This Northern California Park Is A Must-Visit For History Buffs

There are more than 1,200 officially designated historic sites in California. A state steeped in a storied past, one particular place in San Francisco is the perfect vacation destination for history buffs.

The Presidio of San Francisco is a 1,491-acre park that served as a military post for 218 years. According to the historical marker at the corner of Funston Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard, the Presidio of San Francisco was established in 1776. At different vital points in history, it served as a military headquarters for Spain, Mexico, and the U.S. during the Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean War. While the area now exists for commercial and public use, it still oozes with history. Determined a National Historic Landmark in 1962, the Presidio still has 473 historic buildings.

San Francisco is one of the best U.S. cities for history buffs. With so many historical attractions — in addition to museums, hiking trails, beaches, a golf course, a bowling alley, and more — the Presidio is the perfect vacation destination for anyone, not just lovers of days gone by.

Things to do in the Presidio for history buffs

If this is your first trip to the Presidio, the Presidio Visitor's Center is a great starting point. There are plenty of interactive exhibits to kick-start learning more about the history of the area and detailed maps to help you plan your day. A few good places to check out are the Fort Point National Historic Site, the Main Post, and the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Fort Point National Historic Site is picturesquely located beneath the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Construction of Fort Point began in 1853 during the infamous Gold Rush. The site was used in the Civil War and World War II before it made a famous cameo in Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" in 1958. For a truly unique visit, book the 90-minute Candlelight Tour ($20) and explore the structure while holding a lantern. 

Another worthwhile military historical attraction at the Presidio is the Main Post. It's the site of the original presidio, established by the Spanish in 1776 before it became a U.S. Army post in 1846. This is where visitors will find the oldest buildings in the Presidio.

The Walt Disney Family Museum ($25 entry for the Main Museum) obviously has less military history and more entertainment. Here, visitors get a peek into the personal life and creativity of Mr. Walt Disney himself. Expect to find sketches, vintage memorabilia, historic documents, and more.

More things to see and do in the Presidio

After exploring some of the main historic attractions in the Presidio, there's still plenty to do. Hiking not only offers the promise of exercise, but also some of the best nature views in the city. The Lovers Lane Trail (0.6 miles) is San Francisco's oldest footpath. Established in the 18th century, the Spanish used this path as a shortcut to Mission Delores. And on the west side of the trail, you'll spot Army homes built in the 1930s. For a tougher trek, the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail (2.7 miles) is a short section of a 1,200-mile-long trail. It leads hikers on part of the route that the 1776 Spanish military commander took from Mountain Lake.

Presidio beaches are beautiful and the perfect place to relax. Baker Beach and Crissy Field East Beach both offer stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Baker Beach sits below the cliffs on the Presidio's western shore. While it's beautiful for a stroll or a picnic, swimming can be dangerous due to strong currents. Crissy Field East Beach has calmer water, is great for kids, and perfect for kite surfers. For more activities in the Presidio, try the Presidio Golf Course (starting at $37) or Presidio Bowl (starting at $50/hour), which is only the latest home for bowling in the Presidio. The bowling tradition began in 1917, when lanes were first created inside the quartermaster's warehouse.