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Taking the Kids: San Francisco's Presidio transform from a historic Army post to a 21st-century destination

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

You're in San Francisco, so what do you want to do first?

Bike ride, hike or take selfies in front of the Golden Gate Bridge? Maybe brunch or dinner at a trendy restaurant that welcomes kids, followed by a geocache adventure or a museum exhibit? If you're lucky, you can watch the archeologists at work before kicking back at a historic inn where kids are treated like VIPS.

Welcome to San Francisco's Presidio -- nearly 1,500 acres transformed from a bustling army post to a national park, the largest national park in an urban area, drawing 7.5 million visitors a year.

Before there was even a San Francisco, there was the Presidio -- the first home to native peoples and, in 1776, a fort established by Spain and later manned by Mexico. Archeologists have been excavating around the original El Presidio San Francisco Fort. There are actually 30 archaeological areas within the Presidio that date from Native Ohlone settlements through the Army occupation. Tour the Presidio Archaeology Lab on Wednesdays; see some of the artifacts in an exhibit in the Presidio Officers' Club, including dolls and baby shoes.

Check out the original sketch for Mickey Mouse, among the many artifacts at the Walt Disney Family Museum, next door to the recently opened 42-room Lodge at the Presidio, the closest hotel to the Golden Gate. A life lesson: Walt Disney did have failures and nearly went broke before his phenomenal success.

"This really works for families," said Jenna Capito, here from Chicago with her husband and two young kids. They were fans of The Social Club, also housed in historic barracks, which offers artisanal cocktails for adults and comfort food, including chicken noodle soup, mac and cheese and burgers, to please everyone.

 

The ideal alternative, Capito said, to bustling and crowded downtown San Francisco, just a 25-minute free shuttle ride away. Her 8-year-old son, Vince, agreed, giving a special thumb's up to the freshly baked cookies at the Lodge and the historic bowling alley.

A plus for visiting families at the Lodge and Inn are the complimentary breakfasts and afternoon snacks. At the Lodge, we learned more about the Presidio's history from the historic photos displayed and were inspired to head outdoors by the pictures of local birds and flowers. (Rates start at $275 a night.)

The Presidio is also home to the city's only campground, a public golf course, drop-in yoga, rock-climbing gym, trampoline park and plenty of free programming from stargazing, family crafts, a kite festival to exhibits, including until the end of May, the excellent "Then They Came For Me," about the incarceration of California's Japanese Americans during World War II.

Most important, a visit here offers the chance to experience what else makes Northern California great -- the chance to hug a redwood, dip your toes in the bay, look for birds (there are more than 300 species) and feel the famous San Francisco fog in the historic forest.

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