Rediscover the Presidio of San Francisco

Spas and restaurants join the trails in the city's national park

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  • Letterman Digital Arts Center offers prime views of the Palace of Fine Arts.

    Letterman Digital Arts Center views

    Rob D. Brodman

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I've been running around the Presidio for years. Literally, along my favorite path, which leaves from Inspiration Point Overlook, dips through the trees past views of Alcatraz, and spits me out at historic Officer's Row. But with so much excitement lately, I decide to set aside my sneakers and spend a day exploring the park's more refined side.

I start at Perk Presidio Cafe, where I pick up a fair-trade latte and grab a bench by the pond at the Letterman Digital Arts Center, home to Lucasfilm. Sporty moms push baby joggers as film folks gossip nearby, but otherwise we've got the collegelike grassy campus to ourselves.

At the Thoreau Center ― one of the park's early trend-setting tenants housing more than 50 progressive organizations, including the all-organic Acre Café ― I wander into a narrow sunlit gallery filled with innovative artwork made with recycled materials.

For lunch I hit La Terrasse, a sleek French brasserie with a heated patio, bay view, and wood-fired pizzas. It's a far cry from the cavernous corporate restaurants common to most national parks.

SenSpa, an old ammunition warehouse turned Asian-style day spa, isn't something you see hiking around Yellowstone either. I lounge by the fire and treat myself to an expert Thai massage.

Inspired, I take the long way home. Faint drizzle hits my windshield. A foghorn sounds. Winding along Washington Boulevard, I spy a man bent on his knees by a curved stone wall, and pull over.

"Yesterday was blue skies," says Chris Stinehour, a professional letter carver who has apparently spent all week at Immigration Point Overlook, perched above the Pacific, engraving a quote in the granite. "I saw dolphins out there - without binoculars," he says with a smile. "Every few moments the water changes color: teal, turquoise, deep blue. Hawks have been circling above Baker Beach. Saw a coyote crossing too."

The foghorn sounds again. Wind howls. He returns to work, chiseling the very last letter of Woodrow Wilson's quote: "We opened the gates to all the world and said: 'Let all men who want to be free come to us and they will be welcome.' "

The Presidio's gates are open. All seven of them. Waiting for regulars ― and the rest of the world.



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