Biking the Golden Gate Bridge has been on my San Francisco bucket list for a looooong time.
I will preface this with a disclaimer that I am not athletic at all. The last bike ride I took was over 5 years ago. Seriously.
So the idea of biking across one of the longest suspension bridges in the world was, well…a wee bit intimidating.
Since Matt volunteered to watch the kids while my sisters and I had a kid-free day in the city, I decided it would be the perfect time to tackle this bucket list adventure!
And guys, biking the Golden Gate Bridge was not tough at all! In fact, I’m ready and confident to do it again with the kids!
But one thing’s for sure, biking the Golden Gate Bridge is not as simple as just picking up a bike and heading off into the sunset. There’s a million different bike rental companies to choose from, multiple routes, and of course, the question of what the heck to do once you make it to the other side!
So what do you need to know before you head out on your bike over the Golden Gate Bridge?
Read on for my very best tips for bike rentals, ferries, and putting all the logistics together for the very best Golden Gate Bridge biking adventure!
Biking the Golden Gate Bridge: San Francisco Bike Rentals
There are a ton of bike rental companies to choose from in San Francisco, so it can be confusing to know which is the best one to go with.
Things to Consider when Choosing a Bike Rental
Price | Of course this is always my first comparison point. Most of the rentals I looked at all totalled to about $30/bike, after factoring in a pre-booking discount online. Keep in mind, you don’t have to book far in advance to reserve your bike. I watched the weather (hoping to avoid an especially cloudy, foggy day), and pre-booked online the night before our trip.
Traditional City Bike vs. Electric Assisted | I’ll admit I was tempted to rent an electric-assisted bike, but the more I researched, it didn’t seem to be worth the price tag. Electric bikes cost over twice as much as a traditional bike, cannot be turned on while biking over the bridge, and cannot be brought onto the Golden Gate Ferry (though there is a second ferry that allows them). And despite all of San Francisco’s hills, most of the Golden Gate Bridge ride is flat or downhill, so having an electric bike would not really be a huge help.
Pick Up Location | The typical Golden Gate Bridge route starts at Crissy Field and ends at the Ferry Terminal in Sausalito. This route alone is 6 miles (with lots of stops for photo ops!)
Most bike rental shops are found in the touristy areas near Fisherman’s Wharf or the Ferry Building. But this means you’ll be adding an extra 1-4 miles onto your bike ride! That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth keeping in mind, especially if you’ll be biking with young kids.
To minimize time spent riding on the road, plus avoiding getting burnt out before we even got to the bridge, I wanted to start our trip as close to Crissy Field as possible. (keep in mind, it’s illegal to ride bikes on the sidewalk in San Francisco, so you’ll have to stick to the streets where there aren’t bike trails).
Return Options | Okay, this one’s a biggie. If you want to ride your bikes down to Sausalito (which I totally recommend and will get into more below), you’ll most likely be ferrying back to the city. Especially in the summer, these ferry lines can get packed with bikers.
Luckily I stumbled upon Sausalito Bike Return before our trip over the Golden Gate Bridge and it made our lives so much easier! For $12 per bike (plus $5 extra for tandems, baby buggys or tag-a-longs), you can leave your bike with the good people of the City of Sausalito and they’ll return your bike to your rental location for you! No paying for bike parking; no worrying about getting a spot on the ferry. To me, some things are worth paying for the convenience, and this is one of those things.
Note: At the time of writing this post, the Sausalito Bike Return only operates from April-September. Be sure to check their website for operating times and current pricing.
So how does this relate to choosing a bike rental company? Well, Sausalito Bike Return is only partnered with certain companies, so if you want to use their service, you’ll have to go with one of the companies listed on their website.
So which did we choose?
After researching of all the bike rental companies in San Francisco and weighing this combination of factors, I decided to go with Golden Gate Bridge Bike Rentals.
Golden Gate Bridge Bike Rentals is located at 2157 Lombard Street, just 6 blocks from the Marina. We reserved our bikes online the night before and paid around $30 for each all-day bike rental. You can also rent kids equipment like kids bikes, child seats, bike trailers, or tag-a-longs.
When it came time to pick up, it was a quick process: sign a form, grab a map, adjust our bikes and go! And you guessed it, Golden Gate Bridge Bike Rentals is a Sausalito Bike Return partner, so we knew we wouldn’t have to mess with getting them back to San Francisco.
Other popular bike rental options:
Blazing Saddles & Bay City Bike (Multiple Locations) | Chances are you’ll see a Blazing Saddles bike rental within 10 minutes of your landing in San Francisco. They’re everywhere. With multiple locations around the wharf, you’ll almost certainly have a rental pick up close to your hotel. That said, you will be responsible to getting your bikes back to San Francisco yourself.
Blazing Saddles and Bay City Bike both have a variety of family-friendly rental options, including kids bikes, tag-a-longs, bike trailers, and child bike seats.
Bike & View Bicycle Rentals (1772 Lombard) & Basically Free Bike Rentals (2568 Jones) | These two options are partnered with Sausalito Bike Return. Bike & View has a location near the Marina and the same kids rental options, while Basically Free is located near Fisherman’s Wharf and will give you the value of your bike rental back in credit to their sporting goods store, Sports Basement (the only child-friendly rental option they don’t offer is a child bike seat).
