Sunday, September 23, 2012

A San Francisco Must-Do: Bike the Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco, California

Bike riding across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is quite a high and one of the coolest things I have done in the US. One of the most iconic landmarks in the United States, it was pretty intense and exhilarating. It’s a wild, fast ride across the 2 mile bridge, and so worth the day it takes to do it.

With various tour operators offering bike riding across the Golden Gate Bridge, it is easy to get outfitted. We (husband, 14 year old step daughter, and me) chose Blazing Saddles, a play on the title of the 1974 Western spoof movie by the same name, because it was the first one we saw when our taxi dropped us off at Fisherman’s Wharf (Bike & Roll is another good company to use). The college-aged employees mostly hailed from Ireland, in the US for school and summer jobs. They talked fast, showed us the map, and got us on our “Deluxe Comfort Mountain/Hybrid” bikes which they suggested as the best bike for the bridge crossing. The tour company offered ten different bikes total, even tandem bikes. 

We felt like San Franciscan’s as we headed out from Fisherman’s Wharf and passed beach-goers, runners, joggers and bikers, locals walking their dogs, lots of BBQ’s and picnics (a two-year old’s birthday party at one of them), and local pickup games of football and soccer at Crissy Field. A velocity of people, all mixed in enjoying the outdoors - that’s California.

The temperature was no higher than 63 degrees that day; even the locals admitted it was unusually cold for being summer. The bike ride was relatively easy up to the bridge, with different points along the way to stop for photo ops. In particular, at the National Park Service’s “Warming Hut”, which was perfect timing, and a needed respite to grab that last cup of joe before heading up the winding hill to the entrance on the west side for the bike crossing. Only in California, the hot dog stand next to the Warming Hut sold “No Antibiotic, No Hormones” hot dogs, touting it’s “free range” status.

Once we started on the bridge, it was an impressive site to see the support pillars reaching upwards into the fog, the stark color contrast of rust and grey. The massive size is daunting, and everyone stops to take pictures at the base of the pillars, steeling themselves against the wind. The Bay below was a swirl of celadon colored energy with white caps, with cliffs of black boulders on each side. Suspended high above San Francisco Bay at 220 feet (67 m), the water looked beautiful, but nonetheless menacing. And I am not even afraid of heights.

I wonder how people climb the cables of the pillars and not be blown away? The constant buffeting of the wind and the roar of eight lanes of constant car, tour bus and truck traffic was deafening. (which is a pretty big challenge for little kids considering the height, total distance, stiff winds, voluminous pedestrian traffic crossing the bridge in both directions). When we stopped to take pictures, the wind would about blow us and our cameras away - it was tough to hear and even tougher to smile with what felt like a million little cold needles pounding our faces. Perpetual mist driven into every pore by the wind. Many tourists had little kids with them biking across the bridge - a quick way to see what a kid is made of.

Repeatedly we heard “it’s sunny on the other side”, and sure enough, it was. Sunny, saucy Sausalito awaited on the other side, the once, long ago, sleepy romantic getaway for San Francisco honeymooners and day trippers from across the Bay. This day, Sausalito was overrun by the bike riding tourists; it was keenly obvious the locals were in hiding. Even the tiny Vina del Mar park, a mini Mediterranean styled park in the center of town, flanked by two cement elephants from the 1915 Panama-Pacific Games held in San Francisco, was surrounded by tourists. Sausalito is a picture perfect, and expensive, little town, staring across the Bay at San Francisco. As Carl Nolte, a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote in an article about Vina del Mar in 1996, Sausalito is “ living in a postcard.”

On the Sausalito side, we had every intention of seeing the “tallest trees in the world”, the California Redwoods, at the Muir Woods National Monument, (9 miles from Sausalito), and then on to the cute town of Tiburon, catching the ferry back long before the last one departed at 8:00 pm. The only way to accomplish such a ambitious 1-day journey would have been to start when the bike rentals opened at 8:00 am. Hit up a grocery store, pack some snacks, water, wine, and lunch and really enjoy the ride as an all day adventure, and pack it all in, all the way to Tiburon. We realized this about 4:00 pm, when we were just getting something to eat in Sausalito at the swank Italian trattoria Poggio, and hadn’t even begun to see anything beyond the town. We headed back on the 7:00 pm ferry.

Such an iconic landmark; now I will be forever looking at the Golden Gate Bridge differently, knowing how biting the wind is in August, how cold the mist that pounded my face, how stable the suspension bridge is in the perpetual wind, and how insanely high it is above the white caps below. 


  1. Living here is SF I have crossed the GG Bridge many times (driving up to Napa and the wineries North) and see lots of bicyclists out there, and I must commend you for your bravery and stamina!! Yes, Sausalito is lovely, but is more times than not overrun with tourists.

    1. Thank you! Sausalito was packed to capacity with tourists the day we were there. I even have a photo of one of the many, completely full, bike racks in the town filled with the tourist bikes (well over 100 at each) all bunched up together. I almost posted the picture in my blog. As lovely as Sausalito is, even on a sunny, crowded day, I plan to do exactly what you do on my next trip - cross it by car to head north to Napa (where some friends of ours live), and experience the wine regions of Napa and Sonoma.