There’s just no arguing with San Francisco’s bayside scenery. For starters, it doesn’t so much listen as simply wait until you’re done talking. Yet the best way to enjoy it is to bike from San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito and return by ferry. It is *the* quintessential San Francisco outing. If you do one thing in San Francisco, do this. You’ll pass by some of the city’s most iconic sights along the way. Everyone loves it: Tourists, locals, bikers and non. It’s easier than you think! Below, we present our pedal-by-pedal guide to one of the best days you’ll enjoy in San Francisco (a list of resources follows at the bottom of the page).
BEGIN: AQUATIC PARK
Aquatic Park sits at the end of the larger Fisherman’s Wharf tourist area just below Ghirardelli Square. Its lawn slopes toward a compact beach that overlooks a beautiful but freezing bay with
crazy dedicated people swimming in it.
Start by riding along the defunct trolley tracks and continue onto Van Ness Avenue, turning right and heading towards the water.
Make it to Van Ness? So far so good! Van Ness ends at the entrance to the pier shown below. The pier is a great spot to look back onto the City and take pics of Alcatraz and the iconic Ghiradelli Square sign.
Continue left of the pier and say hello to your first climb. It’s the steepest of the hills and you will see many respectable people confidently walking their bikes. In other words, don’t feel bad if your wheels inexplicably stop turning mid-way.
At the crest of the hill, the bridge will come into view over Fort Mason. You will soon be on it!
Continue straight to the wonderful Great Meadow at Fort Mason. Follow the path to the end of the park and the entrance of the Fort Mason complex. On Sundays, there is a farmers’ market from 9am – 1pm.
The path continues left towards the Marina Green, an expansive park area with views of Alcatraz, the bay and the Golden Gate.
The Marina Green is famous for wind and the affluent households that line its street. Watch for wacky impulse purchases like these giant heads.
Continue straight on scenic Marina Boulevard named for the boat harbor that you will soon be riding alongside.
At the end of the Marina path (at Baker St.), there are two things worth noting: 1) The famous Palace of Fine Arts is to your left
2) Bacon donuts are to your right
Cross Yacht Road and enter the big mama of them all: Crissy Field. This is one of the most scenic parts of your trip. The bridge comes into full view.
You’ll pass by Sports Basement, a good resource for supplies like water bottles, power bars, and UGG boots. They also offer free access to a tire pump, restrooms and a fountain to fill your water bottle.
Crissy Field is part of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. It is awesome.
When you reach the red sign below, continue right. You can take the street to the left for a steep shortcut, but you will miss some good scenery, a cool historic fort and, potentially, a killer hot dog.
Take a breather when you reach The Warming Hut, a small cafe and bookstore. The surrounding area is especially scenic with an amazing view of the bridge, an old fishing pier, picnic tables and lots of green areas to play and relax. On weekends, the good folks at Let’s Be Frank are out front sizzling up $6 hot dogs that make life worth living. Try the devil sauce!
Behind the Warming Hut, near the restrooms, continue on to Long Avenue toward Lincoln Boulevard. Shift into lower gear and climb the moderate sloping hill. SIDETRIP ALERT: Before heading up Long, continue straight along the water to check out the very cool (and yes, totally worth it) historic Fort Point. It’s also the site of one of the best scenes in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
At the top of the hill, turn right onto the dedicated bike path: Bay Trail, Presidio Promenade. VISTA ALERT: Immediately to the left on Lincoln Blvd, is the Crissy Field Overlook with great vistas of the city, the bay and the poor misunderstood Bay Bridge.
Along the Bay Trail, you’ll pass by some mysterious World War II era batteries tucked into the land. They’re worth exploring if you’ve never seen one. You’ll find them dotted all along the San Francisco and Marin coast.
This stretch of path is one of our favorite parts of the trip. The bridge is visible in it’s entirety and is truly magnificent in real life. Pictures do not do its magnitude justice.
THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
Right before the bridge, you’ll have an opportunity to check out the recently remodeled Golden Gate Bridge Visitors Center & Plaza. It’s a good place to stop and learn all of the interesting facts about the famous bridge.
Before you reach the entrance, you’ll see the following sign. Read it: it’s important. The bridge has two sidewalks that are open for bikes at different days and hours (pedestrians always use the east side walkway):
East sidewalk: Weekdays 5am – 3:30pm & Everynight after 9pm
West sidewalk: Weekdays 3:30pm – 9pm & Weekends + Holidays 5am – 9pm
(Hours are for daylight savings time. For standard time: replace all stated 9pm times with 6pm).
On the day we took our photos, it was a weekday morning and we had to ride on the eastern side sharing the sidewalk with clusters of pedestrians. What’s the nice way of saying “it sucked?” But what sucks even more are the hammerheads that practically steamroll people. This should go without saying but go slow and exercise patience and courteousness: there are people of all ages — kids and old folks — walking around (understandably) dumbstruck and touristy.