Biking the Golden Gate Bridge: The Perfect Route
The typical Golden Gate Bridge ride starts at Crissy Field and ends in Sausalito. Depending on where you pick up your bike rentals, you’ll have a little ways to ride before you reach Crissy Field. Little Marina Green is the perfect place to stop and regroup before you hit the trail.
Once you’ve made it across the bridge, you’ll have the option of turning around and riding back the same way you came, or continuing on to Sausalito. I personally feel that any good workout should be rewarded with a drink, so ride on an extra 2 miles downhill to the beautiful city of Sausalito where you’ll be greeted by sunny skies, lots of adorable little shops, and a whole host of waterfront eateries.
The Marina District
If you start your journey at Golden Gate Bridge Bike Rentals, then the first few blocks of the trip will be through the Marina District, a neighborhood in San Francisco that (you guessed it), borders the water.
In this super cute neighborhood, bike the quiet streets and check out the beachy homes. Stop for an up close look at Palace of the Fine Arts before crossing Marina Boulevard to hit the San Francisco Bay Trail.
Stop at the Little Marina Green to use the public restroom and regroup before you head out on the next stretch of the ride. Following along the San Francisco Bay Trail, you’ll find a little inlet road that leads straight to the water. There you can connect with the biking/jogging trail that runs along the beach. Past the Crissy Field Marsh and the large picnic green, this part of the trail is completely flat and runs a little over a mile.
If it’s a chilly morning, stop for a coffee or hot chocolate at the Warming Hut. This is also a great place to pick up a picnic lunch for later and make one last bathroom break.
The Climb to the Bridge
Now for the toughest part of your Golden Gate Bridge bike ride. Don’t worry, it’s also the shortest leg of the ride.
Just past the Warming Hut, take Long Avenue up the hill to connect you with the East Battery Trail. In about a half a mile you’ll climb 150 feet in elevation to the base of the bridge. Even as a novice bike rider, I was able to stay on the bike for most of it, but many people do walk it as well, so you’ll be in good company.
After your fun climb up the hill, you’ll find one last view point here you can check out. You can then either join the walk/bike lanes on the east side of the bridge (which means sharing the sidewalk with pedestrians), or follow the signs that lead you under the bridge and connect you with the dedicated bike lanes on the west side.
On the day of our ride, the west bike lanes were closed for maintenance, so we had the decision made for us. Still, arriving fairly early in the day, the pedestrian side wasn’t too crowded yet.
Biking the Golden Gate Bridge
Once you’re on the bridge, the ride is relatively easy. It’s a slight incline, but you won’t notice it until you’re towards the end, and there are plenty of outlets where you can pull over for photos or a little breather. I would try to limit how many times you do this, as the bridge does get crowded, and pulling over to stop too much could cause a jam.
The most important thing for this part of the ride is to be alert and watch for pedestrians or slower bikes. Especially if riding on the east pedestian side, be prepared to stop at any time.
Also, don’t be surprised if you find the Golden Gate Bridge covered in fog for most of your ride. This is pretty typical of SF, even if its sunny down in the city. Just embrace it as part of the bridge experience. And if you luck out with a clear day, even better!
Exiting the Bridge and the Ride Down to Sausalito
This is the part that can get pretty confusing if you’re trying to figure out where to go once you reach the end of the bridge. There are two options for getting to Sausalito:
Alexander Avenue | If you’re riding on the west bike lanes, you’ll exit the bridge into the North Tower parking lot. From here, you can take the stairs (which do have a little bike ramp alongside of them), down and under the bridge, and then back up another set of stairs/ramp to Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point.
If you’re already on the east pedestrian lanes, you’ll exit the Bridge right at the Vista Point. Either way, this a great place for a victory photo! From here, bikers can follow the signs around the north end of the parking lot towards Sausalito. After a short distance you’ll connect with Alexander Avenue and ride a fairly steep hill down to the waterfront, sharing the narrow road with traffic. It’s about 1 mile, but because of the downhill ride, it goes pretty quick.
Conzelman/East Road | If you want a safer alternative (especially with kids), you can opt for the lesser traveled Conzelman Road. To take this road, start at the North Tower parking lot (following the above directions in reverse if you’re coming from the east pedestrian lanes), and follow the directions painted on the ground to lead you toward Sausalito.
This ride is relatively easy and will lead you under the bridge to Fort Baker. Pass the Bay Area Discovery Museum and follow East Road for 1 mile until you meet up with Alexander Avenue and continue the steady ride into Sausalito. There are some great Golden Gate Bridge views along this route, but be warned, it also comes with another 120 foot gradual incline that may need to be walked.
Spending the Afternoon in Sausalito
Ah, you made it! Once you’re in Sausalito, the rest of the day is smooth sailing. I recommend spending some time relaxing in this adorable seaside town before heading back to San Francisco by ferry.
