Biking the Bay - Fisherman's Wharf to Tiburon

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San Francisco is one of the best (and worst) cities in the world to cycle around. The landscape can vary from extremely steep hills (where you often need to get off your bike and walk) to negotiating electric buses and cable cars to the most friendly, flat bike paths. The climate is another factor that needs to be taken into account as it can change very quickly from blue skies and sunshine to a near-complete fog ‘whiteout’ and a temperature change of 10-15 degrees F.

If you are planning a visit to San Francisco then I would strongly recommend either taking a bike tour or renting a bike for the day. There is a multitude of choices when it comes to hiring a bike in San Francisco but I advise going with one of the more established companies like Bike and Roll. They have locations right across the United States including New York, Washington DC, Chicago, and Miami with a huge offering of bikes to choose from that are all maintained to a very high standard.

We wandered down to their flagship location near Fisherman’s Wharf and chatted to the manager about planning a cool route around the bay. His enthusiasm and knowledge made me feel at ease and we had soon plotted out where to go. The bike hire ranges from about $28 USD a day upwards but if you are strapped for time you can also hire for a couple of hours.

When you hire a bike you are also given a city map with simple instructions on how to navigate your way around, highlighting all the local tourist hot spots. You also get a lock, a bottle of water and the option of a helmet. I suggest that you take the offer of the helmet even though it is not a legal requirement like in other parts of the world….you just never know.

Fishermans Wharf
The famous Fisherman’s Wharf sign

After a quick rundown from one of the friendly bike mechanics we jumped on our hybrid bikes and set off down the road on our little adventure. The traffic along the waterfront was a little intimidating for Lisette at first but she soon realized that we were not in Asia and cars do give way to bikes and pedestrians.

Along the waterfront at Fisherman’s Wharf, there are plenty of seafood restaurants and touristy shops but we were surprised at the number of antique shops. Not quite sure why such a tourist-packed area would cater to this niche but hey it was interesting to see. Our first stop was Ghirardelli Square, home of the famous chocolatier. This place was great and we tasted a few samples before getting back on the road.

From here we rode along the dedicated bike track which would take us all the way along the waterfront past Fort Mason and the Marina to our next stop the Exploratorium. We decided not to venture inside the science museum at this time but had a look around the beautifully kept gardens and massive dome.

Palace of Fine Arts
Palace of Fine Arts

After a short time wandering around the grounds we made our way back to the bike track along the waterfront headed north-west towards the Golden Gate Bridge. Our next pit stop was at the Warming Hut Cafe which has a small picnic area. It seemed like a lot of bike riders had the same idea as us because the shop was pretty busy. While we ate our lunch I tried to snap a few pics of the bridge but the fog had really started to roll in which was a little unfortunate (though extremely common).

Fort Point is located right beneath the southern end of the bridge and has a selection of cannons and other memorabilia. We walked about the fort very briskly as the wind had picked up and was icy cold.

Golden Gate Bridge lookout
Golden Gate Bridge lookout with typical fog

It’s a short backtrack before we climb a small hill to make our way onto the Golden Gate bridge. There is a small lookout at the top but the fog really made it quite difficult to take a good shot on this occasion. You will need a little patience to negotiate your way through the crowds of tourists and make sure to keep an eye out while you ride across the bridge. It’s incredible how many people are oblivious to their surroundings and take up the whole shared walkway in their excitement to take a happy snap.

As I mentioned earlier the weather is pretty odd here in San Francisco and on the other side of the bridge, we were greeted with blue skies and sunshine for our downhill glide into the town of Sausalito. Considering how close we still were to the city it felt like we were a world away in a small coastal village. Sausalito is lined with cafes and restaurants and has a holiday feel to it. The riding is flat and there are plenty of cool things to look at.

Most people take the ferry back to San Francisco from Sausalito but we decided to make the longer trek to Tiburon and catch the ferry back from there. This allowed us to ride through the wetlands area of Bothin Marsh Preserve along a series of trails and boardwalks. You will see a variety of birdlife and make sure to check out the houses that have been built on the water.

Houseboats over near Sausalito
Houseboats over near Sausalito

You really feel like you are miles away from everything and the fresh air makes the extra riding all worthwhile. We rode through the backstreets of Strawberry which is a ritzy suburb in Richardson Bay. Some of the houses looked like they belonged in Hollywood and it was common to see a Ferrari in the driveway.

The roads were nice and quiet all the way until our approach to Tiburon but even on this last stretch, there is a dedicated bike path so it’s easy going.

We had to wait about 15 minutes before the ferry docked but the process was nice and smooth and they guided us to the front of the ferry where there were racks for our bikes. It cost us $10.50 USD for the one-way crossing which is quite reasonable. The crossing was very relaxing, so relaxing in fact that Lisette fell asleep.

The ferry back to San Francisco

The ferry arrived at the main ferry terminal which is located next to Pier One so we still had a short ride back to our starting point. Along the way, we rode past Pier 39 which has a lot of cool things to do and see (though we decided not to hang around and come back another day).

Riding along the Embarcadero you need to look out for lots of traffic as buses, trolleys, cars, and bikes all share the road. Also, be careful not to let your front wheel fall into one of the trolley tracks as this can easily throw you off your bike.

Our last point of call was the world’s most crooked street. This one-block section of Lombard Street is situated on a steep incline and contains a number of switchback turns. To be honest, although this is a beautiful neighborhood I would hate to live here as it is a tourist mecca. Both the top and bottom of the street is always packed with tourists taking photos.

Lombard Street
The crookedest street in the world – Lombard Street
Cable car
Tourists hanging off the Powell Street cable car

We dropped the bikes off back at the Bike and Roll shop after about 4 hours in the saddle but it was totally worth it. We would like to thank the guys at Bike and Roll for looking after us and if you are considering coming to San Francisco we recommend hiring your bike from them.

Our route we rode
Our route we rode
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Michael Glass

Michael is the founder of Backpacker Travel. He also runs walking tours in San Francisco and is a freelance travel writer. Michael is extremely passionate about travel and loves to explore festivals around the world.

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