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Renting a bike and riding across the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the best outings when visiting San Francisco. There are great views the entire way and it's a wonderful opportunity to see one of the world's most recognized landmarks "up close and personal." This article will provide info on bike rental, routes and instructions for taking the ferry back. Be sure to wear layers. It will be cool and breezy on the bridge and generally much warmer in Sausalito, then cool again on the ferry on the way back to San Francisco.
1. Bike Rental
It is recommended to rent bikes at Fisherman's Wharf. While there are some bike rental outlets near Union Square, riding from Union Square to the bay involves more traffic than the usual visitor is likely to feel comfortable with. By renting at Fisherman's Wharf, the entire ride is mostly off city streets and, thankfully, mostly flat.
There are four or five well known concessionaires renting bikes in the Fisherman's Wharf area, some having more than one rental outlet. This article makes no recommendation among them. Read reviews and check their websites for possible discount coupons.
All of these will outfit you completely: helmets, locks, maps etc. They also have a variety of different type of bikes, so if you're looking for a tandem or a baby carrier on the back, those options are available. Again, check the individual websites for more details.
(Bike rentals are available in other parts of town, but this ride is most efficiently done starting at Fisherman's Wharf in order to take advantage of the ferry back from Sausalito to the Wharf or Ferry Building.)
2. The Route
Briefly, here is a map: http://tinyurl.com/GGB-Bike-Ride
Once you've gotten your gear review the map, get your bearings and head for Aquatic Park at the foot of Hyde Street. From here the beauty of the ride really begins. Ride along the sidewalk at the waters edge. Check closely and you may see one (or more) of the hardy Dolphin Club members out for a swim. Follow the water along to your right. If you choose, you can make a swing out to the end of Aquatic Pier which has some nice views back to Ghirardelli.
Take a left up the hill and into Fort Mason. This may be one section you might need to get off and walk. It's a bit steep but fairly short. However, from the top of the hill you will be rewarded with lovely views of the Golden Gate, Marin, Angel Island and Alcatraz. Let the photo ops begin!
Continue along the paved path and you will come to the Great Meadow. This was the site of one of the many "tent cities" which was erected after the great earthquake and fire of 1906. Check out the larger-than-life statue of Congressman Phillip Burton who sponsored the legislation that created the Golden Gate National Parks in 1972. http://www.parksconservancy.org/visit...
After a circle of the Great Meadow, exit Fort Mason onto Laguna Street. If you feel like picking up some goodies for a picnic, the Marina Safeway has an acceptable deli. Otherwise, turn right onto Laguna St. and then immediately left onto Marina Blvd. Cruise along Marina Blvd and enjoy the view of the "getting ever closer" Golden Gate Bridge. As you pass the Marina Green you very likely will see kite flyers out.
As you leave Marina Blvd and head into the Presidio be sure to get a glimpse of the Palace of Fine Arts on your left. Definitely worth a short detour to walk about the pond on the east side of the Palace. The original Palace was built for the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915. The building you see was caste from the original, which was built only to survive the 10 months of the Exposition.
As you enter the Presidio, you'll see a path on your right. Take this and you will pass the Beach Hut. This is the temporary home (until 2016 or so) of the Crissy Field Center. There is a small snack bar here. Nice place to stop for a coffee but there is a better one a mile or so along. From the Beach Hut, make a left and start out along Crissy Field. While the Presidio was an Army base, Crissy Field was an airfield and also rifle range. (Major Crissy was an early Army aviator.) When the Presidio was decommisioned, the area was reclaimed and reverted back to its original and natural state. All the native dune plants were planted by volunteers and are flourishing! http://www.parksconservancy.org/visit...
Take as many stops along Crissy Field as you like. This is one of the most popular places in San Francisco for walkers, runners, bike riders and dog walkers. You'll pass the buildings of a former Coast Guard station and shortly after you'll come to the Warming Hut. This is a great spot for a brief stop. Coffee's good and the shop has interesting things to browse through. And the Golden Gate is getting BIG!
Behind the Warming Hut, follow the road which heads uphill and turn right at the intersection. Again, this is one area you might walk to walk. The hill is taking you from bay level to bridge deck. This is the longest stretch of uphill you'll encounter on this ride. There is a nice wide bike lane that has been recently constructed due to the large numbers of bike riders heading to the bridge. You will shortly come to the parking lot of the Vista Point at the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. This will be your first view of the bridge at eye level -- WOW!! Pretty cool.
Depending upon the day of the week you'll ride on either the west or east side of the bridge. Due to the higher number of pedestrians on weekends, cyclists are asked to use the west sidewalk on weekends. On weekdays, pedestrians and cyclists share the east sidewalk. The views back to the city are better from the east side (as you are not looking back across the lanes of traffic). However, if you are going on a weekend, please use the west sidewalk. The sidewalk can be crowded, especially at the south side. If you feel more comfortable, feel free to walk along until the crowd thins out. It is also recommended to walk bikes around the towers as the turns are tight.
3. Getting from the North side of the bridge to Sausalito
After crossing the bridge you will arrive at the Vista Point on the north side. From here many people will head out along the freeway to the next exit. But you -- NO! -- you've read TA and know better. Instead, walk back south in the parking lot. You will see a catwalk which goes underneath the bridge deck. Take this catwalk (you will walk down a few steps, then under the deck and finally up a few steps) and then follow the service road down to bay level. You've now arrived at Fort Baker, another decommisioned Army base which has been converted to an upscale hotel and restaurant (Cavallo Point).
Pass through Fort Baker and turn right up the hill. This is the shortest of all the hills and from the top you'll get some great views back to San Francisco. Follow the road along and you will merge into Alexander Ave. Following Alexander Ave will bring you into downtown Sausalito. http://www.parksconservancy.org/visit...
Here is a link with photos and a map. Please read this before you do this bike ride
Getting Back to SF via Ferry.
At the plaza in downtown Sausalito is the ferry dock. There are two different ferry companies which serve Sausalito. The Blue & Golde ferry will take you back to Fisherman's Wharf. The Golden Gate Ferry will take you to the Ferry Building. If you're traveling at the height of summer go immediately to the ferry dock upon arrival and get a token for the return ride. With the increased amount of bike traffic to Sausalito the lines for the ferries have greatly increased. Best to be in line 60+ minutes ahead of the ferry departure. OR it is best to book your ferry ride with your bike IN ADVANCE here
Enjoy the great views from the ferry deck as it makes its way back to San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge will now feel like an old and familiar friend. Get a few last photo ops before debarking and heading back to turn in your bikes.
One last well-earned adventure? Head over the Buena Vista at Hyde and Beach for an Irish Coffee ... the perfect top-off to a great day full of fun, laughs, and sightseeing on your own schedule. http://www.thebuenavista.com/