Biking the Golden Gate bridge of San Francisco

If you plan a visit to San Francisco and the Silicon Valley – you surely have the Golden Gate bridge among the first sights to see. And you’re right – the bridge makes an absolutely exciting passage, offers breathtaking views and is an utter pleasure to cross.

Driving it makes no point, the traffic is heavy and you absolutely can’t stop and enjoy. Walking it is great, but takes a good 1-2 hours in both directions if you take your time, and the wind is impressive. So, evaluating the options during my stay in San Fran I made my mind – best option sounds like biking it!

I’ll give a few tips here on making the best out of a day (or even half a day if you are fast) of biking the bridge and the villages beyond it.

Where to rent your bike

I was quite surprised from the high bike rental prices in San Fran. Couldn’t find low-cost city bikes or something like in most big European cities where you hire a bike for $1-2 an hour. Instead the daily rate was around $30-$35. For a little over that there were fully functional decent bikes on sale on ebay, in San Fran outskirts. So if you plan biking for more than a day – well, just go and buy yourself a bike.

If you are biking a single day only – make sure to search for online rental discounts. Most bike shops offer a 10-20% discount if you say you found the shop on the net and want to take advantage of the online prices.

If you plan to bike the Golden Gate – there are many bikes rentals close to Pier 39/Fisherman’s Wharf, which is one of the main touristic areas in SF. I took mine from Bay City Bike, many other bikers were using Blazing Saddles. Have in mind the Pier area is very expensive to park, so if possible come to take your bike using the public transport.

Fisherman's Wharf,

Fisherman’s Wharf, a key tourist attraction and a very, very crowded area

Biking the Golden Gate – what are your route options

The bike rentals usually give a map and several optional tours. There are city tours as well as Golden Gate crossing tours. The Golden Gate ones usually are two:

  • crossing the bridge, reaching to Sausalito – the first village just beyond the bridge – and back
  • crossing the bridge, reaching Sausalito, proceeding right around Richardson Bay and reaching Tiburon. Return is by ferry. This makes approx 30 kms of biking. See map below on what the route looks like

The route in yellow + red is the latter option, where you reach Tiburon and return by ferry

I had 5 hours ahead until the last ferry back from Tiburon to downtown SF, so I opted for Tiburon route. A great choice and so many amazing sights along the route! I highly recommend you do this bike road, but – give yourself a bit more time 🙂 The route up till Golden Gate is steep at times, opens awesome sights to the bridge and you’ll get frequently tempted to stop for a camera shot.

From Pier 39 until you get on the bridge you need at least an hour. You are passing by many parks as well as beach strips and it’s worth stopping for a rest there.

View from the biking lane to Alcatraz island

I truly enjoyed watching the kite and wind surfers in the bay, who, considering the strong wind, should have been in a great shape. There were also small sailing boats crossing the bay, blown completely sideways.

Surfing the windy SF Bay seemed.. well, outrageous

If you haven’t been to Ghirardelli chocolate shop (very close to the start of your biking route)  – go try the hot chocolate, it’s truly amazing! Just make sure you sit in the side building of the shop, otherwise the crowds will stifle even your most persistent chocolate desires 🙂

The biking route is passing right next to a large outdoor exhibition of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. You can take a close look at 8 sculptures, up to 15 meters high, but.. somehow I couldn’t appreciate these metal ‘artworks’ in the nature.

Modern Art Exhibition

And just before getting on the bridge you have so many opportunities to get a glimpse of the bridge .. covered all over in the usual SF fog and appearing almost surreal.

One of the many amazing views to the Golden Gate

Then biking the bridge is of course the best experience, meeting so many other bikers and trying to balance the bike in the wind, while hardly managing to keep your eyes on the road – there’s so much to see! There is a biking lane and it’s not that crowded (or maybe it wasn’t thanks to the late hour). The very biking takes maybe 10-15 minutes, for me it was like the blink of an eye.

Crossing the bridge.. wish it was longer 🙂

At the end of the bridge you need to get below it and take the road to Sausalito.

Sausalito

Minutes from Golden Gate bridge, Sausalito offered so many scenic panoramic views to the bridge! At the same time, it’s a very attractive village itself,  with so many great houses, cafes and bay side view points to enjoy.

Sausalito

Sausalito floating cafe just along the biking lane

If you have more time – get inside the village for a walk. It seems to be mostly a residential area, but with unique, very spacey and cozy-looking houses. There were lots of floating homes too. I read later on that these homes are called ‘arks’ and were used by San Franciscans ever since the late 19th century as summer retreats.

Floating houses in Sausalito

The floating houses continue all along Richardson bay, between Sausalito and Tiburon

Tiburon

The bike route ends in Tiburon and you don’t really enter the city, you only see the charming village houses laid out on the hill. The port area however, where you catch the ferry back to SF was quite spectacular: charming park and cute port-side cafes, hundreds of anchored boats, view to the magnificent bay and many sailing boats in the distance.

Tiburon cafe along the biking lane

View from Tiburon port

If you catch the ferry during sunset, the view is impossible to describe. One after the other, you see in the falling dusk Tiburon, Richardson bay, Sausalito, Golden Gate and …Alcatraz island! I was happy to catch a glimpse of the island since the ferries to it were booked for months ahead.

If you get late with returning your bike – don’t worry, most bikes have night locations so you can drop the bike at any time during the night. But, seeing the complex directions to the night location and the sequence of codes I had to dial to leave my bike .. well, I decided to turn on the turbo pedaling instead 🙂 Like many other fellow bikers 🙂 It was really funny seeing many many furious bikers heading to the almost-closing biking location.

Biking the bridge is a wow experience. I was blown out by all the beauty seen on the way.. and by the fierce wind! 🙂 So, when you go for it (and you should!) – make sure you have warm and windproof clothes.

In my next blog post I will share another cool experience – a quick two-day surfing escape to Santa Cruz in California. Details coming soon.

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