The undeniable popularity of bicycle tourism in San Francisco should not be a surprise. For recreational cyclists the ride along the waterfront and over the Golden Gate Bridge is a winning blend of scenic vistas, adventure, and the inability to get lost.
As the wheels spin your surroundings transition from the hectic streets of the Fisherman's Wharf to the parks of the Marina District before passing high above the ocean into the natural landscapes of Marin. For most of the ride both vehicular traffic and hills can be avoided but there are a few inclines that will help you earn that post-ride feast.
The tourist route is over the iconic bridge (a must ride) and back to SF via ferry from Sausalito. In this Sunday Ride we will make a similar loop, but with a Twin Cities twist that has us leave from the Larkspur ferry and return via pedal power.
The ride to Larkspur Landing includes pleasant bike paths regardless of which direction you approach from. All ferries take bikes for free, hooray! Each ferry has a designated bike parking area or rack. Now sit back and enjoy the salty air.
Arriving at the Port of San Francisco is easily one of the best views of the city. Walk your bike down the ramp and begin cautiously weaving your two-wheeled contraption through the crowds. The Embarcadero allows bikes on the wide boardwalk, but it can be packed with pedestrians. As you approach the Fisherman's Wharf the bike path temporarily ends and chaos is inevitable.
One of the many fun challenges is negotiating traffic along the Fisherman's Wharf. The sidewalks are overflowing and at Powell Street bikes are forced into the road. Quickly you pass through the commotion of Jefferson Street. Before you know it you are back on the calmer bike path in front of the Ghirardelli Square.
Stay along the water and enjoy people watching in the numerous parks. Push up a short and steep hill at Fort Mason to warm up those legs for the ascent to Golden Gate Bridge. At Crissy Field remain on the path next to Mason Street. My favorite way up to the bridge is to cross Mason Street at the bend where oncoming vehicular traffic has a stop, stay right to go up the hill behind the buildings. Even if you miss this turn you will end up making the climb to the bike path gracing the side of Lincoln Avenue which leads to the bridge.
Many cyclists know the thrill of riding on the Golden Gate Bridge. Currently construction has closed the west sidewalk which forces bikes and pedestrians into a tight space. Usually the crowd thins out half-way across to reveal the unparalleled experience of the riding with the wind in your hair hundreds of feet above the Pacific ocean.
From the Bridge it is an easy spin to Mill Valley and a short push over Horse Hill back to the Twin Cities. Stay along the bay as you descend down Alexander Avenue into Sausalito. The bike path picks up alongside Bridgeway after downtown Sausalito.
While the path can be hard to follow and often looks like a sidewalk, soon you encounter the unmistakable Mill Valley bike path that shoots straight through the marshes towards home. In fact, the Alto Tunnel could directly connect the bike paths of the Twin Cities to Mill Valley. As it is now, climb up over Horse Hill via Lomita Drive and know that the San Francisco loop is almost done.
This loop's success is due in part to its challenges. A 20 mile ride from the City to the Twin Cities will seem daunting to many, but given a few hours most of us could make the ride. The reward of leaving from your door and riding home makes anyone feel like a successful athlete and avid cyclists. The views along the way won't hurt your motivation to continue either.