Bike The Golden Gate Bridge
Many visitors say this is one of the best things they did in San Francisco. You can experience the Golden Gate Bridge up close, and get a birds-eye view of the beautiful bay and city skyline.
After crossing the bridge, you have the option of riding down into the charming town of Sausalito, to browse the quaint shops and enjoy fresh seafood…and the delectable ice cream shops.
Another cool thing: when you’re ready to return to San Francisco, you can hop on a ferry in Sausalito (with your bike) and enjoy one of the prettiest boat rides in the world.
Two Ways to Bike Across the Bridge
Most people rent the bikes and go, but the guided tours can be a lot of fun, too.
There is no shortage of bike rental places in the city, especially around Fisherman’s Wharf where the self-guided tours often start. You’ll see the bike kiosks and offices all over the wharf. But which one to choose?
I looked into this for my own ride across the bridge, so I’ll share what I discovered. There are some really good deals on renting the bikes;-)
San Francisco Bike Rental Companies
There are lots of bike rental companies in San Francisco, and at least 9 of them provide bikes to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and ride down into Sausalito.
It’s pretty overwhelming comparing all the prices and reviews, but I spent some time on it and came up with what I think are the four best options for renting bikes.
Book online to get a discount
The following companies rent bikes for the day in the $24 to $27 range for the standard mountain bike (after the discounts, which range from 10% to 25% for booking online)
- Wheel Fun Rentals (Taylor St.) (Pier 43 1/2)
- Alcatraz Bikes and Tours (alcatrazbikesandtours.com)
- Bike and View (bikeandview.com)
- Bay City Bike (baycitybike.com)
All of the companies listed above have rental offices at Fisherman’s Wharf, convenient for picking up the bikes, plus the Blue and Gold ferry from Sausalito brings you back to Fisherman’s Wharf so you can easily drop off the bikes.
Most of these companies also rent electric bikes and have seats for kids, trailers, and other accessories. Check with the individual companies for more info.
Should you rent an electric bike?
Most of the companies offer a variety of bikes to rent, including electric bikes. Do you need an electric bike to get up the hills on the ride to the bridge and Sausalito?
The short answer is…maybe. Depends on your fitness level and how you feel about pushing bikes up hills;-) The route is pretty much flat all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge from Fisherman’s Wharf…with three exceptions.
There’s a pretty steep hill just as you leave Fisherman’s Wharf and enter Fort Mason, but it’s not terribly long. You may have to get off and push it at least part way there, but most people don’t have a problem with that. And there’s a long, steep hill right after the Warming Hut at Crissy Field; most people will have to push part of the way (or the whole way, like me). Finally, there’s a long (but not steep) hill climbing up to the Battery East trail.
The bridge itself is actually a slight hill, but they don’t allow you to use the electric mode on the bridge. That’s not a problem, since the incline to the center of the bridge is mild.
Once you’re across the bridge, it’s downhill all the way to Fort Baker. But the worst hill of all is between Fort Baker and Sausalito. This is a serious hill; see photos below under the Ride to Sausalito. At that point, I really wished I had chosen the electric bike!
Besides, electric bikes are a lot of fun to ride! They’re more expensive, but the trip would certainly be a lot easier. The hills would be effortless, and you could enjoy the scenery a bit more. You have to be at least 16 to ride them, and you can’t use the electric boost on the bridge itself (which you wouldn’t need, anyway). I have an electric bike and love it; perfect for San Francisco hills!
That being said, when I did the ride, I was not in particularly good condition and had to push the bike up the hills, but I was able to do it and had a great time anyway.
On these tours, a guide takes you to the Golden Gate Bridge, across the bridge and down into the town of Sausalito. You’ll hear about the history of the sights you’re passing and interesting tidbits along the way.
When you get to Sausalito, you’re free to explore the shops, galleries and restaurants and then return on the ferry with your bike to San Francisco.
When you get your bike, you’ll also be provided with a helmet and bike lock; some of the companies provide a route map, but that’s not really necessary.
Do you have to wear a bike helmet? California law requires that anyone under 18 year old must wear a bike helmet; for adults it’s optional. Parents and guardians of minors are responsible for making the kids wear the helmets. All the rental companies provide helmets, but adults don’t have to use them.
How long is the ride?
The bike ride from Fisherman’s Wharf, across the bridge and down to Sausalito is 8.5 miles. It’s hard to estimate the time, because it depends on how often you stop and how well you can pedal up the hills!
When we did the ride, it took us 2.5 hours to get to Sausalito from Fisherman’s Wharf. We took our time, taking photos, admiring the views, resting, and pushing our bikes up the hills;-)
- Fisherman’s Wharf to the Golden Gate Bridge: 4 miles.
- Riding across the bridge: 1.7 miles.
