Hotspots Near You

180. The Presidio, San Francisco, California

This former army base, now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is a great place to look for songbirds, hummingbirds, shorebirds, and herons.
By Audrey Medina | Published: 12/17/2013

Spanish, Mexican, and American flags have flown over the Presidio since 1776. Today the historic grounds, buildings, and artifacts are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. New vista points, interpretive signs, and trails lead the way.

The Presidio has no shortage of great places to bird. Since 2001, Crissy Field, along San Francisco Bay, has been transformed from a military airfield into a tidal marsh that teems with shorebirds, herons, and other birds.

At Inspiration Point, near the south edge of the park, you’ll find spectacular views as well as towhees and woodpeckers. Nearby lies El Polin Spring, where a natural spring and restored watershed attract hummingbirds, flycatchers, sparrows, and finches. Even at the end of summer, the spring is the best birdbath around, and its benches make a nice lunchtime hangout. From the spring I usually follow the Ecology Trail into woodlands to look for Pygmy Nuthatches.

A variety of habitats and the Presidio’s location on the Pacific flyway give the area one of the most diverse bird populations of any urban park in the world. Don’t miss it. — Audrey Medina

Audrey Medina is a freelance travel writer whose stories appear regularly in the San Francisco Chronicle. She often writes about birding, nature, and outdoor recreation.

180. The Presidio, San Francisco, California

Directions

The Presidio is a park and former military base covering 1,500 acres at the northern end of San Francisco. From the east, take Hwy. 101 (Lombard St.). From the south, use Hwy. 1. From the north, cross the Golden Gate Bridge into the park. Numerous parking areas and free shuttle service are available within the Presidio.

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At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
37°48’14.35″N 122°27’26.14″W

Habitat

Coastal scrub, mixed woodlands, tidal marsh, grasslands, shorelines, springs, four-acre lake.

Terrain

Flat to hilly. Well-maintained trails. Many areas wheelchair-accessible.

Birds

230 species. Year-round: Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, Brandt’s, Pelagic, and Double-crested Cormorants, Anna’s Hummingbird, Western Grebe, Snowy and Great Egrets, Pygmy Nuthatch, Brown Pelican, Song and White-crowned Sparrows, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Brown Creeper, Bushtit, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Orange-crowned Warbler, Western and California Gulls. Spring through fall: Allen’s Hummingbird, Hooded Oriole, Caspian Tern, Violet-green Swallow, Wilson’s Warbler. Fall through spring: Townsend’s and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Clark’s Grebe, Heermann’s Gull, Willet, Least Sandpiper, Surf Scoter, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Snowy Plover (rare).

When to go

Year-round.

Amenities

Picnic areas, restrooms, several restaurants. Visitor center in Building 105 on Montgomery St. open Thursday to Sunday, 10-4. Occasional family bird walks.

Access

National park. Open 24 hours. No fees, free parking. Bus routes 28, 29, and 43 serve the Presidio. Free park shuttle.

Tips

Birds can be seen at parking lots and picnic areas. Prepare for foggy mornings and sunny afternoons. Bring water for hikes.

For more info

Presidio of San Francisco
Presidio Trust 
Golden Gate Audubon Society
Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

Sites nearby

Lands End and Sutro Heights
Southwest of the Presidio in San Francisco. Hotspot Near You No. 11. Ocean birds, shorebirds, land birds, and great views.

Hawk Hill
Just north of San Francisco in the Marin Headlands. Hotspot Near You No. 172. Spectacular hawk watch.

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