PEACE IN THE PRESIDIO
After my previous post about the tyranny of apps, concerned readers suggested I chill out.
It’s easier said than done in a city booming with technology. But, when I’m feeling app-ed out, there is one place in San Francisco where I go app-less and unplug: The Presidio.
It only takes twenty minutes by car to reach the Presidio from Southern San Francisco as it’s located at the city’s Northern tip, right next to the Golden Gate Bridge. But it feels as if you’ve crossed a bridge, stamped your passport, and been transported to the countryside once you land on this magic carpet of 1,500 acres of escape holes from city life.
In 1776, The Presidio was founded as a military reservation, and periodically owned by New Spain and Mexico. In 1848, it was eventually turned over to the United States. A National historic landmark, it was acquired by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1994. After the Presidio Trust was established by a US Congress mandate to oversee and manage the park’s lands and seascapes, the Presidio become financially self-sufficient in 2005. For years now, people have been renting private homes or commercial offices on its grounds. Its array of museums, restaurants, and cafés, in addition to its palette of trails, parks, ponds and streams, are open to the public on what resembles a manicured university campus.
I go to the Presidio to escape the urban noise of traffic and construction, to shed my extroverted cape, and to settle into my introverted self among eucalyptus trees on woodsy paths. Here, I smell the cut grass of my childhood, gaze at the Golden Gate Bridge from a bench, stumble on dirt roads, and get sand in between my toes after walking barefoot on Baker Beach or Crissy Field. Here, I’ve hiked miles with new friends who have become old friends.
Here, coyotes lurk in the woods as my dog’s ears perk up, and foghorns of passing ships honk languidly, crying seagulls soar overhead, and barking sea lions flap their fins in front of fisherman casting their lines off the bracing waters of the Bay near The Warming Hut.
One morning, I stopped to watch a pair of whales that had ended up perilously close to shore, under the Golden Gate Bridge near Fort Point.
On rainy days, I run into groups of small school children who are outside splashing in puddles in wellies and raincoats near the ecology trail – nothing stops San Franciscans from going outside.
On foggy days, I often slip into the Officers’ Club and write underneath majestic vaulted ceilings on an inviting couch in front of a wood-burning fireplace. In weak moments, I might order myself guacamole, homemade chips and a quesadilla at Arguello, a delicious Mexican restaurant next door. Or, I might cross the lawn to reach The Commissary, a tempting tapas restaurant, with Chef Traci Des Jardins at its helm. Down the road, Sports Basement has sold me a whole new wardrobe of outdoor gear that has become my daily uniform in San Francisco. And a shuttle bus that departs from outside the sports’ gear store can whisk me off to Lake Tahoe for a weekend of skiing during the winter months.
On Sundays, Off the Grid, an excuse to have a picnic on the Presidio’s Main Post lawn and eat from parked food trucks, offers everything from a Mexican enchilada, Korean BBQ to Italian gelato.
But the things I love most about the Presidio are those that I have discovered by mistake or out of curiosity. They make the vast landscape feel like a cluster of villages. There’s the Presidio’s Post Office, where sending Christmas cards is usually fast because no more than a handful of people fits in the government office at a time and few seem to know about it. Or, The General Store off of the 16th hole on the Presidio’s golf course, which hosts barbecues several days a week in warm months. There’s also the Fort Scott Community Garden with 40 plots of local flora harvesting, also a unique area for birdwatching. And, finally, my favorite: Arion Press, located in a former laundry facility in the Presidio, publishes three books a year (400 copies of each book) by hand with old-school, letterpress printing equipment. Forget downloading an e-book, and watch how some letterpress books are still being printed today in their trademark M&H typeface.
It’s also not a trip to the Presidio without a meditative moment in front of the Yoda Fountain at Edutopia, the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
When I first moved to San Francisco, a Californian told me not to search for the frescoes, mosaics or art work I might try to track down when visiting a European city. Instead, she urged me to hang out in San Francisco’s backyards: among its national parks, beaches, mountaintops, rivers, and trails. And to lap up all that nature has created and that this city has preserved. She was right.
The Presidio is a collage of the city’s varied, natural beauty. A sunrise at Crissy Field and a sunset at Baker Beach are as stunning a landscape painting you might see framed and on display at the Legion of Honor museum near the Presidio’s Land’s End look-out point. A walk on one of the Presidio trails can lead you to any of Andy Goldsworthy’s tree landscape works of art exhibited at home in their natural environment of an outdoor gallery.
My kids release energy jumping on trampolines at the Presidio’s House of Air, and scale walls at Planet Granite. I’ve hosted a birthday party at the Presidio Bowl. I’ve also entertained kids at the Walt Disney museum where, unlike at Disneyland, you can actually read about — through books, illustrations and exhibitions — the evolution of the famous cartoonist as a magical thinker and visionary of amusement parks. My kids also finally understood the meaning of Veteran’s Day when I took them to the Presidio’s San Francisco National Cemetery, and we read some of the tombstones of the 30,000 fallen soldiers laid to rest there.
In certain points within the Presidio, my phone does not pick up, and that’s why it has become my happy place. But, only Yoda knows exactly where.