Hidden on protected forested parkland within the city of San Francisco, the Inn at the Presidio hotel gives guests a sense of what old California must have been like. Housed in a red-brick lodge that was once used as officers quarters of the US army, it has been eco-sensibly refreshed and renovated with a healthy dose of tasteful art and photography alongside military memorabilia. All the hustle, bustle and foodie-centric culture of the City by the Bay is just a quick drive away.
Double rooms from $310.00, excluding tax at 14 per cent.
Rates include Continental breakfast and evening wine-and-cheese receptions.
The photography in each room was snapped at different places around the Presidio. A lobby map places each image within the park. Scan the map’s QR codes with your phone and they’ll show you how to find where each shot was taken.
At the hotel
Back patio, fire pit, living room, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, iPod docking station, minibar, coffeemaker, desk, EO bath products. Suites have fireplaces, too.
Our favourite rooms
Take over 211, a second-floor Suite, for access to the communal porch, large side windows overlooking a century-old cypress, and views down a landscaped block of officers’ quarters that are also the oldest streetscape in San Francisco. Room 332 up on the third floor had the best views of the Bay.
Bring leaf-pressing gear: the park is full of Californian flora. Pack swimwear: guests of the inn have access to the park’s beaches, though the water can be chilly.
Dogs are welcome; a $45 non-refundable deposit is payable for your pooch to bed down in your room.
Bring the little ones: the hotel can provide pack-and-plays or an inflatable bed in Suites for no extra charge, and there are child-friendly books in each room.
This park-surrounded hotel knows how to stay green: products are local whenever possible, no toxic chemicals are used on the grounds and bath products come in reusable containers. The LEED-certified building also has trees strategically planted to minimise the need for air conditioning.
Inn at the Presidio is situated on the edge of the Presidio national park, a short walk from the Marina and Pacific Heights.
The nearest airport is San Francisco International, a 35-minute drive away. It’s a major international hub, welcoming flights from London (www.virginatlantic.com) and around the world. Taxis cost approximately US$65. The Bart train goes directly from the airport into the city centre.
CalTrain, a Northern California commuter rail, journeys from Gilroy up through Mountain View, Palo Alto and up to SoMa, a $20 cab ride from the hotel.
San Francisco has excellent public transport, but if you want to visit anywhere outside of the city, it’s best to drive. Parking is available at the hotel for US$8 a night.
The Presidigo shuttle system takes guests all through the park, as well as to the Embarcadero Bart station and the Transbay Terminal downtown.
Worth getting out of bed for
The hotel is in a national park, and there are plenty of nearby trails and nooks for exploration. Most are clearly marked and suitable for hiking and biking. A short walk from the Inn, Andy Goldsworthy has created two installations of his natural, ephemeral art, including Spire and Wood Line, both inspired by the surrounding forest of cypress, pine, and eucalyptus groves.
On the southwest corner of the Presidio, Baker Beach is a mile-long stretch of sand with views of Golden Gate Beach, the Pacific and Marin.
A few blocks from the hotel, jacket-clad staff present classics such as pork chops, meatloaf and oysters on the half-shell at the Presidio Social Club (+1 415 885 1888; www.presidiosocialclub.com), in (another) converted military barracks. A mile away, Spruce (+1 415 931 5100) serves organic Californian food in a library-inspired dining room with soaring ceilings. The Marina’s A16 – named for the long highway that traverses Italy – is a slightly raucous, rambling room serving Italian small plates, crisp pizzas and garlicky pasta (+1 415 771 2216; www.a16sf.com).
Up-and-coming chainlet The Plant Café, just a short walk from the Presidio, serves vegetable-filled spring rolls, kale salad and whole-wheat sandwiches (www.theplantcafe.com). Dating back to 1913, Balboa Café, now owned by Plumpjack Winery, is one of the oldest restaurants in San Francisco. Regulars pop in for Cobb salads, burgers and the popular chicken paillard (www.balboacafe.com).
Self-proclaimed gastro-tavern The Tipsy Pig specializes in slightly tweaked classics, which are even better paired with mussels, sliders or popcorn shrimp (www.thetipsypigsf.com). The Marina’s Bin 38 pours more than 50 wines by the glass, including several local labels from Napa and Mendocino (www.bin38.com). Buena Vista Café on Fisherman’s Wharf popularised Irish coffee back in 1952. The restaurant attracts a good number of tourists, but for good reason: nothing beats back the city’s chilly fog like a mug of spiked coffee (www.thebuenavista.com).
Usually when you smell something before you see it, it’s a bad thing. But with the Inn at the Presidio in San Francisco, it’s awesome.
