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The Presidio

A U.S. Army post for nearly 150 years, San Francisco's Presidio has been a national park since 1994 and a national historic landmark since 1962. Archaeological digs have uncovered remains from some of the city's earliest structures here. More than 5 million people visit the Presidio every year to hike or bike its miles of trails or take...
A U.S. Army post for nearly 150 years, San Francisco's Presidio has been a national park since 1994 and a national historic landmark since 1962. Archaeological digs have uncovered remains from some of the city's earliest structures here. More than 5 million people visit the Presidio every year to hike or bike its miles of trails or take in some of the many historic sites within the park's 1,491 acres. Two accessible trails run east-west through the northern section: the spectacular Golden Gate Promenade, a four-plus mile stretch of the Bay Trail that runs along the waterfront through Crissy Field's restored marshland to Civil War-era Fort Point; and the Presidio Promenade (see trail description, below), which travels through the heart of the historic Presidio, from the Lombard Street gate past the Main Post and San Francisco National Cemetery to the Golden Gate Bridge. West of the bridge, a short stretch of Coastal Trail brings you to an overlook atop the Presidio's rugged western bluffs; or you can visit Baker Beach and Battery Chamberlin, with its "disappearing" gun.

An accessible free shuttle bus, PresidiGo, runs through the Presidio, making several stops (not all are accessible). The bus has space for two people in wheelchairs.

Trail/Pathway Details

Presidio Promenade

Trailhead: Eastern end: the Presidio's Lombard Gate. Western end: Golden Gate Bridge Plaza.

Length: Over 4 total miles

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Gentle

The NPS web page for this trail says that the average grade is 2.9 and the maximum grade is 10.8 percent. An average ramp is 8 percent.

Terrain: Hard

Description

The Presidio Promenade's route follows both dedicated pathways and broad sidewalks, and is not always clearly signed; to find your way, it's helpful to download the detailed Presidio map from the park's website or stop by the visitor center to pick one up. Begin your trek along the Presidio Promenade just inside the park's Lombard Street Gate, marked by two large stone pylons topped by globe lights. The trail heads westward on the sidewalk along Lombard Street, then takes off on a broad asphalt path that winds through manicured lawns and groves of eucalyptus, pine, and palm trees. On your right is the Letterman Digital Arts Center; formerly the site of the Army's Letterman Hospital, it now houses a Lucasfilm complex. Most of the buildings are off-limits to the public, but if you're a fan of the Star Wars films you may want to detour to Building B to view the Yoda fountain in its courtyard and a small exhibit of Star Wars memorabilia in the lobby. Behind the complex, a mostly accessible landscaped park with a manmade lagoon and creek is also open to the public.

Back on the trail, follow the path to a broad sidewalk along Lincoln Boulevard. You soon come to Thompson's Reach, where a portion of a former creek has been "daylighted" and native habitat restored. A short spur trail on your right leads down a moderate slope to an overlook with interpretive signs about the creek and its restoration. Return to the main trail, following the sidewalk west a short distance to the Main Post, the heart of the Presidio since 1776, when the original Spanish fort was established. If you're interested in viewing the post's historic buildings, stop at the temporary visitor center in Building 105 on Montgomery Street for information and maps. The Walt Disney Family Museum is near the visitor center.

On the Main Post, the Presidio Promenade follows the sidewalk past the transit center and post office, then, as you reach Montgomery Street, takes off on a broad multiuse path that winds behind the visitor center, following the route of the Presidio Parkway (formerly Doyle Drive). Here you have a panoramic view of the Golden Gate Strait, though unfortunately it is obstructed by the Parkway's wire fencing. You soon pass the San Francisco National Cemetery, established in 1884, where more than 30,000 military veterans and members of their families have been laid to rest. Just past the cemetery the promenade splits off from Lincoln Boulevard and descends a moderate slope to five brick cavalry stables built in 1914. One still houses U.S. Park Police horses, and you are likely to see some of them in one or both of the outdoor paddocks as you pass by. Behind one of the stables you cross a 55-foot wooden bridge, then begin a gentle climb up to travel along Lincoln Boulevard again.

Passing under Doyle Drive, with its massive stone supports and metalwork painted the same orange hue as the Golden Gate Bridge, you soon come to the Crissy Field Overlook. If it's a clear day, pause here for a moment to take in the stunning views of the Golden Gate Strait, the San Francisco skyline, and the rolling green meadows of Crissy Field. From here to the Golden Gate Bridge Plaza, where the promenade ends, is about half a mile. This is a popular route for tourists and commuters bicycling over the bridge, so watch out for speeding bikes. Be sure to look for a pullout with interpretive signs and interactive exhibits about the bridge.

Accessibility Details

The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.

Before setting off to explore the Presidio, you may want to stop at the small visitor center at the Main Post to orient yourself. Staff here can answer your questions and provide maps and brochures, and a few historical photos and items are typically on display. A new, permanent visitor center is planned to open in 2014; the temporary location is Building 105, Montgomery Street, at the northwestern edge of the parade ground. Other visitor centers within the Presidio are at the Gulf of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary and Fort Point, along the Golden Gate Promenade; the pavilion at the Golden Gate Bridge Plaza provides visitor information and has a few exhibits, but is primarily a gift shop.

Accessible Restroom: Yes

At Golden Gate Bridge Plaza. Be prepared for long lines at this restroom.

Accessible Restroom: Limited Accessibility

Inside the transit center on Lincoln Blvd., across from the Main Post parade grounds; open Mon.-Fri., 6:30 am-8 pm; weekends and holidays, 8 am-7 pm. Toilets are only 15" high.

Restrooms in the temporary Presidio visitor center in Building 105 on Montgomery St. are only partially accessible; the turnaround space is narrow and the toilet height is 14."

Reviewed by Eileen Ecklund, July 28, 2012

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Looking east from Crissy Field Overlook
Looking east from Crissy Field Overlook (Eileen Ecklund)

Features icon key

  • bicycling
  • hiking

Additional Information

View Map  
Website: www.nps.gov/prsf/index.htm
www.presidio.gov/Pages/default.aspx
Managing Agency: National Park Service
Nearest City: San Francisco
Phone: Main Post visitor center: (415) 561-4323
Hours: Trails are open 24 hours. Presidio visitor center: Hours vary depending on the season; call ahead.
Fees: Museum
Dogs: In restricted areas
Dogs are allowed on leash along the Presidio Promenade. Note that as of summer 2012, the GGNRA's dog management guidelines were under review and are subject to change.
Public Transportation: PresidiGo, Muni

Did You Know?

El Polin Spring, at the end of MacArthur Avenue in a residential area southeast of the Main Post, has a short accessible loop trail (boardwalk and gravel) around a spring that was a source of fresh water for the native people and early settlers. A portion of the creek has been "daylighted" and native plants restored. This riparian habitat is an especially rewarding place for bird-watching, and picnic areas and parking are accessible.

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