Hidden Treasures

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TRUCKEE • DOWNTOWN NAPA • SUISUN CITY • OAKLAND • THE PRESIDIO 

There’s a wild heart to San Francisco, a burghal backcountry that, along with Mission Dolores, is the oldest settled patch of land in the city, but the least known to tourists—The Presidio. This stretch of coastal terrain starts just west of the Marina District and pushes out past the Golden Gate Bridge to the black and tan sands of Baker Beach, and rises up over hilly crests to crash against Pacific Avenue and Lake Street on the southern boundary. It’s a vast place (1,491 acres) of dramatic bluffs and wooded forests thick with cypress and redolent of eucalyptus. Here there are backward views of the Golden Gate Bridge, with Alcatraz on the far side, and miles upon miles of dirt trails where sometimes fog meanders so thickly between branches that visitors are lost in a solitary, primal world, making it easy to imagine what it felt like for the Ohlone tribe who lived here as far back as 740 A.D. There are also hip and sophisticated restaurants, museums and a world-class hotel (the first one in The Presidio) that opened just last year. Why so few visitors in this magical mystery spot? Until the ’90s, this was an active military post. Since 1994, when the land was turned over to the National Park Service, the former base buildings have been rehabbed for commercial and residential use, creating an entirely new neighborhood. About 3,000 people now live on this national park, and dozens of businesses fill former hangars, hospitals and soldier housing. It’s easy to spend an urbane weekend here without ever venturing into urban San Francisco, and now is the time to do it—before the tourist hordes invade.

 

WHAT TO DO

See Mickey and Monet
Inside the old Main Post of The Presidio is a treasury for animation buffs—The Walt Disney Family Museum (104 Montgomery St., 415-345-6800, waltdisney.org). Founded in 2009 by Walt’s daughter Diane and grandchildren Walter and Joanna to celebrate the life of Disney the man (not just the company), this interactive archive teaches visitors that if it The model of Disneyland at the Walt Disney Family Museum.hadn’t been for a devious business associate stealing Walt’s original character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Mickey might never have been. It’s a fun look at one of America’s most beloved innovators, and along with the rich personal history of Walt’s life and career and a model of Disneyland, the museum also houses contemporary exhibits like an edgy display of Alice in Wonderland-themed art from UC Davis graduate Camille Rose Garcia (through Nov. 3) and a retrospective that will open on Aug. 15 honoring the work of Tyrus Wong, the 102-year-old Chinese-American artist who lived in Sacramento growing up and whose paintings inspired the look of the Disney classic Bambi.

If classical appeals more than cartoons, take a short drive west to the Legion of Honor (100 34th Ave., legionofhonor.org, 415-750-3600). It would be enough to visit the parking lot of this oft-forgotten museum near Lands End. There, high on a seaside bluff in Lincoln Park, visitors will find a city vista that stretches from the Golden Gate Bridge across downtown to the spires of St. Ignatius Church and the tower on Twin Peaks. The building itself, a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, is a graceful grande dame with an ionic-colonnaded courtyard that is home to Rodin’s The Thinker. Inside, collections highlight Greek and Roman art with special exhibitions including (through Oct. 13) “Impressionists on the Water,” where works by Monet, Renoir and their boat-loving contemporaries fill the warren of galleries

Ramble, Pedal, Putt
Hike one of The Presidio’s wooded paths, like the sun-dappled Ecology Trail from the Inn at the Presidio up to the pinnacle of Inspiration Point, where the overlook is every cliché it should be—sweeping, dramatic, romantic and, of course, inspiring. To cover more territory, rent a bike at the Sports Basement near Crissy Field (610 Old Mason St., 415-437-0100, sportsbasement.com) and cruise the winding roads of the former base or head out to historic Fort Point and across the span of the Golden Gate. For golfers, the Presidio Golf Course (300 Finley Rd., 415-561-4653, presidiogolf.com)—which was recently named the 16th best municipal course in the country by Golfweek magazine—is a must-play as much for its challenging design (especially the 12th hole) as its stunning setting.

