Lovers of travel and adventure will tell you that there are a select few experiences so profound that they can’t help but leave an indelible mark on the human psyche.
Witnessing a sunrise over Machu Picchu; tracing your finger along the Great Pyramids of Giza; diving with whale sharks off the Similan Islands in Southeast Asia.
But you neither need to scale mountains nor travel to exotic destinations in order to participate in one of the cycling world’s most awe-inspiring activities. Heck, you don’t even need to be a practicing cyclist. Simply rent a bike, strap on a helmet, and point yourself due north from just about anywhere in San Francisco.
Since 1970, the sidewalks of the Golden Gate Bridge have been hallowed ground for bikers, connecting one of California’s most recognizable cities with the diminutive bayside community of Sausalito in Marin County. The scenery alone is worth the ride across, to say nothing of the visceral sensation one experiences being suspended hundreds of feet above the frigid waters of the Pacific.
If you’re planning on soaking up the grandeur of this 1.7 mile expanse for yourself, take a minute to acquaint yourself with the route, along with some information that will help you get the most out of the journey.
Find the Perfect Ride for Cycling the Golden Gate Bridge:
Towering more than 200’ (61 m) above the water, there is no such thing as a buffer between cyclists and the near-constant bombardment of wind blowing in from the Pacific Ocean. We’re talking sustained gusts between 20-30 mph on most days, which can add both dramatic realism to the surrounding scenery as well as a few white-knuckle moments for anyone wary of being up this high. If you’re not layered, be prepared for a chilly ride, and stay alert when navigating around the vertical columns where gusts of wind can be the most intense.
There’s no denying it: pedaling beneath the massive suspension cables and 746’-tall support towers of the Golden Gate Bridge is a humbling experience. Tie in breathtaking views over the Pacific, Hawk Hill, and San Francisco, and you may begin feel like you’re biking through some surrealist dreamscape. Hey, that’s just part of the fun.
Understandably, a lot of first time riders want to stop to soak up the surroundings. If you fall into this category, consider one of two options to help satiate that selfie-itch.
Bike the east sidewalk. Because it’s shared with pedestrians, you can count on a slower pace which means more opportunities for pictures and fewer impatient commuters.
Look for outcroppings on the west sidewalk. These will allow you to duck safely out the way of oncoming cyclists, and merge seamlessly back into the flow of traffic once you’re ready to continue.
Between tourists, local cycling enthusiasts, and residents commuting to/from work, both sides of the Golden Gate Bridge can get crowded in a hurry. To help keep traffic flowing smoothly on the west sidewalk, be sure to bike in a single file line and keep to the right unless you’re passing. You’ll also want to keep a close eye out for oncoming cyclists when navigating around the two support towers.
If you feel the urge to pull over snap a picture, use hand signals, avoid abrupt stops, and save the gawking for when you’re safely off to the side. You’ll make things significantly easier on yourself if you plan your ride in the early morning hours, during weekdays, or both.
The classic Golden Gate Bridge tour begins on the San Francisco Bay trail, which runs alongside Old Mason Street just west of Fisherman’s Wharf. Follow the bike path west and prepare to work your calves on some San Francisco inclines as you make your way up Long Ave toward the Battery East Trail. From here, it’s a straight shot to the bridge and across to Sausalito.
A quick note: if you’re either unaccustomed to or uncomfortable with downhill street riding alongside traffic, avoid Alexander Ave and stick to the East Road bike path once you exit the bridge to the north. See our map for more details.
For anyone whose legs aren’t quite up for the return journey, $10 will buy you and your bike a one-way ferry ticket from Sausalito to Fisherman’s Wharf. The 30-minute boat ride offers some great views of the San Francisco Bay, and an opportunity to reflect on just how incredible the ride across was.