Open Your Golden Gate
There are bridges, and there are bridges . . . and then there is the Golden Gate Bridge. Beloved by millions, the majestic span that connects San Francisco with the headlands of Marin County not only is a breathtaking view—it also gives travelers spectacular vistas of the Pacific Ocean, Alcatraz Island, the hills and towns of the East Bay, and the cool, gray city of love herself, San Francisco. And though it’s possible to walk or drive across the bridge, the most exciting way to experience this engineering marvel is by biking across. Having crossed the bridge by bike countless times as a resident of San Francisco, I can attest to this being one attraction that nobody ever gets tired of—it really is a thrilling ride.
There are several ways to approach the 13⁄4-mile-long (nearly 3km) bridge with your bike. Most folks from the city go through the Presidio, a forested former military base located at the northwest tip of the city, now part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, or along the waterfront at Chrissy Field, a mecca for hikers, windsurfers, and bird-watchers. Weekends might be the best time to go, when the west side of the bridge (facing the Pacific) is open to bike traffic only. Some say the views are better on the east side, which faces San Francisco Bay, but don’t get so enamored of the scenery that you slam into a pedestrian—as a huge tourist attraction, the bridge’s walkways can get crowded, even on foggy weekdays.
Once you cross the bridge, the verdant hills of the Marin Headlands—also part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area—await your exploration. There are some challenging climbs here, particularly Conzelman Road, which hugs the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. If you can make it to the top, keep going and you’ll be rewarded with a white-knuckle plunge down a terrifyingly steep road with nothing between you and the rocks below but a breeze and a prayer. The south-facing coves at Black Sand beach are a favorite sunning spot—families favor the east-side beaches, while the clothing-optional beaches are farther west and require a bit of scrambling over rocks to get there. A visit to the Headlands Center for the Arts, the Point Bonita Lighthouse, and the Nike Missile Site are always rewarding.
Too whipped for a bike ride back the same way you came? No worries—just point your bike toward the ferry landing in charming Sausalito, hop a ride on the bike-friendly ferry, and enjoy the sunset as you churn across the bay back toward the San Francisco waterfront. —ML
Golden Gate National Recreation Area ( 415/331-1540; www.nps.gov/goga).
When to Go: May–Oct.
San Francisco International.