The Presidio offers an affordable way to entertain visiting relatives or mix up your weekend routine. This former military base turned National Recreation Area provides a wealth of kid-friendly activities. Read on to discover the 17 best activities (think: playgrounds with amazing views, bowling, museums and more) the Presidio has to offer, all that cost little to nothing.
Picnic with Friends: Main Parade Grounds are a beautiful place to picnic. Although this area previously hosted the Presidio Picnics and Off The Grid future picnics have moved to Battery Bluff. The “Share Chairs” are available and you can snag these fun red monsters on a first come first served basis (the kids love them).
photo: Kate Loweth
Check Out the StoryWalk: Read the story The Hike by Alison Farrell as you walk along the Presidio Promenade. Start at the Presidio Visitor Center and follow the signs to the first panel, located at the intersection of Lincoln Blvd and Patten Road.
photo: Erin Feher
Camp in the Presidio: Who doesn’t love the idea of camping without leaving the city? The next time you’re looking for that outdoorsy experience without straying too far from home, visit Rob Hill Campground, located just a hop, skip and jump away from Immigrant Point Overlook and Baker Beach. Rob Hill Campground is even more available Apr.-Oct. but tends to book up fast get your campsite booked!
Sports Basement rents everything novice campers could need for a night out in the woods, including tents, sleeping bags, air mats and camp stoves. To read more about our editor’s experience camping here click to read her story.
Borrow E-Bikes: Bay Wheels e-bike share program is perfect for parents chasing their kids through the Presidio. Activated through the Lyft app, those over the age of 18 can use the app to find a bike in a safe location and use an e-bike as an option for getting to and around the park.
Related: The Ultimate City Slicker Campout
photo: SF Recreation and Parks
A Favorite Park, Revamped: Mountain Lake Park sits just south of the Presidio. The under 3 set can play in their own self-contained toddler area that only has one gate to enter and exit (essential for toddler containment). Big kids will enjoy using the stairs or the climbing wall to reach the top of the cement slide and then grabbing a buddy to slide down together. There’s also a great rope climbing area with gorgeous views of nearby Mountain Lake.
Explore the Abandoned Batteries: Take a step back in time and explore the old abandoned batteries at Fort Scott. The perpetually-foggy Fort Scott was established as a coastal artillery post in 1912 and housed seventeen functioning batteries until after World War II. You can explore fifteen of them today in a beautiful national park with a rich military history. These batteries right along the Pacific Ocean offer great views for the adults and endless hours of entertainment for the kids—as well as a history lesson for all.
Bonus: At the north end of the Baker Beach parking lot is the Battery Chamberlin.
photo: Laure Latham
Go Ocean Crabbing: This one might take a bit of planning, but it’s well worth it. Gather the goods to go crabbing (cost is about $25, but you can use the equipment again and again), and head out to the Pier in front of the Warming Hut. Here you’ll find people fishing, crabbing and searching for other marine life. Click here to read our insider’s guide to crabbing in the Bay. And, if you’re not in the mood to catch, merely watch all of the fishermen catch their goods. You’ll find some reel in fish, while others even score starfish and other sea creatures.
photo: Nicki Richesin
Visit The Walt Disney Family Museum: If you’re looking for a taste of Disney without the trip the next best thing is in our backyard: The Walt Disney Family Museum. The kid-friendly museum houses tons of fun, including animated walls, silent black and white short films, and even a miniature replica of Disneyland. Perhaps the museum’s best kept secret is the monthly screenings in the sweet theater. Click here for our insider’s guide to getting the most out of your visit here with your family.
photo: Kate Loweth
Be Amazed by Andy Goldsworthy:
Spire: Andy Goldsworthy’s iconic spire will show your kids that art comes in all shapes and sizes, and even in locations beyond museums walls. Located on the Bay Ridge trail just inside the Arguello Gate, the spire is a towering structure made up of large cypress tree trunks. After gawking at the gigantic spire, which your kids may think looks like a teepee, take a walk on the Bay Ridge trail, a path perfect for littles.
