Biking the Golden Gate Bridge: Everything You Need to Know

21 Dec

Pelican in front of Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
The Golden Gate Bridge is San Francisco’s most famous icon, and there’s no better way to experience it than biking over it. Below is everything you need to know to plan your ride.

How long is the ride?

It depends on where you start. Fisherman’s Wharf, which is a popular departure point for this ride, is less than 4 miles from the bridge. If you’re starting from the center of the city, say around Hayes Valley, City Hall, or the Mission District, the ride to the bridge is 7.5-8 miles.

How long will it take?

Assuming a casual pace with stops for photos, you can get to the start of the bridge in less than one hour from Fisherman’s Wharf. From Hayes Valley, give yourself 1.5 hours. If you continue on to Sausalito, give yourself another hour.

Is it safe?

Yes, biking on the Golden Gate Bridge is safe. Cyclists (and pedestrians) are completely separated from vehicles. However, you must pay attention to what others are doing, as they may be setting up for an epic selfie-stick session or staring aimlessly up at one of the bridge’s towers, and thus not paying attention to you.

If you want to stop for a photo break, pull over to a safe spot. Never block the flow of pedestrian and cyclist traffic. Ride predictably and use your bike bell.

Which side of the bridge do I ride on?

The bridge runs in a north-south direction, and there are bike paths on both its west and east sides. However, you don’t get to choose which side to ride on; it depends on the day and time of day. On weekends, holidays, and on weekdays after 3:30pm, cyclists ride on the westside path, separated from pedestrians. On weekdays before 3:30pm, cyclists ride on the eastside path, sharing the path with pedestrians.

Are there hills?

Short answer: yes. But they aren’t so bad.

From Fisherman’s Wharf, there are two hills to the bridge. The first is a short but steep hill over Fort Mason. If you choose to walk, it’ll take you 5-10 minutes. The second hill is the ride up to the bridge itself. It starts at the Warming Hut cafe, near Fort Point, and ascends about 200 feet to the bridge.

From the city center (i.e. Hayes Valley), there is more total elevation gain over a longer distance. The only steep hill is right before you enter the Presidio, a national park inside SF’s city limits. It’s laughably steep but extremely short. You can walk it in less than five minutes. The rest of the elevation gain is more subtle, thanks to the famous Wiggle bicycle route.

How’s the weather on the bridge?

San Francisco is a city of microclimates, and the bridge is its most extreme example. It can be cold, foggy, misty, and windy, especially in summer. Before departing, check the weather and take a look outside. If you see any hint of fog, any at all, the bridge could be smothered in it. Always bring extra layers. Gloves are a good idea, too, just in case.

Does the bridge get crowded?

Yes, very. Riding the bridge is incredibly popular, and for good reason. Bicycle traffic jams, wandering pedestrians, and aggressive local road cyclists abound. If you’re planning to ride the bridge in summer or fall (June-October), beat the crowds and ride earlier in the morning. Try to start your ride by 10am. The weather might be cooler, and the fog might still be hanging around, but the experience will be much more relaxed and less stressful. If you plan to take a ferry back to San Francisco, afternoon ferries often have long lines and sell out. See our Sausalito post (coming soon) for all you need to know about taking the ferry.

What’s on the other side?

The Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco to Marin (pronounced muh-RIN) County. Marin is filled with beautiful protected parklands, rocky coastlines, beaches, towering redwood trees, and its most famous tourist destination, the town of Sausalito.

Returning by ferry

The bridge is 220 feet (67m) above sea level, so if ride to Sausalito, which is at sea level, and you don’t feel like riding back up 220 feet to the bridge, you can return to SF by ferry. The ferry ride is a great way to get out on the San Francisco Bay. There are two ferry companies that depart from the same location in Sausalito, and there are often long waits to get on a ferry. Luckily, you can skip the long lines by reserving space for your bikes on the ferry. See our Sausalito post (coming soon) for details.

What kind of bike should I ride?

We recommend a city or hybrid bike. Our city bikes have 7-8 gears and comfortable, upright sitting positions.
Our hybrids have 24-27 gears and are little lighter. We don’t recommend a road bike for this short of a ride.

What other questions / factoids can we add to this list? Let us know!