Did someone say staycation? Whether you need an affordable way to entertain visiting relatives or merely want to mix up your weekend routine, head to the Presidio, a former military base turned National Recreation Area, for a wealth of kid-friendly activities. Read on to discover the 14 best activities (think: playgrounds with amazing views, happy hours, museums and more) the Presidio has to offer, all that cost little to nothing. Plus, a brand-new Lodge that’s the perfect spot to be home base for your next San Francisco staycation.
Stay for a while at the Lodge
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. After a day of exploration, enjoy the nightly wine and cheese reception in the living room, or relax in the outdoor patio by the fire pit, with the Golden Gate Bridge at your feet. Don’t forget to check out the collection of local memorabilia and artwork throughout the hotel.
The Lodge at the Presidio
105 Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA
Start It Off at the Visitors 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 new visitors center, which offers up an array of information and history. The building is super kid-centric with interactive displays, touch screens and more. For our full rundown on this awesome center click here.
Camp at the City's Only Campground
Just because you live in the city doesn't mean your kids can't camp. 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 (hello, photo ops). Don't have camp gear? Good news: nearby 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.
Learn More: redtri.com/san-francisco/rob-hill-campground-in-the-presidio
Map It: google map
Grab a Bite at Arguello
A "grown-up" restaurant that's also kid-friendly? You get that and so much more at Arguello, Chef Traci Des Jardins' eatery located at the Officer's Club. Expect contemporary Mexican cuisine with great cocktails. We love sitting out on the patio (the kids can run around) for brunch, lunch, dinner or happy hour. They provide the blankets and kid-friendly bites like quesadillas, taquitos and queso.
A Favorite Park, Revamped
The recently-renovated 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. On the first Saturday and Sunday of each month, your kids will be wowed as real-life demonstrations take place at this gigantic artillery.
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.
Visit The Walt Disney Family Museum
If you can't make it to the Magic Kingdom this year don't fret. The next best thing is right 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.
Be Amazed by the 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.
Take a Stroll Along Crissy Field
Crissy Field. There's nothing like it. 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.
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,.
Catch Awesome Views at Julius Kahn Park
It's no surprise why we picked Julius Kahn Park as one of the top five Bay Area playgrounds with a view. The newly revamped playground and 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. Julius Kahn (or JK as it's referred to by the neighbors) also features tennis courts, a basketball court, baseball field and an ample grassy expanse to get those little legs tired.
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 well, inspiring.
Picnic without the Hassle
Off the Grid is no longer a Fridays-only event at Fort Mason. This food truck extravaganza has ballooned into one of the most popular (and laid back) foodie destinations in the Bay Area. Every Sunday during non-winter months on the Main Post lawn, spread out your picnic blanket, let your kids run wild and nosh on delicious eats from the Bay's finest at Presidio Picnic, developed by the Presidio Trust and Off the Grid. The family-friendly weekend event (it also boasts produce from local farms) usually features games and music, too.
What are your favorite things to do in the Presidio? Tell us below!
—Anita Chu & Erin Lem
Featured photo: Feather Weight