Wood Line: Right next to Lover’s Lane you’ll find a grove of eucalyptus and an iconic work by artist Andy Goldsworthy. Kids will love trying to balance on the Wood Line. Begun in 2010 and completed a year later, this piece offers a stark contrast to Goldsworthy’s first Presidio piece, the towering Spire. Whereas Spire calls upon viewers to look up, Wood Line invites you to contemplate where the life of a tree begins…the fertile earth.
photo: Kate Loweth
Take a Stroll Along Crissy Field: There’s nothing like Crissy Field with its amazing views. Start your day at the beachfront parking lot just west of the Presidio’s Marina Gate. Bundle up since chances are it’ll be a bit foggy outside, especially if you visit in the summer months. Walk along the path (great for jogging strollers) or, if you’re sans wheels, take a jaunt along the beach. Once you walk west about 1.25 miles, you’ll reach the Crissy Field Warming Hut where you can grab a hot beverage, snacks and laze around on the picnic tables.
Throw a Strike: Bowl a strike with your kids at the Presidio Bowling Center. We love the family-friendly nature of this joint—great customer service, food and drink on premises, bumpers for the little bowlers, clean bathrooms and a great spot to host a birthday party. This place gets crowded, especially on rainy days, so be sure to call ahead to check wait time or head to Presidio Bowl during off hours.
photo: Sarah Montoya
Catch Awesome Views at the Presidio Wall Playground: It’s no surprise why we picked the Presidio Wall Playground as one of the top five Bay Area playgrounds with a view. The park features Golden Gate Bridge, Bay and Marin Headlands views on display—that is, if you visit on a fog-free day. What’s more is that the playground is a great spot for both the little kids and big kids alike since there are age-appropriate play structures in the large fenced-in playground. The park also features tennis courts, a basketball court, baseball field and an ample grassy expanse to get those little legs tired.
photo: Sarah Montoya
Take a Photo at Inspiration Point: Maybe it’s just us, but living in the Bay Area we tend to forget how downright beautiful this place is until visitors remind us of the area’s spectacular scenery and views. Stop by Inspiration Point located just across the street from Goldsworthy’s spire for a family photo-op. The stunning views of the Bay span from Angel Island to Alcatraz and everything in-between, and they are truly inspiring.
May the Force Be With You: Calling all Star Wars fans! Head to the Lucasfilm Headquarters just inside the Lombard Gates to get up close and personal with Yoda. Tell the guard that you’re there on a mission to see Yoda and he’ll usher you right in. If you visit on a weekday during normal business hours, don’t leave without checking out the Lucasfilm lobby where even more Star Wars memorabilia is on display.
photo: Kristina Bullock @millionmilermom
Stay for a While at the Lodge or the Inn: If you’re looking for a convenient place to stay, look no further than the newly-opened Lodge at the Presidio. This beautifully-restored former barracks building is now a 42-room boutique hotel with all modern amenities like custom-made mattresses, televisions and WiFi in every room, and bathrooms with full bathtubs—perfect for families with kids. Its location at the edge of the main lawn means breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco Bay, or downtown from nearly every window, and it is steps away from all the amazing activities the Presidio has to offer.
Inn at the Presidio offers an authentic historic experience and exceptional recreational opportunities in a setting of immense natural beauty. The historic hotel in San Francisco is located at Pershing Hall, an elegant home for bachelor officers when the Presidio was a U.S. Army post. The Georgian Revival-style building has been restored as a guest lodge featuring 22 spacious accommodations, including 17 suites with fireplaces.
Lodge at the Presidio
105 Montgomery St.
Inn at the Presidio
142 Moraga Ave.
photo: Sarah Ordody
Check Out the Visitor Center: With millions of visitors to this 1,500 acre wonderland of fun, you’ll need a good place to get your bearings. Beeline it to the visitor center, which offers up an array of information and history. The building is super kid-centric with interactive displays, touch screens and more.
photo: Sarah Montoya
Battery Bluff: This newly opened park has gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, the San Francisco skyline and Chrissy Field. The park has a multi use trail, beautiful new pinic tables and connects to the larger Presidio Promenade hiking trails. Watch the website for updates as the space is set to start hosting events throughout the summer with live music, food trucks, and more.
—Sarah Montoya, Kate Loweth, Anita Chu & Erin Lem