My parents met in San Francisco. Mom was working as a legal secretary in the days when you wouldn’t dare wear white shoes downtown after May. She also tap danced for the USO and knew how to work a ballroom floor at the Officers Club in the Presidio. Dad was from modest stock after growing up in Arkansas and Arizona before joining the war effort. He made it to Great Britain in time to train as a paratrooper but didn’t see actual duty. They met cute through friends and I was born in the Bay area a few years after.
So I return to San Francisco as often as I can but it’s been less frequently over the years. There was no question that I’d go to the Women’s Travel Fest when it was held there this year and that I’d spend time with my sister who lives in the area.
As part of this short trip Julie and I decided to share a clear, warmish day exploring the western side of the city. I’d been staying downtown and navigating the Union Square demolitions and my parking garage through the edge of the Tenderloin. I was more than ready for a little nature, a bit of balance after the intensity of the inner city.
First stops were in the Presidio, which is a former military base, thick with Eucalyptus and stark buildings that once housed the ‘brass’ and today lend themselves to arts organizations, restaurants and foundations. Who knew that the Walt Disney Family Museum was there? It was founded by his daughter and features exhibits about his life and inspirations. Turns out that the Walt Disney Foundation acquired Industrial Light and Magic which is also housed in the Presidio. I had no idea that the San Francisco Film Society calls the Presidio home either or that you can actually stay in the park at the Inn of the Presidio.
I did know that mom and a few of her sisters had dined at the Officers Club in their day. Today it’s called Arguello and features Mexican inspired cuisine. Arguello is also the street that I once lived on across from Golden Gate Park at the tender age of 18 and just a block from where mom and dad lived when he was in law school and mom jockeyed raising 3 kids with her legal secretary duties.
The ripples of recognition kept coming as Julie and I ventured into the park. She told me that the environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy had 3 big pieces in the Presidio and we determined to see them. The Presidio Trust calls his work “Ephemeral, organic, thoughtful.” I’d seen a documentary about his work once and there’s a piece of his, more solid than ephemeral, in front of the La Jolla Museum of Modern Art, in my current back yard. So Julie and I hunted out the three in the Presidio.
First was ‘Spire‘ created of mature trees tied together and reaching over 90 feet. You had to park and walk to get close. It was different than much of his work, and forced me to look at the forest surrounding it in new ways. Turns out that most of the historical wood in the area is past its prime and in need of constant replanting. Kudos to Goldsworthy for making us notice.
Second was a bit harder to find. It’s his first piece exhibited indoors. “Tree Fall… is comprised of a tree trunk removed as part of the Presidio Parkway project, suspended inside a building that was used to store blank munition used for the 5pm gun salute.’ The trunk and domed ceiling are covered in cracked clay, also from the area. It was shadowy and odd. I like his outdoor pieces better but applaud this effort to cross the natural world and a dominating military philosophy.
My favorite was Woodline, created on a ‘lovers lane’ footpath. A serpentine line of fallen tree trunks wind downhill between historic Eucalyptus groves. Goldsworthy says that it “draws the place.” I say it’s lovely, mysterious and draws you in certainly, elegantly and powerfully.
We concluded a bit further west for lunch at the bustling Burma Superstar on Clement Street – sipping tea, gulping down the award-winning Tea Salad and delighting in having time for a little adventure together.
When was the last time you spent a day exploring a new area with a sibling or close friend?
If you go exploring the San Francisco Presidio:
- Visit all three of the pieces by Andy Goldsworthy
- Stay at the Inn at the Presidio
- Bike or hike on more than 24 miles of trails throughout the Presidio.
- Find out more about art installations at the Presidio Trust
- Peruse the Walt Disney Family Museum
- Eat at Burma Superstar on Clement Street – Prepare to wait for seating!
- Find the right hotel for your visit and stay close to the Presidio too.
- Look here for more things to do in San Francisco
This post is part of the Hipmunk Travel Series and does include sponsored links.
