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San Francisco’s Inn at the Presidio

Inn at the Presidio
Inn at the Presidio

By John Grossmann

The large, six-over-one-pane windows are open to the cool night air—both in our bedroom and the spacious sitting room—providing not only a felicitous cross ventilation but also a rare and privileged experience for a third floor San Francisco hotel room.

The virtual absence of urban noise. A comforting, en plein air quiet.

The view from a room at Inn at the Presidio.
The view from a room at Inn at the Presidio.

Perhaps the greatest of many benefits of a stay at The Inn at the Presidio is its alluring duality.  Located on one of the most historic sites in the city by the bay, indeed just uphill from the bay, practically in the shadow of Golden Gate Bridge, it is both quintessentially San Francisco and a peaceful haven far from the city’s workaday bustle.   How can that be?  Because the inn, a 22-room renovation of onetime bachelor officers quarters on a historic U.S. Army base, is located in the heart of what’s arguably America’s greatest urban National Park.

Established in 1994, five years after the US Army decommissioned a base it had occupied since 1846, the nearly 1,500-acre park is today almost a small city unto itself, and moreover, self-sustaining, administered by the federally created Presidio Trust in cooperation with the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.  Some 350 historic buildings have been rehabilitated and repurposed as museums and restaurants, office space, and rental homes and apartments for some 3,000 residents.  There’s an 18-hole golf course, expanded from an original 9-hole links, dating to 1895, making it one of the oldest on the West Coast.  Ten pins crash at the renovated old base bowling alley.

Other Presidio recreational pursuits include a climbing gym, a trampoline park, and onsite bike rentals.  You can pedal or walk to scenic and historic overlooks on 24 miles of biking and hiking trails.  More than 300 bird species reside in or pass through the park, as do monarch butterflies.

Entryway to the Inn at the Presidio
Entryway to the Inn at the Presidio

The hub of The Presidio is The Main Post section, which includes The Inn at the Presidio, a stately red brink building long known as Pershing Hall.  The Georgian-revival style building was named for the legendary General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, who served at the Presidio, and whose face greets you on the wall in the entryway, not to mention on your room key.

Guestroom in main building.
Guestroom in main building.

Our high ceilinged room offered a view over nearby tile-roofed buildings to San Francisco Bay.  The inn has a pre-dinner wine and cheese service that in good weather—most days—can be taken to a backyard patio with fire pit.  A good Continental breakfast awaits in a bright, self serve eating area. The inn has no room service or restaurant, but The Main Post section of the Presidio has several nearby cafes and restaurants. Most popular are two restaurants run by award winning San Francisco chef Traci Des Jardins.

The Commissary, located on so-called Infantry Row, and lit by fixtures salvaged from an Army gymnasium, serves Spanish influenced American cuisine.  Request a table at the kitchen counter for a privileged view of chefs preparing such dishes as sweet pea and jamon crouquetas with harissa alioli; and Alaskan halibut with chorizo corteza, fennel broth, and clams–and the rare opportunity while dining to watch a talented pastry chef plate working with sweet ingredients.

Even closer to the Inn, at the Presidio Officer’s Club, Arguello offers Mexican cuisine and an encyclopedic list of agaves from $9 to $65 a glass.  It’s hard to point to a more historic spot in all of San Francisco.  The Presidio Officer’s Club was built by the U.S. Army on the site of the original Spanish presidio, or fortress, fashioned of three-foot thick adobe walls in 1776 by the first arriving Spanish colonists.  In addition to nowadays serving as a performance and function space, the structure also houses a museum that tells the site’s Native American, Spanish, then Mexican, and finally American story.

Other museums in the Main Post area include The Presidio Visitors Center, a revolving exhibit at the Society of California Pioneers gallery, and the 40,000 square foot Walt Disney Family Museum, whose many audio and video-filled exhibits include the earliest known sketches of the mouse that launched an empire and a magnificent, sprawling model of Disneyland.

The Main Post’s Transit Center, which provides shuttle bus service around the park, also offers a free, PresidiGo bus to the downtown Embarcadero Center.  But so numerous are the Presidio’s attractions and charms that it’s likely that once you’ve unpacked at the Inn in the Presidio, you’ll remain happily in the park until checkout.

Visit Inn at the Presidio

John Grossmann has written about food and travel for Gourmet, Cigar Aficionado, Saveur, and SKY. He was a finalist in the food journalist category of the 2010 Le Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards. He is the co-author, with acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, of the book One Square Inch of Silence, (Free Press).
John Grossmann has written about food and travel for Gourmet, Cigar Aficionado, Saveur, and SKY. He was a finalist in the food journalist category of the 2010 Le Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards. He is the co-author, with acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, of the book One Square Inch of Silence, (Free Press).
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