The Perfect Path through the Presidio

Follow our route to see the best views of San Francisco’s bayfront national park.

by Maryann Jones Thompson


There’s a lot about San Francisco that makes you want to leave your heart here 😉 We live here and we love its mix of urban and natural areas – and we’re not talkin just any ol’ outdoor space, we’re talking world-class, national park-level stuff!

So it’s no wonder that both locals and visitors spend as much time as possible exploring the Presidio, a 1776 Spanish outpost that transitioned into a U.S. Army Post in 1847 and then became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area governed by the National Park Service in 1994.

The Presidio tops the list for families seeking an outdoor day in SF: Sunsets over the ocean, historic military posts, and epic vistas of the Golden Gate, downtown, Alcatraz, and the bay – oh, and countless hiking, biking, walking, climbing, boating and swimming spots.

A Local’s Guide through the Best of the Presidio

I’ve spent decades guiding friends and family around the city. To me, the Presidio is a must-do for first timers and repeat visitors, alike.

Here’s the path I typically follow to hit all the unique places in the Presidio without battling throngs of tourists and tourbuses. You could pack this route through the Presidio into an afternoon, spend a whole day of wandering, or hit just a view or two – just don’t miss it.

East Beach – This spot in the Presidio is a great place to be dropped off or park for a day of exploring the former Army Base.  The restored trails through the marshy areas are fun to amble around, including the newly opened Quartermaster Reach Trail the main post area. Following this trail leads to the Main Post area, with the Walt Disney Museum (more about the man than his work that would hold kids’ attention), Presidio Bowl, and


Crissy Field – Keep walking from East Beach and you’ll hit the former army airstrip known as Crissy Field.  The bayside path runs from East Beach to Torpedo Wharf, delivers views the whole way, and is always swarmed with local runners, bikers, strollers and dog walkers.


The south side of Crissy Field is a draw for families, with the Sports Basement outdoor recreation retailer, Planet Granite climbing gym, the House of Air trampoline park, and the Le Petit Baleen swim school in its former airline hangers. (All temporarily closed for the pandemic.)

Enjoy a walk along the beach or even lay out a blanket and let the kids splash in the shallows. The water is surprisingly clean!


Keep heading toward the West Bluff Picnic area (more parking here if needed), kick a ball, throw a frisbee, or score a BBQ grill and picnic table with bridge views. Walk out onto Torpedo Wharf to get a look at what’s biting for local fishermen and women, and an unobstructed family photo backed by the Golden Gate for your holiday card.

Fort Point – Keep walking or drive down and park here. Hours are dodgy but if it is open for visitors, definitely take a walk inside this  incredible Civil War-era fort. It’s the only one west of the Mississippi.


Preservationists fought to save it when the bridge was built so you’ll note it has a special arch over the top. And the views from the roof are crazy!


Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center – Avoid the tourist smackdown over parking by leaving the car at the fort. Walk up the path up to the bridge for an up-close look at its construction and history. Grab some books at the bookstore and see the cable construction. Lots of visitors like to walk out onto the bridge, too. It takes a good 5-10 minutes of fighting the crowds to get out where the views begin. I usually skip this bridge walk in favor of the battery walks (below.)

Battery Views – Move the car to the Langdon Court parking. See our favorite bridge view from the “overlook” and scramble around on the batteries – but keep an eye on your littles on the cliffs!

Baker Beach – Drive or hike the Batteries-to-Bluffs trail to wrap up with some toes-in-the-sand – maybe just in time for sunset?!

An amazing day – and all outdoors and COVID-safe!

Maryann Jones Thompson  – November 2020

ROAM Founder & Editor   

After a thousand years in publishing as a business journalist, ghostwriter, content strategist and market researcher, Maryann brings her experience traveling as a backpacker, businessperson, expat and mom to writing and editing for ROAM.

© ROAM Family Travel 2021 – All rights reserved


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