- From the bridge to Sausalito: 2.8 miles.
The ferry ride back to the city takes around 30 minutes.
Riding to the bridge…
The typical bike ride starts in the Fisherman’s Wharf area where most of the rental places are.(See maps below.)
The route takes you through Fort Mason, then you join the bike path that runs all along the waterfront almost to the bridge. There’s a nice, long flat run past the San Francisco Marina and Crissy Field.
Then the route turns left and goes up to the trail leading to the Golden Gate Bridge.
It’s not that well-marked here. You’ll find the route behind the Warming Hut at the end of Crissy Field. Take the left turn and go up another steep hill (aptly-named Long Avenue). There are a couple of small signs at the turn telling you you’re headed for the bridge.
Daylight to 3:30 pm, east sidewalk.
3:30 pm to dark, west sidewalk.
Weekends and holidays:
Daylight to dark (all day, in other words), west sidewalk.
Tips for biking crossing the bridge.
- Dress warmly in layers, even if the day is warm. It’s cold and windy up there!
- Weekends and holidays it can get crowded; go early.
- Pick your time for the view you want: bay or ocean. The bay view includes the city skyline, Alcatraz, & Angel Island. The ocean view includes the Marin Headlands and the entrance to the bay.
- If you use the West Sidewalk, you won’t have to wrestle your bike down and up the steep stairs to take it under the bridge to the bike path.
Biking to Sausalito
You don’t have to ride to Sausalito; you can always just turn around and ride back across the bridge. But if you have the time, I highly recommend the ride down to Sausalito. The views are great, and Sausalito is a fun place to visit.
When you get off the northern end of the bridge, you will be following a path that goes under the bridge and taking a scenic route down the hill into Sausalito. This is a newer route, safer for bikes, with less traffic and prettier views than the previous Alexander Avenue route.
Biking with Kids
If you have kids with you that are a bit unsteady on bikes, then the trip down to Sausalito may not be the best idea. There’s one really long uphill climb between Fort Baker and Sausalito which will require pushing the bike for many people, and probably most kids.
There are also some steep downhill places and you’ll be riding with traffic on narrow, winding roads once enter the town. But if they can handle their bikes reasonably well, they should be fine.
Finding the Bike Path (after the Bridge)
The bike trail to Sausalito starts at North Tower parking lot, on the western side of the bridge.
Crossing the Bridge on the East Sidewalk: you’ll arrive at the Vista Point parking lot. From there, you’ll need to cross under the bridge via an underpass to get to the North Tower Parking lot (aka the Trailhead).
Take a sharp right as you enter the parking area at Vista Point, and you’ll see the steep stairway going down to the underpass.
The Underpass. This maneuver with a bike requires some agility and strength. There’s a long stairway down and another long one back up again. Next to the steps there is a narrow metal ramp to wheel your bike.
The tunnel goes right under the bridge, which is pretty cool (and loud if a truck is passing overhead). You’ll come out at the North Tower parking lot.
At the North Tower parking lot, there’s a sign painted on the pavement showing you the way to the Sausalito bike path. At the edge of the lot, you’ll see the beginning of a bike trail and the sign for Sausalito.
Crossing the Bridge on the West Sidewalk: you will already be at the North Tower parking lot. Find the signpost for the bike route to Sausalito, and enjoy!
The Ride from the Bridge to Sausalito
Follow the bike path downhill, pass under the bridge and coast down to Fort Baker. Great views of the bridge along here!
There are signs in Fort Baker that direct you to Sausalito, so it’s easy to find your way through it.
The Hill. As you leave Fort Baker, there is a really long, steep hill! I wasn’t expecting it, and it was quite a climb. Some folks (fit, younger ones, lol) seem able to cycle up it, but it’s a challenge. I had to push my bike the whole way up.
Eventually you reach the top, and then it’s an easy ride downhill to Sausalito (but narrow and winding). At the bottom, you’ll find yourself on the Bridgeway, the main street in Sausalito.
It’s a flat ride along Bridgeway; after a couple of blocks, you’ll be at the ferry landing. The ferry area has bike racks (free in winter, $3 for valet bike parking the rest of the year). There are also more bike racks further along the same street (free ones).
The Trident restaurant, which you’ll see as soon as you come down the Bridgeway, has free bike racks for people eating there.
What to do in Sausalito…
The main street with shops and places to eat is Bridgeway, and the houses and residential streets climb up the steep hills behind it.
There are lots of small shops in the town that sell all sorts of interesting things. It’s a fun place to wander around and browse. There are some local art galleries to check out, as well.
If you want to see more than the quaint downtown, you can ride your bike farther north along the main street, Bridgeway, look at the cool houseboats, and check out the very unique Bay Model up the road (a huge, working model of the entire system of waterways for the Bay Area).
