On a recent trip to San Francisco, I decided to stay in a national park instead of booking a hotel downtown. When the U.S. Army closed San Francisco’s 1,500-acre Presidio in 1994, it became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of the world’s largest national parks in an urban setting. My husband, Paul, and I found it refreshing to be surrounded by evergreens instead of high-rises and to view the city from dramatic scenic overlooks. When a cloudburst cut short a hike on one of the park’s 24 miles of trails, we traded nature for culture. At the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art we saw “Andy Warhol — From A to B and Back Again.” The Warhol retrospective, the first since 1989, runs until Sept. 2 and includes about 350 pieces, including his early commercial illustrations and esoteric films. The tab: $350 a night for the hotel; lunch and dinner $150; $70 for museum admission, plus ride shares, taxes and tips.
Talk about a room with a view. At the Lodge at the Presidio, one window of our spacious, high-ceilinged room offered a close-up of the Golden Gate Bridge. Another revealed a postcard-perfect Alcatraz. This red-brick former army barracks was transformed last year into a chic 42-room hotel and overlooks a parade ground that has become a favorite with picnickers. The mess hall was updated and now is a stylish dining room with a communal table, multiple seating areas and a fireplace. Guests gather here for a generous complimentary breakfast buffet and again at wine-and-cheese time.
Arguello restaurant, a short walk from the hotel, is in an adobe building that dates to 1776, when the Presidio was a remote Spanish fort. The menu features regional Mexican dishes such as empanadas stuffed with huitlacoche, chicken mole and succulent slow-roasted pork. Paul and I passed on the artisanal margaritas but not on the fresh-made corn tortillas, which were habit-forming.
We stayed in the Presidio for its bucolic setting. We also experienced a rich dose of history. Thanks to exhibits at the Presidio Visitor Center, the Presidio Museum and the Futures Without Violence headquarters, we traced the transition of the enclave from a Native American settlement to a Spanish, then Mexican and finally an American military post. The historical narrative drew attention to the role played by the Presidio’s Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt in enabling the unjust incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.
THE LESSON LEARNED
The Presidio was beyond our usual walking distance from many of our favorite sites in San Francisco, and ride-share costs were mounting. Hooray for the PresidioGo shuttle. We were able to hop on the free bus for trips throughout the park and all the way downtown.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., San Francisco; (415) 357-4000,sfmoma.org. Wheelchair accessible.
Presidio Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco; (415) 561-4323,presidio.gov
PresidioGo shuttle, bit.ly/presidiogoshuttle