The Presidio, a 1,491-acre park in San Francisco's northwestern corner, promises hands-on history lessons, interactive museums and plenty of outdoor recreation in a pedestrian-friendly setting within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area that's great for families.
In its archaeology lab, vintage metal toys, military uniform buttons, weathered bricks and colorful antique pottery pieces fill shallow trays. Free weekly tours take guests behind the scenes; in the summer, volunteers help sort artifacts discovered in the public playground where the Ohlone people lived before Spanish soldiers established a fort in 1776. The former officers' headquarters are now the Inn at the Presidio, a 22-room hotel.
On a recent hosted stay there, I found spacious accommodations and memorabilia honoring the hotel's military past plus books and maps geared toward young explorers. Some of the park's 24 miles of hiking trails begin behind the inn. One building over, the Presidio Officers' Club has free historical exhibits as well as complimentary children's activities on Saturdays and Sundays.
The Society of California Pioneers maintains a museum on the Main Post, not far from the Walt Disney Family Museum. The Disney museum has a collection of original sketches, film clips, family photos and personal belongings with listening stations featuring narration by Walt Disney himself.
A short walk leads to several of the park's restaurants, including three by two-time James Beard Award winner Traci Des Jardins. Transit Cafe, at the foot of the Main Post, keeps things kid-friendly with wood-fired pizzas, pastries and picnic snacks. Across the Parade Ground, in the Presidio Officers' Club, Arguello serves casual Mexican fare for lunch and dinner. Des Jardins' third Main Post restaurant, the Commissary, is more upscale, blending Spanish influences and seasonal California ingredients. Families exploring the Presidio's more distant corners will find cafes at the Presidio Golf Course, Presidio Bowling Center and more.
Crissy Field stands out as one of the Presidio's most popular stops, with 100 waterfront acres ideal for flying kites, building sand castles, picnicking, playing soccer or taking photos with the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop. A paved bike trail parallels Mason Street, where Sports Basement rents bicycles and kids trailers. If it's raining, drop into one of several recreational facilities occupying former hangars near Crissy Field's West Bluff picnic area: Planet Granite features indoor rock climbing, Batter's Box has batting cages and House of Air boasts 8,000 square feet of trampolines.
Bird-watchers frequent Crissy Field, too. Before my House of Air visit, three great blue herons lined up in the grass. They remained perched there an hour later when I caught the free PresidiGo park shuttle back to the inn. It's this serendipitous combination of nature, recreation and history that keeps guests coming back to the park.
Inn rates, which start at $280 per night, include continental breakfast and evening wine and cheese reception. Visit