The Presidio of San Francisco

This is a historial post from Hiking the California Trail, a 1998/2002 book set by Bob Lorentz and Richard Nichols. Where possible an update has been provided.

In 1776 Juan Bautista de Anza arrived at the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula. His party camped for two nights at Mountain Lake. De Anza pounded a cross into the earth on the bluff overlooking the Golden Gate, claiming it for Spain. Soldiers and settlers followed, establishing the Presidio (it means garrison or fort) and Mission San Francisco de Asis and starting a 200-year history of military occupation at this strategic location overlooking the bay entrance. The occupation happily ended with the conversion of the Presidio Army Base into part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1996 when President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law. With his signature he transformed the place army personnel considered the best duty on U.S. soil into one of the world’s most dramatic and scenic urban parks.

The 1446-acre Presidio offers many attractions, from natural history to military architecture to great scenery. Start your exploration at the Resource Center to learn more about the Presidio and ask about the guided tours. You can bicycle the miles of roads, go fishing at Baker Beach, Crissy Field or Fort Point, or try world class board sailing in the bay off Crissy Field.

To best explore the Presidio, walk some of the more than 10 miles of trails and many miles of sidewalks and informal paths. The park invites meandering, intrigue waiting at every turn. Presidio trails will take you to military buildings dating from the 1860s to the 1970s in a range of styles from Victorian Gothic, French Second Empire, Colonial Revival to Spanish Colonial Revival. Most striking is Civil-War-era Fort Point, built in 186 / and saved from destruction when the Golden Gate Bridge was designed to avoid the fort. The fort sits under the south end of the bridge. Other features are the Presidio Army Museum and the Main Post with the parade ground used since 1776.

The Presidio does have its problems. Only about 10 percent of the land remains in a natural state, containing several endangered species. Plans to restore the landscape were initiated with restoration of the 100 acres that once held Crissy Field, an historic airfield, to a wetlands, a grassy meadow, and a shoreline walkway. The Army has budgeted $100 million to clean up the many contaminated sites within the park. A trust board oversees the Presidio’s economic survival, renting many of the buildings and using the funds for restoration and maintenance.

Originally Published in Hiking the California Coastal Trail: Guide to Walking the Golden State's Beaches and Bluff from Border to Border - Volume One: Oregon to Monterey (2nd Edition) by Bob Lorentzen and Richard Nichols
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