Restaurants. Sausalito is a great town for food, as well. They have a Scomas seafood restaurant (sister to the one in Fisherman’s Wharf) sitting on the water in a pretty wooden building at 588 Bridgeway.
The Trident is another good seafood restaurant, also with great bay views, which has an interesting history. This was a famous hangout for 60’s rockers, and was originally owned by the Kingston Trio. It still has its original hippie decor. (Ask the staff to point out the table where Janis Joplin used to sit.) 558 Bridgeway. Many people swear Sausalito has the best ice cream in the area. Lappert’s is the place most people head for. They have over 260 flavors in their creative repertoire, so their selection changes frequently. 689 Bridgeway.
Tips for taking the ferry back
The tickets for the ferry aren’t for any specific sailing; they are good for 90 days (Golden Gate Ferry) or forever (Blue and Gold Ferry), but there are no reserved places. People line up for each ferry, first come, first served, but the ferries are large enough so it’s rarely a problem getting on for pedestrians.
There are two lines for boarding: people with bikes and those without bikes.
With a bike, it’s not quite as easy, as there’s only room for a limited number of bikes. Most of the year, it’s not a problem, but in high season the ferry fills up with bikes. Ditto for holidays and spring break. But there’s a solution; see below.
1. Taking the right ferry. There are two ferry companies that run between Sausalito and San Francisco.
The Blue and Gold Ferry goes to Pier 39 and the Golden Gate Ferry goes to the Ferry Building. If you need to return your bike near Fisherman’s Wharf, make sure you take the Blue and Gold Ferry. If you rented a bike near the Ferry Building, you would take the Golden Gate Ferry.
2. Lining up early. The ferry rarely fills up for pedestrians, but there can be long lines to board in Sausalito, especially towards the end of the day. The ferry is first come, first served.
They suggest being at the dock 30 minutes before the scheduled departure. In busy seasons with a bike, 30 minutes is not enough; you may have to wait for the next ferry.
We did the ride during spring break, got there 20 minutes before departure, and there were already way too many in line to get on the next ferry. I recommend getting there an hour before sailing during the busy seasons to be sure of getting on.
Travelers with bikes board before those without bikes, though sometimes they alternate, and people with bikes get off the ferry last, after the pedestrians.
3. Buying the tickets. There is no staffed ticket office in Sausalito. It’s called a ferry terminal, but there’s no building, just a dock. You can purchase tickets online for either ferry, or buy the tickets on the boat (Blue and Gold Ferry) or from the ticket machine at the Sausalito dock (Golden Gate Ferry).
Blue and Gold Ferry. You can buy the ticket after you get on the ferry. There’s a cashier on the boat who sells the tickets (cash or credit cards). You don’t need a ticket to get on the ferry, but you do need a physical ticket to get off. If you bought your ticket online, you can show your confirmation number, either with a printout or using your cell phone, to get your paper ticket from the cashier on the boat.
Golden Gate Ferry. You can buy your tickets from a ticket machine near the dock. If you’ve already purchased the tickets online, you can show either the printout or the confirmation on your mobile phone for your ticket when you get on. Either way, you have to buy your ticket before you board. You can also buy the tickets at the Ferry Building.
Avoid the ticket line on the Blue an Gold Ferry. You can also buy the ferry tickets in person in San Francisco before you go, at the Blue and Gold ticket office to the left of Pier 39. An advantage to doing that: you don’t have to stand in line after you get on the ferry to pick up your paper ticket. We spent 10 minutes of the ferry ride standing in that line, and it’s a beautiful trip!
4. Reserving a space for your bike in advance. There’s a limit to the number of bikes the ferry can carry, which is a problem with the large crowds in summer, especially late afternoon. They board the bikes first come, first served, but people with bike reservations get on first. You can avoid waiting in the long line of cyclists in the standby line if you have a reservation. On really busy days, some people without bike reservations will have to wait for the next ferry.
It’s free to make the reservation, but many people aren’t aware of this option. Go here to make a bike reservation.
Note: this system hasn’t started operating yet (March/April 2018), so at present, there’s no advantage to doing it. But stay tuned!
5. Return your bike in Sausalito. There’s a new program that lets people return their bikes in Sausalito ($12 per bike). They will return the bikes to your rental place in San Francisco for you, and you don’t have to deal with getting your bike on the ferry. See bike return for info.
They have someone posted near the ferry line to direct people who are interested in doing this.
We used this system recently (during spring break) when we found a mass of cyclists ahead of us in the ferry line for the 4:20 pm sailing. We would have had to take the last weekday SF ferry at 5:35 pm and not made it back to the bike rental office before they closed at 6 pm. Worked out very smoothly!
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