Are you ready for the « Tour de France » and its challenging mountains ascensions over the Alp and Pyrenean? Cycling San Francisco hills is a great playground to lightly taste it. If you prefer flat and easy cycling – like the final sprint on the Champs Elysees – this article will ride you through a pleasant and scenic tour alongside the bay.
Let’s bike the Paris of the West enjoying some of the most iconic places: Fort Mason, the Palace of Fine Art, Fort Point, the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, and Pier 39 along with gorgeous observation points.
A pinch of history
- The famous bridge was named after the entrance from the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Strait, or “Chrysopylae” by John C. Fremont.
- The Golden Gate is painted in international orange (orange vermillion), neither in red nor gold.
- Native Americans originally named Sausalito, “Saucito” meaning little willow.
- Sea lions established on the Pier 39 in January 1990.
- The length of bike lanes in San Francisco is 126 miles.
This cycling tour starts next to the noisy and touristy Wharf Fisherman. Quickly you’ll find the bike path at the end of Jefferson Street. From there to the next stop (i.e Fort Mason), you’ll pass by the Aquatic Park Cove, the Maritime Museum, and Ghirardelli Square.
During this tour, stop anytime for pictures and enjoy both views of the bay with the Golden Gate and, views of the city. Now it’s time to hit the road with the first stop along the way.
Fort Mason was formerly an army post during the Spanish, Mexican and American periods. Indeed, its hilltop localization assured an excellent defense for the bay. At the end of the 20th century, the area was converted to a national recreation park. Today, it houses plenty of arts and culture events and exhibitions, checks the agenda!
Palace of Fine Art
Continue following the shoreline for one mile before reaching a surprising architecture. Palace of Fine Art is a heritage from the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition (P.P.I.E). This is a singular Roman-style architecture from Bernard Maybeck contrasting with the Marina neighborhood. This is a relaxing and chill area, a perfect spot for pictures too.
The Presidio, a scenic, and forested area
The edge of the Golden Gate is a large 1,500-acre park offering many trails and scenic views. You will enter this area as soon as you approach the famous bridge. Follow the Golden Gate Promenade, a trail for both pedestrians and bicycles. If you are not a fainted-hearted, jump in the sea by Crissy Beach, or observe the variety of birds species (more than 100!) at Crissy March. Then continue until reaching Marine drive.
Fort Point, the seacoast fortification protecting the Bay
At the end of Marine Drive and just under the Golden Gate, is located Fort Point. “The Gibraltar of the West Coast” was built by U.S Army Engineers, in 1861, to protect the bay from naval attacks. Today, pop in to visit this fortress and discover its Civil War’s history thanks to many artifacts on display (uniforms, cannons, photos, etc.).
For the anecdote, during the construction of the Golden Gate, the architect Joseph Strauss recognized its architectural value and changed his plans to save Fort Point from demolition.
The iconic Golden Gate Bridge
One of my favorite times on this biking route is undoubtedly crossing the Pacific Ocean atop the Golden Gate Bridge. For 2.1 miles, look over this spectacular view. You can also pull over to stop (be cautious regarding pedestrians and others cycles) and enjoy the bay.
Vista Point, the observation area across the bridge
At the end of the bridge, you will reach Vista Point. This is a popular viewpoint to observe San Francisco and the bay.
Sausalito and Tiburon, the Mediterranean charm of the bay
The descent from Vista Point leads to Fort Baker, a historic army post from 1910 to 2000. Less than three miles away is located the lovely city of Sausalito. Houses nestle in the mountains as the colorful houseboat and small harbors contribute to its Mediterranean charm. Lots of tourists are coming to Sausalito for the day. Nevertheless, park your bike to enjoy a pleasant walk downtown, relax by the harbor and enjoy the San Francisco skyline.
Fun fact, the weather is generally warmer and sunnier than in San Francisco.
For a longer and more challenging experience, continue until Tiburon.
The ferry from Sausalito or Tiburon to Pier 39
Once you reach Sausalito or Tiburon, you will have two options to return to San Francisco: both biking back (go Champion!) or taking the ferry. 75% of the time I followed this route, I selected the later one.
Crossing the bay by ferry offers a beautiful panorama of the city as an impressive view over the Golden Gate and Alcatraz. I recommend going on the deck to capture it, especially when the day ends as the lighting is beautiful.
Wharf Fisherman and the ultimate tourist cycling reward
As you disembark from the ferry, ride by the Warf fisherman and Pier 39. Built in 1978, this popular pier gathers waterfront shopping and dining, sea lions camping, and much more attractions. Its touristy charm is also enlarged by the view over the bay, from Alcatraz to the Golden Gate.
After this pleasant and sportive tour, we always enjoy a clam chowder. Indeed, after all these miles, you also deserve a foody touristic cycling reward!
There are plenty of restaurants on the Pier 39 offering this traditional dish. As the range of price is alike (~$10), I select the one with the most appetizing bread (French heritage ;-). A clam chowder is a sourdough bread bowl with a creamy seafood soup inside including clams, clam juice, chopped potatoes, etc. This dish is simple and very good, perfect also when temperatures decrease at night.
Recipes vary though between East and West Coast. As an example, the New England-style is identifiable by its white color from the cream and/or milk, whereas the Manhattan-style is red from tomatoes. The original recipe is unknown as its origins. More likely, the clam chowder was introduced in the 1700s by European settlers (French, British or Nova Scotian).
Don’t let this experience cycle away from you!
- Location: San Francisco coastline, from Pier 39 to Sausalito
- Cost: bike rental is ~ $30 per day per person. Discounts are available on local and touristic brochures.
- Duration: I spent the day to cycle, enjoy, relax, stop for pictures and food.
- Helmet, locker, and map are provided by bike rental.
- Be cautious while crossing the Golden Gate: wind can be strong.
- Check ferry schedule from Sausalito and Tiburon. Also, a number of bikes onboard can be limited.
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