The Presidio is the most unusual neighborhood in San Francisco, because, despite its approximately 3,000 residents, it isn’t really a neighborhood at all -- it’s a national historic landmark and federally owned land reserve, maintained and operated by the National Parks Service via The Presidio Trust.
Located at the northernmost tip of San Francisco, the Presidio is a former U.S. Army military post that was officially decommissioned in the 1990s. At that point the leftover structures became residential housing, which ranges from high-ranking officers’ single-family homes and luxury apartments to less impressive converted nonresidential buildings.
Since most housing was built for military personnel and their families, there aren’t many studios or 1-bedrooms available here. Housing is available exclusively by lease through the Presidio Trust, and is in high demand. To apply, you must fill out a housing interest form, and it can take up to a year or more to be placed in a home.
And while maintenance crews take amazing care of the properties, there are many restrictions on what you can do with your yard, paint colors, and window coverings. But living in the Presidio is an experience like nowhere else in the world, which make these hassles completely worth it to its residents.
Because the Presidio Trust governs the Presidio, not the city of San Francisco, things can get a little funky. For example, residents vote in San Francisco, but city rent control laws don’t apply here. The Trust is also constantly negotiating public versus private land use; between keeping the land preserved and ensuring its upkeep is sustainable by generating revenue through rent and commercial activity.
And instead of a cohesive neighborhood, it’s a collection of buildings spread out in the fashion of the military base it once was, creating almost two dozen micro-neighborhoods within the Presidio. Park land lies between these residential and commercial hubs, so that the minute you leave home you have the opportunity to run, hike, or bike to the beach, making it a nature lover’s paradise.
But depending on where in the Presidio you are, heading downtown or even to nearby neighborhoods can be pretty inconvenient, and school children need to be bused to other neighborhoods. And while you can find a golf course, post office, and bowling alley here, some basic amenities can be a little hard to come by depending on your location.
However, the PresidiGo Shuttle is a group of free minibuses that weave through the park and have a couple of direct stops downtown. Many nonprofits make their home here, as well as Lucasfilms, the George Lucas TV and film production company, and the San Francisco National Cemetery, where only military personnel with badges of honor are buried. History and fresh air (and fog!) permeate the Presidio, making it a truly unique place to call home.
The Presidio is bordered on the north by Golden Gate Strait and San Francisco Bay, on the east by Marina, Cow Hollow, and Pacific Heights, on the south by Inner Richmond and Outer Richmond, and on the west by the Golden Gate Strait.
The central hub of the Presidio, where the post office, bowling alley, transit center and café, and an upscale Spanish fusion restaurant reside. Off the Grid hosts campfires on Thursday nights in the summer and Sunday afternoon picnics here.
A short path along the Presidio’s rugged western shoreline, perfect for an invigorating walk during sunset.
A public beach stretching below rugged cliffs. The water is cold and the weather often windy, but walking on the sand in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge is worth it. Watch out for the section of the beach that is clothing optional!
This San Francisco icon is surprisingly out of the way -- jutting out of the northernmost point of the city. A pavilion with a visitors’ center lies at its base and nearby is the entrance to the walking route along the bridge.
Reserved for military veterans and their families, this is one of only two cemeteries left on city land. You'll find rows of primarily small, uniform grave markers spread across nearly thirty acres.