Biking the Golden Gate Bridge has fast become one of the most popular things to do in San Francisco.
While it may be a little touristy, and you’ll certainly not be the only one out there, it’s a great way to explore the city’s beautiful waterfront area, get up close to the world’s most famous bridge, find postcard-perfect viewpoints and explore the tiny streets and houseboat communities of Sausalito.
It may be a busy trail, but this ended up being one of the highlights of our trip to San Francisco, annoying crowds, flashing cameras, endless selfies and all.
This is our guide to biking the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito with an awesome detour to the Marin Headlands, including tips for bike rental in San Francisco and how to plan your day.
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There are dozens of places offering bike rental in San Francisco with several operators conveniently located around the Fisherman’s Wharf area along the waterfront. Most operators offer more or less the same package which includes a bike, helmet, lock and map, but with a little research, you’ll find that prices vary.
We went with San Francisco Bike Rentals which had excellent reviews online, were well located in Fisherman’s Wharf and offered a competitive rate when we reserved our bikes online. They also were very accommodating when Freya asked to have a more comfortable ladies saddle and provided a great description of the route we planned to take up the Marin Headlands. You don’t have to pay until after the ride so if you reserve a bike in advance to secure the discount and then change your mind or the weather turns to crap, there’s no obligation.
Before you leave the rental office be sure you’re happy and comfortable on your bike because you will be spending a fair bit of time on the thing.
Bay City Bike Rentals is another recommended operator in the area.
The classic cycle route for biking the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito takes you from Fisherman’s Wharf along San Francisco’s iconic waterfront, across the bridge and down into sunny Sausalito.
There are a number of beautiful places to stop along the way so we’d recommend making an early start so you don’t feel rushed during the ride and are able to beat some of the crowds. If you’re looking to get a little more out of your day, such as finding the best Golden Gate Bridge viewpoints, we’d suggest doing the extra detours mentioned below.
Once you’ve collected your bike, you should receive a map and a pretty in-depth account of where you’re going.
First up, the route is easy leaving from Fisherman’s Wharf on a cycle path that winds along the waterfront with stops at all the major sights.
Cycle down the Aquatic Park Pier for great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz from afar and look to see the impressive San Francisco waterfront with the backdrop of the city’s downtown area.
Continue along the cycle path up to Fort Mason and back down to the waterfront before following the signs left to the Palace of Fine Arts. Park your bike here and explore this remarkable site, the legacy of the 1915 World’s Fair, before continuing on to Chrissy Fields and Fort Point.
If you haven’t bought a packed lunch or are craving a well-earned cup of coffee, the Warming Hut set beside the water before Fort Point has a range of warm drinks, sweet treats and fresh-made sandwiches on offer.
Once you make it to the bridge itself, this is by far the busiest section of the trip. Don’t let that put you off though. Take your time, take all the photos you want and don’t forget to look around at the impressive feat of engineering.
When you reach the other side of Golden Gate Bridge, stop at Vista Point, cross to the far side of the parking lot and find a seat for lunch with a view.
If at this point you’re satisfied and if you’re being honest would rather be done with the bike, continue down into Sausalito and treat yourself to a salted caramel ice-cream. It’s all downhill from here.
If you’re ready for the most impressive views of the bridge, take a breath and recuperate because next up is the hardest part – tackling the Marin Headlands.
Don’t worry, that ice-cream will still be waiting for you when you get to the bottom.
Cycling the steep winding road towards the Marin Headlands is definitely the toughest part of the ride, particularly if like us you indulged on a few too many tacos at the Farmer’s Market, but it’s from up here that you’ll discover the best Golden Gate Bridge viewpoint.
If you’re looking for a little extra activity on your ride along with some spectacular Bay Area views, this somewhat challenging detour is definitely for you.
From Vista Point continue along the road following the signs to Sausalito.
Shortly you’ll reach an intersection with a tunnel on your left and a sign to Sausalito pointing right. Cycle through the tunnel and continue on toward Conzelman Road which turns off to the right and leads upward to the Marin Headlands.
Get ready because it is all uphill from here.
The road winds up 3km to Hawk Hill, with several viewpoints on the way for you to stop, catch your breath and enjoy the view.
The first 500 metres are the steepest so once you’ve made it up it only gets easier. At the first stop, take the short walk to Battery Spencer for the beautiful views overlooking the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.
From there, continue cycling up to Hawk Hill for a slightly higher vantage point and panoramic vistas over the region.
When you’ve gotten your fill of the stunning views, to return simply go back the way you came through the tunnel and the continue straight on to Sausalito. It is a gentle downhill slope almost all the way.
Once in Sausalito, many will count that as a day well done and take the opportunity to enjoy the sunshine and gorge on gelato. For those with a little steam left in the tank, you’ll find the eclectic houseboats of Sausalito just a short ride away which are definitely worth a visit.
From the centre of Sausalito continue cycling until it feels like you’ve gone a little too far. You’ll see a few marinas and parking areas on the right which signify the start of Sausalito’s houseboat communities.
Arranged along piers this eccentric collection of floating cottages are decorated with quirky pot plants and some seriously wacky artefacts. Think succulents growing out of bathroom basins and figurines of snakes and mermaids made from coloured glass and driftwood.
Remember to be respectful – these are people’s houses after all. Don’t wander down the ramps that lead to specific homes, stay on the main piers.
Not all groups of houses are open for a wander so look for the signs. Some say no trespassing unless given permission by the owners. If in doubt, just ask. Most people were more than happy to have strangers wandering up what is essentially their driveways. Park your bike in the parking lots so you are free to explore.
Once back in Sausalito, it can be a little nightmarish finding a parking space for your bike. There are a number of designated parking areas, though you generally need to pay for these. Parking your bike on trees and street signs is not allowed.
When you are finished exploring the houseboats and have treated yourself to some gelato you have two options for getting back to the city.
Take The Ferry From Sausalito to San Francisco
Two companies run ferries Sausalito and San Francisco stopping at either Pier 41 or the Ferry Building. The ferries go several times a day and the queues are often long, particularly later in the day. You can buy your tickets in advance but these are for a specific time slot and are not refundable. Otherwise, just line up with your bike and pay on board. Be sure to check what time the last ferry is as if you miss it, you’ll be cycling the long way back.
Price: from $12.00
Return To San Francisco By Bike
If you’re still feeling energetic, or you missed the ferry, you can jump back on the saddle and cycle back the way you came.
Watch out for other cyclists. We’re far from expert cyclists, but there are definitely riders out there who have clearly spent very little time on two wheels. Obviously inexperienced cyclists tended to have little to no awareness of those around and regularly stopped in the middle of the cycle path causing others to slam on their breaks, flailed all over the place when trying to take off and swerved wildly just trying to keep their balance. Be aware that other people are cycling in the area, some of which are locals on their daily commute who won’t be impressed by you blocking the path to take a phot.
Start early and try to go on a weekday. Unsurprisingly, biking the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito is one of the most popular things to do in San Francisco. Beat the crowds by setting off early and on a weekday.
Bring plenty of water. Especially if you’re cycling up the Marin Headlands, you’ll probably be getting a little sweaty. Bring plenty of water and stay hydrated during your bike tour.
Wear sunscreen. Even in the midst of summer, when the fog rolls into San Francisco and the city is blanketed in white, it can feel rather chilly, but that doesn’t mean you won’t still get sunburnt. You’ll be outside all day so be sure to reapply suncream throughout your ride.