You’ll Never Walk Alone at San Francisco’s Presidio

When it gets hot, there are two choices: go to the ocean or go to San Francisco. On Sunday, we chose San Francisco. We were in need of some culture at the Palace of the Legion of Honor.

After visiting the Impressionists’ Paris exhibit (see below) and having lunch, we went to the Presidio to explore some of its flatter 1480 acres.

Beach with Golden Gate Bridge

Once the protector of San Francisco, the Presidio has been converted to public spaces, and office and residential buildings. Since 1998, the National Park Service has been in charge of the coastal part of the Presidio.Beach at Presidio looking to Alcatraz

We wanted to walk along the San Francisco Bay and started at East Beach off of Mason St. When we stopped to park, there was still some fog. We couldn’t see the East Bay, but Alcatraz was straight ahead and the Golden Gate Bridge was to our left. The white sand beach was full of people doing normal beach activities, but with a cool breeze off the Bay they were wearing windbreakers and sweatshirts.

The hard packed gravel path was full of many walkers, lots of dogs, a few joggers and some bikers. I only felt overwhelmed at the beginning, adjusting my country ways to the big city ambiance. Away from the parking lots and the concentration of picnic tables, there’s plenty of room.

We headed towards the Golden Gate Bridge. My goal was Fort Point where Jimmy Stewart tried to save Kim Novak in Hitchcock’s movie, Vertigo. The last time we were here, it was too cold to walk that far.

More beach and Golden GateBy some cypresses, we saw a wedding and thought how crazy to chance a wedding by the bay in July, but in the protection of the cypress grove it was almost calm.

Many of the dunes between the path and the beach are closed for restoration, planted in Pink Sand Verbena, Silver Bush Lupine, and Beach Bur. One area was closed to give the Snowy Plover a chance to nest in the dunes.

As we passed Crissy Field, once ‘the’ airfield during World War II, we saw a large container ship arriving through the Gate. Then we noticed other boats, ferries and sailboats on the bay. Over the afternoon as the wind increased there were more sailboards zipping from here to the Marin side of the Gate and back.

We went past one of the Presidio’s Visitor Centers. This one is about the Farallones Marine Sanctuary, 28 miles off the coast. We noticed groups of Brown Pelicans flying low over the water and headed out the Gate. We took time to look back towards downtown San Francisco. The Transamerica Pyramid perfectly poised above the dome of the Palace of Fine Arts (home of the Exploratorium.)Exploratorium

Every picnic table was filled with groups of families, coworkers and friends, cooking, eating, tossing a Frisbee, or playing volleyball. It was a real party day. When Mike admired one chef’s roasting corn, he offered us some.

We stopped in at the Warming Hut for coffee and two gigantic cookies. Sitting outside in the protection of the building, we studied the bay, the groups of people and all the dogs (with and without sweaters.)

Warming Hut and Golden Gate BridgeFinally, we went on to Ft. Point, which is under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. You could walk up a hill to reach the vista point and cross the bridge. We went inside the fort and could immediately understand why the Mexican government could give this up to the U.S. government in 1847 and go to Sonoma. It’s about the weather. Defense or not, the weather is warmer in Sonoma. Okay, it wasn’t built until 1861, but it is the coldest spot in San Francisco.

On the way back we went through a restoration area of the tidal marsh. This had been filled in 1912 for the Pan American Exposition of 1915. An egret, cormorant, mallard and some gulls were enjoying the water. There are four creeks undergoing restoration in the Presidio, many trees are being planted and the army is responsible for cleaning up the more toxic remnants of its history.

Inside Fort Point

Doyle Drive is under re-construction. The elevated drive will be rebuilt under the park. Over 24 additional miles of trails will be created in the Presidio. Even now there are many more miles of trails to explore. Some of them not too steep.

Fishing near Golden Gate

Have a great walk and dress in layers.

Lynn Millar

Photos by Mike Millar

Presidio History: Spain set up a fort here in 1776. Mexico took over in 1821, but left for Sonoma and let the United States have it in 1847. After 213 years, the military gave up this grand spot. Due to its grandness, there were long discussions (that continue) about what to do with the place. The US Congress gave it to the National Parks in 1994 and in 1996 the Presidio Trust was established. Two years later the Trust and the Parks split the place. The Trust is financially self-sufficient and is responsible for most of the area. The coast part of the park is part of the 75,500 acres of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Directions & Map

Bathroom: Varies from portapotties to the all automatic bathroom at Ft. Point. It flushes, puts out hot water and dispenses a paper towel, all with the right motion in the right place.

Impressionist’s Paris: At the Palace of the Legion of Honor, a work of art itself, we toured Paris from the desolate war years of the 1870s to the City of Lights that was created in Paris and the Impressionist artists who painted it. There were familiar artists like Renoir, Degas and Manet, but some exquisite drawings and paintings by Vuillard. My favorite was a woodbury print of Victor Hugo, a photo process that had a rich depth not seen in most photographs. The small prints and drawings gave an intimate view of Paris as the Impressionists left major historic painting for the personal view of daily life.

Palace of the Legion of Honor

Café at the Legion: Yummy fresh salad, soup and quiche.

Extra Treat: We caught the end of a string quartet performance by Revolution Quartet. The sound was amazing. Like a full orchestra. Maybe in part due to the rotunda or to the complex and crazy creation of composer Ravel.

Other flat San Francisco walks: Baker Beach, Ocean Beach, the Arboretum and much of Golden Gate Park, the Marina District and Embarcadero to Giant’s Baseball Park (PacBell, AT&T, phone-company-whatever commercial naming rights Park.)

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