The city of Sausalito sees thousands of bikers every day, so you can believe they’ve got a good system to handle all of that traffic. If you plan to bring your bikes back with you on the ferry, you’ll want to park them in the designated bike parking at Bridgeway and Anchor Streets (which currently costs just $3). All of Sausalito is very walkable, so there’s no need to hold onto them anyway.
However, as I noted above, instead of trying to get your bikes onto a busy ferry (which has limited space for them), I highly recommend dropping them off with the Sausalito Bike Return (at the same corner of Bridgeway and Anchor). It costs $12 per bike (plus $5 extra for tandems, baby buggys or tag-a-longs), but is a convenience well worth the price tag!
A few things to do in Sausalito…
- Eat fresh seafood at Scoma’s | And get waterfront views to boot!
- Watch the waves crash in at Yee Tock Chee Park
- Eat along the water at Bar Bocce | A relaxing place to relish in your biking achievements, arrive early to get a seat outside.
- Go shopping along Bridgway | Sausalito’s main street has lots of fun shops and is a great place to pick up a souvenir.
- Eat tacos on the patio at Salsalito | This super kid-friendly establishment brings in the crowds mid-afternoon!
- Play at Robin Sweeny Park
- Walk along the Sausalito Yacht Harbor
- Do a tasting at Madrigal Family Winery | If you’re sans-kids, stop and get a taste of Napa in Sausalito!
- Indulge in ice cream from Lappert’s
Ferrying Back to San Francisco
There are two different ferries that operate between Sausalito and San Francisco, with a few key differences to be aware of when deciding which to take:
Golden Gate Ferry | The Golden Gate Ferry travels between the Sausalito Ferry Terminal and the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Adult tickets cost $12.50, children 5-18 are $6.25, and children under 4 are free. However, if you have a Clipper card (which everyone visiting San Francisco should!), you can use it to drop the fare to $6.75. This is what we chose to do, as it’s an easy way to save some cash.
Without a Clipper card, you can buy your ferry tickets in advance at the kiosk outside the Ferry Terminal, but keep in mind this does not guarantee you for a specific departure date or time. If you have a Clipper card, there is no need to buy tickets in advance; they’ll simply scan your card as you board.
Make sure you are familiar with the ferry schedule and have an idea of when you want to depart. Late afternoon ferries fill up quickest, for obvious reasons. You’ll want to be in line a good 20-30 minutes before your desired departure time (possibly longer with a bike on peak days).
Blue & Gold Fleet | The Blue & Gold Fleet travels between the Sausalito Ferry Terminal and Fisherman’s Wharf. Adult tickets cost $12.50, children 5-11 are $7.50, and children under 4 are free. There is no option to use your Clipper card on this ferry. You can either purchase your tickets in advance online (where you are not required to pick a specific departure time), or as you board the ferry.
You can find Blue & Gold’s ferry schedule here. Again it’s important to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to departure, especially on busy days.
Bringing Bikes on the Ferries | A limited number of bikes are allowed on each ferry, but you can make a bike reservation in advance which will give you a higher boarding number. This requires you to pick a specific departure time though, which may not be realistic if you don’t know exactly how much time you’ll need or want in Sausalito. This is one more reason I prefer using the bike return program – more flexibility!
PS. It’s also worth noting that electric bikes are not allowed on the Golden Gate Ferry.
Can you bike the Golden Gate Bridge with Kids?
Absolutely! Don’t get me wrong, there are a few challenges, but if it’s something you’re willing to put the work into, it can be done!
Most rental companies offer either bike seats, tag-a-longs or bike trolley rentals. Depending on the age of your child and how steady they are, all offer child size bikes as well.
The toughest part physically will be the steep hill up to the bridge (which you can easily walk if necessary). However, the most worrisome part, especially if your kids are old enough to ride by themselves, will be the busy road down to Sausalito. Avoid fast-paced Alexander Avenue and take the alternate Conzelman/East Road route instead.
Whichever you choose, biking into Sausalito can be nerve-wracking (with or without kids!) as you share the narrow road with cars, so don’t be afraid to go slow or hop off the bikes if needed. Those gorgeous views will make up for any time spent walking!
Biking the Golden Gate Bridge: A Few Last Tips
Head Out Early | We picked up our bikes around 10 am, reaching the start of the bridge around 11/11:30 (yes, we stopped for a million pictures). Things were just starting to pick up, but not too crowded yet, even on the pedestrian side of the bridge. While the fog hadn’t quite cleared, I would still recommend it over heading out later. Fewer crowds mean you can bike the bridge with ease, stop for pictures along the way, and enjoy some sun in Sausalito before you ferry back to San Francisco.
Limit Your Stops | If the bridge is busy, definitely limit your stops. Even with a dedicated bike lane, it’s not all that wide, and frequent stops will mess up the flow of traffic. Get one or two pics on the bridge, and save the rest for the viewpoints before and after the bridge.
Dress in Layers | It gets especially cold and windy out on the bridge, so be sure to follow San Francisco’s golden rule and dress in layers! When you get to Sausalito it will likely be warm and sunny, so having an outfit that can go from cold to warm is key.
Have you conquered a bucket list adventure? Tell me about it in the comments!
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