Bum Around on the Beach
Ever wonder who the 1 percent envy? Take a drive through the Sea Cliff neighborhood just outside of The Presidio, where hilltop mansions hold court on oceanside bluffs, and you’ll Go fly a kite at Baker Beach. see. Down a flight of cement steps is China Beach (Sea Cliff Ave., 415-561-3000, parksconservancy.org) guarded by a rusting Parks building whose sheltered roof is a favorite of sunbathers seeking relief from the wind. It’s a secret little cove, once home to Chinese fishermen, with the Golden Gate looming large to the right and the Marin Headlands giving way to the Pacific in the other direction. Just a hop and a skip back into The Presidio is Baker Beach (Gibson Rd., 415-561-3000, parksconservancy.org), a popular swath of sand where crowds post up on warm days watching freighters cruise into the Bay and trying not to watch the nudists who favor the far end.

 WHERE TO EAT

Presidio Social Club
Congenial and sophisticated, the Presidio Social Club (563 Ruger St., 415-885-1888, presidiosocialclub.com) is a welcoming establishment filled with bohemian bonhomie. Located in a low-slung white clapboard building that was originally a club for enlisted men, the restaurant has a long marble bar wide enough to qualify as a counter and a postage-stamp-sized patio out back. The menu is filled with easygoing city comfort food like burgers, a bay shrimp Louie, and an outstanding chopped kale salad that can come with The Presidio Social Club’s  classic eggs Benedict. duck confit or a crispy piece of pork belly. Don’t miss refined cocktails like the Old Cuban with El Dorado 5-Year rum, lime juice and champagne. And brunches are a treat not to be missed, with savory eggs Benedict, fresh-baked pastries like scones, and brioche beignets that you dip in a brown butter hot chocolate (and bonus, unlike at most restaurants, you can make reservations for brunch at the Social Club).

Dixie
Dixie (1 Letterman Dr., 415-829-3363, sfdixie.com), the first solo endeavor by Michelin-starred chef Joseph Humphrey, promises a new take on Southern comfort food, like tasty fried oysters or a rabbit and dumplings dish at dinner. The large, open room with leather booths and a big bar area draws a polished crowd (including staff from LucasArts, on whose campus the restaurant is located), but it’s the outdoor patio that’s the true gem. Here, casual tables overlook a rolling green lawn that gives way to a grove of trees. Peeking out beyond the leaves is the dome of the Palace of Fine Arts and glimpses of the Bay—the ideal spot for brunch or an afternoon libation.

The Beach Chalet
Inside the Golden Gate Park Visitor’s Center on Highway 1 near Lands End is a sunset-watching spot worth the drive to this edge of San Francisco. Past the 1930s fresco by artist Lucien Labaudt that graces the downstairs lobby and up the tiled stairway is The Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant (1000 Great Hwy., 415-386-8439, beachchalet.com), where the nearly floor-to-ceiling windows look out over the ocean. It is the ideal place to watch the sun drop into the water while enjoying one of the brewery’s own beers and some fried calamari. Then, if the fog rolls in and the weather turns cold, head downstairs and out the back door to its sister restaurant, the Park Chalet, where a grand fireplace holds court.

WHERE TO SLEEP

Inn at the Presidio
Charm, elegance and history pervade every brick at the recently opened Inn at the Presidio ($215-$375; 42 Moraga Ave., 415-800-7356, innatthepresidio.com). The 26-room hotel, the first and only one inside the national park, was built in 1903 and once served as housing for the Army’s bachelor officers. While there are a few smaller rooms in the old orderlies’ quarters, the place to stay is in one of the 17 suites (especially room 332 boasting Golden Gate views), which span the width of the brick and wood building, giving sight lines into the eucalyptus grove behind and the Bay in front. A cozy gas fireplace reigns over the living room in each, where a Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams sofa bed pulls out for family stays. First and second-floor rooms have access to a wide porch with rockers—a magical place for morning coffee or a glass of The Dreaming Tree wine served in the evening. For larger parties, the Inn just opened The Funston House in July, a separate four-bedroom space with a living room and dining room of its own. —A.C.