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At the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, one of city residents' favorite in-town getaways is the 1,400-plus-acre Presidio, which combines accessible nature-in-the-raw with a window on the past. For more than 200 years and under the flags of three nations—Spain, Mexico, and the United States—the Presidio served as an army post, but in 1995 the U.S. Army officially handed over the keys to the National Park Service. The keys came without sufficient federal funding, though, and it seemed the Presidio would be sold piecemeal to developers.

An innovative plan combining public and private monies and overseen by the Presidio Trust, the federal agency created to run the park, was hatched to help the Presidio become self-sufficient, which it did in 2013. The trust has found paying tenants, such as George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic, the Walt Disney Family Museum, and a few thousand lucky San Franciscans who live in restored army housing. Now this spectacular corner of San Francisco—surrounded by sandy beaches and rocky shores, and with windswept hills of cypress dotted with historical buildings—is a thriving park for the far reaches of the city and technically a national park (it's part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, nps.gov/goga ). It's also a small community on its own with a gym, a few restaurants, and a beautifully renovated 600-seat theater where Bob Hope once performed. The Presidio has superb views (be sure to visit Inspiration Point and the cemetery for the most striking ones) and some of the best hiking and biking areas in San Francisco (Lovers' Lane Trail is a favorite for hikers); even a drive through this lush area is a treat. Start your visit at the Presidio Visitor Center (210 Lincoln Blvd., 415/561–4323, presidio.gov ; check for hours), then enjoy a day of exploring.

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