There are efforts to mitigate the flow of bikes and pedestrians: bikes are supposed to stick to the left and pedestrians to the right, but it rarely works. Probably because pedestrians mistake the following sign to mean hard-boiled detectives must hold the hand of all Amish children.
Views from the bridge:
At the end of the bridge, there is a crowded Vista Point. Stop if you must, but you’ve likely just seen better views from the bridge. Escape the crowds and continue north along a bike path that safely skirts the highway.
Along the way, you’ll pass Cavallo Point (shown below). This upscale lodge is in a beautiful setting and is the perfect place to relax with a drink. On occasion, we only make it as far as their amazing spa and call it a day.
Continue along the chain link fence (on Alexander Ave) briefly passing through the Marin Headlands. When you reach the edge of town, you’ll note the following sign: Bikes May Use Full Lane. Take advantage of it as you zip downhill (your reward for those three previous hills) on a narrow street towards downtown Sausalito.
Towards the bottom of the hill, you’ll see Golden Gate Market, a good place to grab a beverage and/or snack. After the store, veer right and follow winding road to the water’s edge. It’s at this point that you’ll quickly appreciate the allure of Sausalito.
Continue along the main thoroughfare, Bridgeway, to the center of town. Central Sausalito is filled with dispensable touristy shops, but it’s also home to a real gem: Plaza Vina del Mar. It’s a compact park with distinctive elephant lamps, a beautiful old fountain and small grassy area. The perfect spot for enjoying a picnic lunch.
- Take lunch to go and picnic outside at Plaza Vina del Mar or one of the many concrete platforms that line the bay.
- Fish: you’ll have to bike a tad further to this casual seafood stop with a sunny outdoor patio right on the bay, but it’s worth it. Just remember to bring cash.
- Copita: Good Mexican food. Great Margaritas. Hey, you’re practically done riding!
THE FERRY BACK TO SAN FRANCISCO
When it’s finally time to say goodbye to Sausalito, head to the ferry terminal just behind Plaza del Vina. If it’s a weekend or summer day, we recommend getting there at least 30 minutes before your scheduled ferry. Ferries have limited capacity and are first come, first served. Long lines can make you miss your intended ferry. You have two choices of ferry vendors/destinations:
- Golden Gate Ferry departs to the Ferry Building.
- Blue & Gold Fleet departs to Pier 41 at Fisherman’s Wharf.
We’ve had trouble with each of these vendors, but ultimately prefer Golden Gate. Their boats are (usually) better cared-for, have a better system for bike storage and cost less. The biggest hassle with Golden Gate Ferry is that you have to buy tickets before boarding the actual boat. There are two ticket machines (shown below) and can cause a long line on busy days. The last time we attempted this, one of the machines was down resulting in a massive back-up which caused us to miss our boat…with no apologies from the staff. So plan accordingly: check schedules in advance and buy your ticket as soon as possible.
Most ferries will slow down as you pass Alcatraz Island allowing you to snap some pics.
On our trip, we chose to arrive back in San Francisco at the Ferry Building Marketplace, home of profoundly better food than Fisherman’s Wharf. If you wish to return to the Wharf area, it is roughly a 10-minute bike ride from the Ferry Building.
Just before docking, you will be given a quick lesson on bad design. Cyclists are instructed to go downstairs and retrieve their bike and hoist it upstairs through one of two stairwells to depart the boat. With masses of people hurrying for similar-looking bikes, it can be a cluster cuss. We promise: it will be the only unpleasant part of your trip, but with a little patience and remembering your breathing exercises, it will resolve quickly and you’ll be happily back on shore.
Congratulations, you made it! At least virtually, which is still saying something given how long this post was. We absolutely love this bike ride which is why it is our honor to present it with our coveted Solie Award. Here’s to the Golden Gate Bridge, biking, and you!
The ride is roughly 7.5 miles from San Francisco’s Aquatic Park in SF to the Sausalito Ferry Terminal. Without stops (which we strongly recommend against), it should take you roughly one hour. For those who identify as “out-of-shape,” know this: there are three climbs to the bridge. Each is totally do-able with a multi-geared bike, but you won’t be alone if you opt to walk it.
View Bike the Golden Gate Bridge in a larger map
File this under “Duh,” but you need a bike. If we may be so bold, may we suggest a stylish one? We’re fans of Public bikes which can be rented through Streets of San Francisco. There are also numerous options to rent a bike closer to Aquatic Park in the North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf area. A list of bike rentals and bike shops in SF can be found here.
On a sunny day, this ride will be the highlight of your time in San Francisco. On a windy day, you will write hate mail. Check the local weather (or look outside to see what the flags are doing) before you commit.
Did we miss something? If so, it’s probably here: