I had a lovely time with my extended family exploring the Presidio in San Francisco last year on Christmas Day, searching for the Andy Goldsworthy installations. My friend Renee is a far better photographer, however, so I’ve asked her to share her experience of the same outing. All words and photos in this article are courtesy Renee Jansen.
Note: The Spire was damaged in a fire, but it’s standing and looking nice! The Earth Wall, and the Tree Fall are not currently accessible. The Woodline is a-ok for visiting!
Andy Goldsworthy in the Presidio — with Kids
If you love art and nature but struggle with your kids on long hikes or quiet art museums, the Andy Goldsworthy walking tour in the SF Presidio is the perfect combination of art, nature, and kid-friendly adventure. Goldsworthy is a British artist, world-renowned for his land art and installations. His work is based in nature, beautiful, and inherently playful, which is why it has special appeal to kids. The San Francisco Presidio is home to the largest collection of his works on public view in North America and an absolute gem of a family outing.
Overview of Goldsworthy pieces in the Presidio
There are four installations that you can visit on a 2.7-mile walking tour around the Presidio:
Spire rises up into the sky, exploring the space into which trees grow
Wood Line considers the evolving relationship a tree has with the surface of the ground
Tree Fall evokes what roots systems below ground
Earth Wall (very close to Tree Fall) probes what is man-made versus natural.
The installations are about a mile apart from each other and all make use of trees felled as part of the Presidio’s reforestation and park management efforts. Each installation feels inspired by childlike play: piling sticks, arranging logs for balance, patting mud just for the fun of it.
Ages: Five and up for the full walking tour. Strollers are not recommended for the stretch between Tree Fall and Spire installations. If driving and parking at the sites, all ages.
When: Woodline and Spire are accessible any time of year and day as long of the Presidio is open. Earth Wall is only accessible when the Presidio Officer’s Club is open and Tree Fall is open only on weekends, when a docent provides access.
Time: Walking tour could be completed in 2.5 hours or so or last much longer with time for lingering and possible diversions.
(Read on for an even shorter itinerary)
Planning your visit to the Andy Goldsworthy artwork in San Francisco
There is no wrong way to access these amazing installations! Well, except to not give yourself enough time; get sucked into all the other interesting activities at the Presidio; and, to take a stroller. I did all these things the first time I visited, and we only ended up seeing Earth Wall at the Presidio Officer’s Club. It was still enjoyable, but not really the Goldsworthy tour I had hoped for. My best experience was the second time I went – I took my 7-year-old son, who had the greatest interest in going, ditched the stroller and was pretty focused on completing the loop on foot.
We completed the loop visiting all four sites in about three hours, with only short stops at a playground on the walk between Woodline and Spire and a snack break. Unless your child is a strong hiker (and not dragging a large stick behind him the entire time as my stick-obsessed son did), plan on at least two and half hours.
Assuming that you want to visit all four installations, you will have to go on a weekend as one of them (Tree Fall) is only open on Saturdays and Sundays. Start by parking at the lot at Anza Street (cross street Lincoln). If you haven’t grabbed it online, you can go to the Presidio Visitor’s Center to pick up a map of the Goldworthy walking tour, which you will absolutely need to navigate. The Transit Building next door to the Visitor’s Center has bathroom facilities, amazing coffee, cookies, and other snacks. I had no problem parking on a Tuesday or Saturday morning. Parking costs $2.20 per hour on weekends/$10 all day.
Below is more on accessing the installations. A shorter version of this outing is Spire, Julius Kahn Playground, Woodline, and back again.
Installation: Earth Wall (2014)
This is an easy place to start – it’s right by the parking lot located in the Presidio Officers Club, which is accessible to the public and has restrooms. Earth Wall is Goldsworthy’s fourth and most recent Presidio installation. The Officer’s Club is swanky, has some historical exhibits and an upscale-ish Mexican restaurant called Arguello that would also be a nice spot to end for lunch. Note that the Officer’s Club is open Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 am to 5 pm. If these are not open, head over to Wood Line, which is a .9 mile walk.
Installation: Wood Line (2011)
From the Officer’s Club, find your way to Lover’s Lane, a steep-ish paved walking path that leads to the base of Woodline. Woodline is a stunning set of logs laid end to end to curve back and forth through a eucalyptus grove. It was a little tricky to find my way to Lover’s Lane and I’m a decent map reader. If in doubt, ask for help. Woodline is gorgeous – obviously man-made, it seems to fit into the landscaping in total harmony with the surroundings (a hallmark of Goldsworthy’s work). My son loved balancing on them the whole way – which is allowed and encouraged! If driving, there is parking on West Pacific Ave between Presidio and Walnut.
Installation: Spire (2008)
From Woodline, take the Mountain Lake Trail. You’ll pass the awesome Julius Kahn Playground, which we couldn’t resist stopping at for a bit (also note: there are restrooms there). Spire is across the street from the Inspiration Point Overlook, where you can you can see San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, and Angel Island. If you are driving, there is limited parking available at the Overlook, and restrooms are across the street at Presidio Golf Course . Spire is a tall teepee-like structure that rises more than 90 feet in the air. We had our snack here and before hitting the trail again to head back to see Tree Fall.
Installation: Tree Fall (2013)
The walk from Spire back to the parking lot and Tree Fall is a mile and very pretty – oodles of ripe blackberries in summer; pretty purple asters in fall, beautiful green serpentine rock always. Tree Fall is a three-minute walk from Earth Wall. This breathtaking installation is housed in an historic landmark–designated building originally used to store munitions. It’s only open 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday and Sundays with additional weekday hours by appointment (phone 415.561.2767). When we went, a docent provided us with fascinating details of the installations’ construction and meaning.
Before or after: More Andy!
If you aren’t already familiar with Andy Goldsworthy’s work, don’t miss these opportunities to continue to explore this wonderful art:
- The DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park has a Goldsworthy installation called “Faultline”.
- We (kids-included) loved watching the two documentaries about Goldsworthy: Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time (2001), Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy (2017)
- There are many books documenting Goldsworthy’s work – we have Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature and it’s inspiring and lovely.
- Make your own Andy-inspired artwork! Rocks, leaves, mud – nature’s palette and Goldsworthy’s creativity provide a rich source of inspiration to children and grownups alike.