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DIY Hike: The Presidio: Overlook, Cemetery and Chapel

Dedicated on Veterans Day 2009, the Presidio cemetery overlook honors the service and sacrifices of America’s soldiers. A wooded section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail leads to the overlook, which is a perfect place for quiet contemplation. From here, you can explore the historic National Cemetery and the Main Post Chapel, which today is an interfaith center. The distance from the trailhead to the chapel and back is about 2 miles.

The trail

Pick up the trail to the right of the Presidio Golf Course Cafe and Clubhouse parking lot. The trail runs through the Presidio Forest, woods of eucalyptus, cypress and pine. To your right, you will pass Andy Goldsworthy’s sculpture “Spire,” made from cypress trees felled as part of the Presidio’s reforestation program.

When the trail divides into three, take the center (the narrowest) footpath and continue downhill to Washington Boulevard. Cross at the crosswalk and continue to your left on the path adjacent to the road. Slip through an opening in the logs lining the path and continue as the trail veers to your right at Nauman Road. (Look for the Bay Area Ridge Trail symbol.) Follow the paved path to the overlook.

The overlook

The cemetery overlook offers one of San Francisco’s most stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay and the Marin Headlands. A plaque displays “The Young Dead Solders,” a poem by Archibald MacLeish, who served as an artillery officer in World War I.

Curved stone benches inscribed with lines from the poem offer places for reflection as you gaze across the cemetery, where more than 30,000 American servicemen and women and their families are buried.

The cemetery

Enter the cemetery through the small gate and walk downhill among the headstones. Here is a poignant walk through history where you can see the simple graves of soldiers from the Spanish-American War, Civil War, World War I and more recent conflicts.

You will pass the graves of buffalo soldiers, Medal of Honor winners and the monument to the unknown dead, where the remains of 517 unknown soldiers are interred. The ashes of Rep. Phillip Burton, who helped create the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, are interred in the cemetery; Maj. Gen. Frederick Funston and Union spy Pauline Cushman-Fryer are also buried there.

As you approach the bottom of the hill, stay close to the path to your right and look right to see the Main Post Chapel. The little gate leading to the chapel from the cemetery is open only on Memorial Day, so to get to the chapel, go past the cemetery office and through the main gate. Outside the gate, bear right on Sheridan Avenue and follow the sign up the hill to the chapel.

The main post chapel

Enjoy the Spanish Colonial Revival-style architecture of this peaceful space. Constructed in the early 1930s, it was used for religious services until 1995. The 11 stained-glass windows in the sanctuary depict military virtues such as courage and sacrifice. Bronze plaques on the walls memorialize soldiers who served in the Presidio.

In the east porch is a 34-foot fresco showing peacetime activities of the Army. It was painted in 1935 by Ukrainian artist Victor Arnautoff, a student of Diego Rivera, and funded by Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. Outside, visit the memorial garden where you can see other plaques and monuments to honor Vietnam War veterans and Army chaplains.

Good to know

The cemetery is open daily from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. No dogs. No picnicking. The interfaith chapel is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Getting there

By bus, Muni No. 1 and No. 33 both stop at California Street and Arguello Boulevard, just a few blocks south of the Arguello Gate. The No. 38 stops at Geary Boulevard and Arguello, about a 15-minute walk to the Arguello Gate.

By car, enter the Presidio by going through the Arguello Gate (Arguello Boulevard just north of Jackson Street). Turn right to stay on Arguello. Parking is almost immediately to your left by the Presidio Golf Course Cafe. The Bay Area Ridge Trail trailhead is just to the right of the parking lot. If you plan to park for more than three hours, obtain a pass at the Golf Shop.

Photo: Wally Gobetz via Flickr

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