While it may be an urban metropolis, the San Francisco Bay Area is also defined by glorious natural settings and abundant parklands that bring a welcome respite from city life. Whether it’s the East Bay hills, the San Mateo Coast or the redwood forests of Marin County, these protected places provide immeasurable ways to recreate, celebrate and rejuvenate.
In addition to their natural attributes, many of these parklands feature high-quality lodging and venues for both indoor and outdoor events.
While a compact and densely populated city, San Francisco has outstanding open spaces where forests, meadows and water take precedence over high-rises and asphalt.
Among these is the Presidio of San Francisco, a 1,500-acre oasis on the edge of the Golden Gate that since its transition from military base to national park has continually added new visitor attractions and event spaces. Outdoor activities include hiking on 24 miles of trials, cycling on 15 miles of bike paths and golf on an 18-hole championship course.
In February, the Presidio Visitors Center opened in a refurbished early 20th century guardhouse in the heart of the park overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Providing an introduction to the Presidio, the center offers interactive exhibits such as a large video wall with a calendar of daily events and dramatic images.
The Presidio provides a wealth of venues, chief among them the recently restored Presidio Officer’s Club, a Spanish Colonial building dating from the 1700s that offers a history gallery, ballroom accommodating up to 300 people, Mexican restaurant operated by chef Traci Des Jardins and private dining areas. The Inn at the Presidio, Walt Disney Family Museum, Golden Gate Club and the San Francisco Film Centre are among many other venue choices.
The Presidio’s largest and most spectacular area for outdoor events is Crissy Field, a former U.S. Army airfield that runs along a magnificent stretch of shoreline just east of the Golden Gate Bridge. Its former warehouses and hangars are now home to businesses like House of Air, a trampoline park, and Batter’s Box SF, which offers batting cages, pitching machines and space for private events.
AlliedPRA San Francisco, a destination management company, recently found Crissy Field to be an ideal setting for a large event planned for a tech company, said Zorianna Smith, director of marketing and product development.
“We had all sorts of big inflatable and interactive games set up along the beach,” she said. “We brought in a band and a cool mobile stage that looked like an Airstream trailer. With the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop, it was really spectacular.”
“Over 80 percent of Marin County is protected open space, so for teambuilding and outdoor adventure, you really can’t beat it,” said Christine Bohkle, director of sales and marketing for Visit Marin.
These natural areas come into view soon after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, starting with Cavallo Point Lodge in the former Fort Baker military base, an expanse of rolling hills and shoreline at the foot of the majestic span. The upscale 174-room property offers accommodations in contemporary hillside structures and in restored former officers’ quarters with tin ceilings, fireplaces and spacious porches with bay views.
Outdoor and wellness activities abound at the lodge, including interpretive walks in the surrounding Golden Gate Recreation Area, outdoor yoga sessions, biking, kayaking and bird watching. Available for teambuilding and private events, Cavallo Point Cooking School offers hands-on learning from well-known chefs working with products from local farms and vintners.
Just north of Cavallo, Muir Woods National Monument with its groves of old-growth redwoods and the quaint bayside town of Sausalito make for an ideal group outing, according to Smith of AlliedPRA.
“We usually start with a hike in Muir Woods led by a naturalist,” she said. “Then we pair it with lunch in Sausalito at Ondine, which has terrific private event space overlooking the bay and San Francisco skyline. The group can have free time for shopping and take the ferry back to San Francisco if they wish.”