Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Five Refreshing Things to Do in San Francisco: The Presidio Edition

Even though I’ve been to San Francisco countless times, it still never fails to stir flutters in my stomach. We always pretty much drive from the east through the Bay Bridge and that first sight of the city’s silhouette from the bridge, along with a vague trace of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, always, always, always mesmerizes.

San Francisco remains one of my most favorite cities in the world to visit not because of its tourist attractions but because of the way this city opens up to me and makes me feel like I could linger as long as I darn want without boredom creeping in, that I’m inconspicuous, that I’m not a tourist, albeit temporarily.  There are so many unique and quirky neighborhoods, a lot of them remarkably gentrified over the last few years. Whether it’s your first timer or like me, a casual weekender who cannot get enough of this beautiful city by the bay, I encourage you to leave Union Square for a day (or more) and integrate with the local scene. How about a day at the Presidio?

The Presidio
The Presidio is in that massive green clump northwest of San Francisco on your map and if you follow the water from the Embarcadero, you’ll eventually end up there, five miles later. The Presidio is a historic military base first used by the Spanish Imperial military for 450 years beginning 1776. It eventually ended up in American hands in 1847 after the Mexican-American War and was used as a military base until 1994. In 1996, it was no longer needed for military purposes and Presidio was turned over to federal parks.

And what a beautiful park it is. To have 300 acres of park space right in the city is wonderful.  Driving in through iron gates, the first thing that captures your senses is the heady smell of the eucalyptus trees. The military buildings are still around and have been restored to house some big names including Lucas Films, according to our friends, as well as a smattering of startups. Walt Disney has a museum here, but mostly, people come to the Presidio for nature.  To get to the Presidio, you can either drive or better yet, take the PresidiGo, a shuttle service that starts downtown and is free on weekends. For more information, click here.

Five Things to Do at The Presidio
1. Sightseeing on the Run
To get to the popular Golden Gate Bridge lookout from the City, you need to pay a$7 toll fee and drive north on the bridge. While the views are spectacular, it will be obscured by every kind of tourist imaginable. I cannot guarantee that you won’t need to elbow your way in for a money shot.

The relief is that you can get to the same spectacular view sans the crowd. You also won’t be fighting the tour buses for parking.  Here’s what you do. Rise early and jump in your running clothes. You will run next to the water with million dollar views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Try to get there at 8am so you won’t have to feed the parking meter. They start charging at 10am. This is a beautiful way of getting your sightseeing on. The workout is a mere bonus.  You could start from the base of the Golden Gate Bridge and run all the way to the Palace of Fine Arts (about 4 miles out and back). If you’re in the mood for a longer run, you can go all the way east to the Bay Bridge even.
Fishing with a stellar view
You can also do this on a bike, a sailboat, a kayak, a Segway, a skateboard, a surfboard – or even several iterations of all of these! On a gorgeous day, you will have no trouble getting a tan just lingering on the promenade watching the regatta, people, dogs, fishermen, seals, and surfers. There’s an infinite amount of fun to be had – and it costs nothing (on your running shoes, without renting gear, that is)!
This four miler takes you from under the Golden Gate Bridge through Crissy Field and at Palace of Fine Arts.

2. Sand on Your Toes: Baker’s Beach
My other favorite view of the Golden Gate Bridge is on Baker’s Beach. You would be hard pressed to find a tourist bus here. Again, if the weather is in your favor, you could lay out a blanket or toss frisbees around. I haven’t seen anyone brave the cold Pacific Ocean (without a wetsuit, that is), but even just sand in your toes with a picnic overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge on a nearly empty beach is already pretty special.

3. Grass under Your Feet: Off the Grid Picnic at the Presidio
I love California cuisine. Its proximity to the ocean and the farming regions of Sonoma, Napa, and Sacramento translates to fresher food. Meet the farmers who sell all sorts of farm produce and artisanal cheese and jams at the Picnic at the Presidio ran by Off the Grid. Or hop from one food truck to another serving all sorts of ethnic cuisine for a full-on California style degustation, all barefoot on the grass, rain or shine! Picnic at the Presidio is California cuisine meets San Francisco streetfood and it happens every Sunday beginning April 6th this year from 11am to 4pm at the lawn across from Walt Disney Museum.  You could read my blog post about the Picnic here and from the official website here.

4. Brunch in your Belly
If streetfood ain’t your thing, or perhaps the weather is too crappy, come to Presidio Social Club for cocktails and a delightful brunch. This building used to be a soldier’s barracks back when the Presidio still served as an American military base. It is surrounded by huge windows and on a sunny day, sunshine floods the room. The food was surprisingly great. I had the croque madame and that cheese sauce was amazing.  If the server asks if you would like a cinnamon bread, say YES.  Make reservations!  They're located at 563 Ruger Street.

5. Art, Shopping and Coffee
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) has sculptures on exhibit at Crissy Field until May 26, 2014.  If modern art confounds you (like yours truly), why not take a free tour of the sculptures with an SFMOMA docent?  Info can be found here.

I very rarely go inside souvenir shops but I didn’t mind "The Warming Hut” on Crissy Field especially since they serve decent coffee and a small selection of pastries which are much appreciated after a run. They sold books and gifts thematically surrounding San Francisco and California. It had a great selection of artisanal gifts and if San Francisco had an etsy shop, this would be it. I picked up a book, “Meanwhile in San Francisco” by Wendy MacNaughton, a local San Francisco artist I’ve been following since I’ve acquired a print of her clever illustration of Lake Tahoe (she signed it and it’s framed and hung at our house).

There's just too much to love about this City to put into words.  It is one of those cities where you won’t get scorned for asking directions and/or recommendations to dinner from a random stranger or the barista. People who live there somehow managed to be part of a collective that is genuine and genuinely nice. It has some sketchy parts (what major metropolis doesn’t?) but for the most part, I could take many, many solo vacations here (and I have) because there’s something about it that makes you feel welcome and safe. Yes, the weather is mighty temperamental and the cold in the winter is just sh*t (and I live where it snows).

But rain or shine, foggy or blue skies, I always seem to manage to leave my heart in San Francisco.

I suppose I'll just have to come back very soon to retrieve it.

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