Are you traveling to see the Golden Gate Bridge? Anyone planning to visit the iconic San Francisco landmark should also take the time to explore The Presidio of San Francisco, a National Park that is directly alongside the bridge.
The park measures some 1,480 acres and is located on the site of a former U.S. Army military fort which traces its founding to 1776, when New Spain established a military installation there. Congress established the site as a national park in 1994, and responsibility for its management was transferred to the Presidio Trust in 1996. Since 2005, the Presidio has been financially self-sufficient, and it is no longer a recipient of federal funding.
5 reasons to visit The Presidio of San Francisco
Visitors to the Presidio can enjoy a full suite of activities, and these are the top reasons why wheelchair users should visit this national park in San Francisco.
The Presidio is filled with history museums and historical sites.
The Presidio is home to several museums of enormous interest and value, my favorite of which is the Presidio Officers’ Club, a history and culture museum that is free to visit.
The Officers’ Club features a number of permanent and special exhibitions focused on the indigenous populations that came before European settlers, the development of the Presidio as a military fort, the Presidio’s role in the United States armed forces, and the site’s transition to national park status. The exhibits were easy to navigate in my wheelchair and I had a great time learning about the Presidio’s history.
Surprisingly, the most popular museum within the park has nothing to do with the former military base. That designation belongs to The Walt Disney Family Museum, which is located on the park’s Main Post and right next to The Lodge at the Presidio.
The Walt Disney Family Museum is attractive to travelers of all ages and shares the story of Walt’s life, displays many of his earliest drawings and tracks the development of his entertainment and theme park empire. The museum and exhibits are wheelchair accessible and there are many hands-on experiences, including a drawing station where visitors can learn to draw Mickey Mouse just as Walt Disney did.
There are a number of other museums, monuments and historic sites within the park, which you can learn about on the Presidio website.
Wheelchair accessible nature trails run throughout the park.
1,480 acres is a lot of space, and the park is filled with nature trails and pathways that run along the coastline and through wooded areas.
While not all of the trails are wheelchair-friendly, many are. A variety of pavements exist, from typical concrete and asphalt sidewalks to hard-packed sand or gravel. To access a full list and maps of the trails at the Presidio, click here. Exploring the outdoors and taking in the beautiful sights and sounds at the Presidio is a fantastic experience that you won’t want to miss.
The Presidio is home to North America’s largest collection of Andy Goldsworthy’s public art installations.
British sculptor and environmentalist Andy Goldsworthy is known for his public art installations in both urban and natural environments. The Presidio is home to the largest collection of Goldsworthy’s works in North America, each of which are free and open to the public.
The four works currently installed are Spire (pictured above), Earth Wall, Tree Fall and Wood Line. Wheelchair users may need to view some of the works from a distance, due to the fact that they are installed in the natural environment. For more information on the artwork and its location, see the Presidio’s art page.
The Golden Gate Bridge is only a short hike or a free shuttle bus ride away.
The Golden Gate Bridge Visitor Center is located approximately 1.5 miles from the Presidio Visitor Center, with a number of wheelchair accessible pathways and routes between those two points.
Transportation between the Presidio, the Golden Gate Bridge and Downtown San Francisco is provided free of charge on the PresidiGo Shuttle. For more information about the Presidio and the wheelchair accessible PresidiGo Shuttle, visit Presidio.gov.
Accessibility is a priority at The Presidio, and new projects are making more of the park accessible.
Last year, I participated in a focus group at the Presidio with disabled people and disability advocates. The Presidio Trust asked me to participate in order to provide feedback about accessibility at the park and how they could improve the experience for wheelchair users. I left that focus group feeling at though the park’s leadership is truly invested in accessibility and inclusion. One piece of evidence supporting that idea are new projects being developed with accessibility in mind.
The Presidio Tunnel Tops is one such project. A road leading to the Golden Gate Bridge cuts through the Presidio, but the tunnels which now contain that freeway are being covered, or topped, with earth to form a new 14-acre park site. The Tunnel Tops, as it the project is being called, will provide a new and accessible place for people to relax, gather and enjoy the incredible views of the surrounding area.
A number of other projects currently underway, including a reimagined Quartermaster Reach marshland, will make new opportunities for exploration available to wheelchair users. The park’s commitment to accessibility is refreshing, and ensures that the Presidio will become an increasingly more welcoming place for disabled people to visit.
Whether you spend an afternoon, a day or even a few days at the Presidio, I am sure that you’ll find plenty of enjoyable things to do. Many people visit San Francisco to see the Golden Gate Bridge, but never take the short walk or ride to the Presidio. That’s a shame, since the Presidio is a national park worth visiting in its own right. If your travels take you to San Francisco, don’t miss out on the chance to visit this treasure of a national park.