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Thanks for a great article, I also wrote an article relating to things to do in San Francisco with kids.
Living on the West Coast, just outside Seattle, we used to head to San Francisco regularly. It now seems forever since we’ve been, so I loved your post. And I have to admit we’ve never taken time to visit the Presidio. . .shame on us!
I admit I’ve never spent much time there before either but there’s so many things to explore from trails to great restaurants. It’s really become more of a public experience over the past few decades.
Thanks for this reminder of a great park on my doorstep. I have used San Francisco as my base for a few years now and have yet to fully explore the Presidio; I think I will do something about that this coming week. Thanks.
Excellent. There’s some amazing viewpoints and miles of trails that would be worth exploring. I wish I’d had more time.
I didn’t know Goldsworthy before reading this but I want to know more about him and his art. The Spire is quite intriguing and the woodline is so pretty! Thanks for sharing.
His work is pretty interesting. He makes me think about natural spaces and the passage of time in new ways. Hope you see it in person one day.
I am a big fan of Andy Goldsworthy’s work and I plan to spend some time in San Francisco later this year so I will definitely pay a visit to the Presidio – thanks to you Elaine!
Lovely to hear you’re a fan. His ice sculptures are some of my favorites but we don’t have much of that outside of the freezer in California.
How fun to come upon this post, we were just talking about biking in San Francisco today. What timing!
I have more tips coming about SF. Lucky you and I hope you find great weather.
Since you ask, I also explored the SF Presidio with a good friend recently. Here’s my take on this fabulous spot, http://berkeleyandbeyond.com/Northern-California/San-Francisco/Attractions/Historical-Sites/The-Presidio/the-presidio.html
Nice, Carole. There’s so much to see in that area.
I like to visit the Presidio in San Francisco some day. I’ve not been. The Goldsworthy pieces look very interesting.
The Presidio is full of treasures. I was only able to fit in a few.
How fortunate you were to share these memories with your sister! Makes a trip that much more special~
I love traveling with my husband. It’s broadened our world while bringing us even closer to each other.
What a lovely day this must have been to share with your sister. The temporary quality of the Goldsworthy pieces is a beautiful parallel to reminiscing about your parents and other days gone by. Truly a wonderful post, Elaine.
Your kind words mean a lot, Betsy. Thanks!
That is a lovely post and you had me hooked from not wearing “white shoes downtown after May”.
Thanks, Paula, I have so many cherished memories tied up in the SF area.
wow, what excellent discoveries, I’ve never seen any of the Goldsworthy exhibits and also the new restaurant at the Officers club. I will have to check that out when I visit. Did eat at the commissary in the main plaza and it was so yummy!
Thanks, Noel. I wanted to mention the Commissary but ran out of space. Glad to hear it was yummy.
We were lucky enough to spend a week exploring Lima, Peru with my sister and her husband this past November and it’s fun to touch base with family in familiar as well as new surroundings. The Presidio looks so interesting and I’d love to visit. Thanks for introducing me to the talented artist Andy Goldsworthy – my favorite work of his was also the Woodline foot path.
Visiting Lima with your sister must’ve been so much fun. I love getting the insider perspective.
I’ve been to San Francisco twice – in 1979 and 2006 – and each time my visit was concentrated in the famous tourist areas. Next time I will certainly seek out the Presidio. Great Pictures.
Thanks, Yasha, There’s just so much to experience in SF. I hope you get to visit again soon.
It was a wonderful day with you, Elaine! I’ll always remember it. xxx
Thanks, dear, sweet sis.
Thanks for another great, concise article. That you’re focusing on lesser known places and pointing out their best parts with the little personal touch, is great, and for me also, nostalgic.
Thanks, Bob, I do like to hunt out the unusual and overlooked gems around our world. Glad to see you here.
I’ve been in San Francisco a so many times but never knew about the ‘Spire‘. I’ll have to add that to the list. Beautiful images.
Thanks, Anda, photography is a passion but I’m not a techie about it – just love beautiful images. Glad you enjoyed.