I'm a Bay Area native who grew up when the Presidio, now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, was still a military base. And though it made the transition from oldest continuously operating military post in the U.S. to public park nearly 20 years ago, it was only recently that I spent most of a day exploring—and being delighted by, what I found. Here are my top six surprises of the Presidio:
You Can Get There for Free: The PresidiGo Shuttle is a free service that connects the Presidio with stops in downtown San Francisco between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. (and again after 7:30 p.m.). There's also a free shuttle within the park.
You Can Sleep There: The Inn at the Presidio is a beautifully restored former home for bachelor officers with 22 rooms (most of them suites). Though it's in San Francisco, the inn has the feel of a rural coastal getaway. It also has a fantastic front porch and downloadable magazines, which makes it pretty much the perfect urban oasis.
You Can Sit on the Bench That Inspired Disneyland: There's a lot of cool stuff at the Walt Disney Family Museum (including the special Oscar accompanied by seven "dwarf" Oscar figures for Snow White and the Seven Dwarves), but the thing I liked best was a beat-up old bench that was, as the story goes, the spot in L.A.'s Griffith Park where Walt Disney often sat as he came up with the idea for Disneyland.
You Can Join a Giant Weekend Picnic: From mid-April through late October, the folks who bring Off the Grid food truck nights to cities around the Bay Area also host a weekly Sunday Picnic at the Presidio. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Main Post Lawn (the giant lawn in the heart of the Presidio), picnickers can set up a blanket and then choose among offerings from local restaurants and farms.
You Can See Yoda: Star Wars fans, rejoice! The Presidio is home to Lucasfilm's Letterman Digital Arts Center. Though there aren't tours of the facility, you can explore the campus' 17 acres of landscaped public property and check out the Yoda Fountain. According to reviewers on Yelp, geeking out with the security guards on the way in is half the fun.
You Can Feast: History and Dungeness Crab Benedict? The Presidio Social Club serves up both in a beautifully converted former military barracks. It's open for weekday lunch and dinner as well as weekend brunch and dinner, and it's got brioche beignets with brown sugar hot chocolate for dessert.
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(Photo: Zack Sheppard via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)