We’d hopped an afternoon flight to SFO and rode BART to a free (if you’re with the hotel) shuttle. Suddenly the air changed. The City by the Bay’s standard odor of unwashed inseam and fish parts vanished.
Eucalyptus. Damp freshness. The sensation that hits you when man-made gives way to nature-made.
A friendly co-shuttler gave us the history: covering 2.2 square miles of forest in San Francisco’s northwest corner, the Presidio was originally a military base. Established by the Spanish just months after the United States was born, it passed to the Mexicans, then the Americans, and in 1994 it became part of the park service.
Thus, it never citified. Hundred foot-tall trees, sprawling lawns, historic buildings, hills, and a population density more on par with Wyoming than one of the largest metropolitan areas in the US.
Our new friend escorted us up a gentle slope to The Inn, a three-story manor once home to bachelor soldiers. Now it’s anything but a bachelor pad. The rooms own a rustic elegance that places comfort above all. Club chairs. Swallow-you-whole sofas.
Our Classic King Tier Two room had windows on both ends. The front spied a rocking-chaired porch; out the back we saw a fire pit, and beside it the kitchen, where guests frolicked, enjoying free hors d’oeuvres and wine.
CUT TO: Us in that kitchen, power inebriating with three glasses of vino each. We followed our grape and brie binge with outdoor exploration.
The Presidio at night is quiet and romantic. We passed retired cannons, a sleeping museum and yellow street lamps, all to a soundtrack of breezes in the treeses (perhaps that’s the wine talking).
The night clerk had mentioned a bowling alley, and we threw a few frames among a cross-section of families, hippies, hipsters and Zuckerberg disciples.
We ate chicken fingers. We bought more wine. We felt great. When the bottle was dry, we retired homeward to rest in a king bed with the kind of supportive softness your own mattress will never provide.
The next morning I looked out the front window and there it was: the Golden Gate Bridge. It spoke to me: ‘Get up, idiot. Snag some ham, cheese and croissants from the Continental breakfast and hit the town.’ It then handed me the following touristy (but fun) itinerary I insist you duplicate.
Take a 10-minute walk to the Palace of Fine Arts, an extravagant neo Classical remnant of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition. Walk the pond. Hand-feed Cheez-it crackers to dinosaur-size swans. Next, hop a Uber to Fisherman’s Grotto at Fisherman’s Wharf. Eat clam chowder from a bread bowl. Wander next-door to Musee Mecanique, a collection of Boardwalk Empire-era games and attractions including naughty 1920s Queen of Sheba peep-show nickelodeons. Bring coins.
Stroll the waterfront to the back-left side of Pier 39 and watch hundreds of sea lions jockey for position on floating platforms. Make up dialog for them as you eat ice cream. Finally, double back, past Ghirardelli Square to the Buena Vista for the world-famous Irish coffee poured paradoxically en masse and just for you. Finally, go home and nap (but not before you’ve set the alarm for happy hour).
Thanks, Golden Gate Bridge. That was a fun day.
We had our pick of neighborhoods for dinner – Little Tokyo, the Mission, Noe Valley – but had reserved a table at Lower Pacific Heights’ SPQR. We should have called it a night after dinner. But we didn’t.
We hit the bars in North Beach/Little Italy. More wine. Moonlight. A stroll through Washington Square Park. If I remember correctly, late night pizza. I also have a recollection of a church that got blurrier the more chianti you drank.
The next morning was rough, but we’d promised ourselves we’d take advantage of the Inn’s free bikes on loan. Helmets on, we stared at the two-wheelers hatefully.
‘Going for a bike ride?’ a voice asked. We turned and saw a friendly face. ‘Nah, we’re just helmet people,’ Mrs Smith said. ‘Can never be too careful,’ I tacked on. The man wished us well and walked off with his dog.
We hoisted ourselves on the ultra lightweight Bianchis, and two minutes later (all down a gentle slope, thank goodness) we reached the Disney Family Museum. We perused the gift shop and then rode down to the official Presidio Museum that literally peeled back the years of plaster and paint to show you how the facade looked in its early days.
Then, our time was up. We returned the bikes, filled our pockets with remaining cheese crumbles and hailed a cab.
As it pulled up, we took one last look around in this San Francisco sanctuary. Families shared laughs. Field-tripping children walked in single file behind their docents. The man with the dog – the hotel manager we later learned – played fetch with his pup. A Presidio tableau… A Presidibleau.
The staff sent us off warmly. Our driver squired us away through the South exit of the park, which revealed just how sprawling and dynamic it is. The hiking trails to explore, the picnic venues to improvise, the tennis and basketball courts to play on. This is the only way to experience San Francisco: in a historical lodge, surrounded by a refuge the locals themselves visit to get away.
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