for a picnic or to bask in the sun (or fog, whatever the case may be).

Check Out The Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts. I took maybe thirty photos here. Possibly more.

The Palace of Fine arts is more of a monument than a palace, but it sure is pretty.  If you have a camera–or if you appreciate unique architecture or have a thing for domes (like I do)–be sure to make a stop here.  The lawns surrounding the structure are dotted with people enjoying the lovely setting.  Be one of them.  You won’t regret it.  Plus you will likely need a rest after wandering around all morning.

To reach the Presidio by public transportation…consult a Muni map.  I believe I took the #45 bus from the Union Square area until I saw trees in the distance and then got out and walked towards those trees.  For advice on how to use Muni, please see future Suitcase Scholar post.  Trust me, it is not as complicated as it seems at first.  

Restrooms: I found a restroom in the Starbucks oddly located within the Presidio itself, as well as at the far left side of the beach area. There’s also a visitor’s center at the transportation center in the park, but it was closed the day I visited.  If you are ask nicely, the people at the YMCA will let you use their ladies room.  Not that that’s what I did or anything…ahem…  


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