Bike San Francisco: The Ultimate Guide for the Discerning Cyclist

Don’t believe the hill hype! Biking in San Francisco can be smooth as butter and is one of the best ways to experience the city—from prim Victorians, to the technicolor murals of Clarion Alley to $4 toast (more on that later).

clarion alley

Clarion Alley Photo: Sean Davis, Flickr

Bike commuting in SF has been on the upswing, and with improvements, such as bike lanes on main thoroughfares coupled with acres of urban parks, those that choose pedal power are sure to be rewarded.

bike lanes in SF Bike lane on Market Street Photo: Nick Falbo, Flickr

Here's our guide to having the most bike-tastic time in the city by the Bay.

SNAG A RIDE

Bay Area Bike Share —a network of baby blue bicycles that may be checked out at racks around the city—is great for short trips. The downside is you need to return the bike to a designated rack and sometimes rebalancing bikes can be a challenge.


Bay Area Bike Share

Another option is Blazing Saddles, one of the larger bike touring operators in the Bay. You can rent a basic hybrid for $32 for the day, complete with a helmet and lock.

Spinlister, the Airbnb of bikes and outdoor gear, is for those who want to make a friend and find a bike more tailored to their preferences. So if you’d rather ride terrain, you can book a mountain bike from the comfort of your smartphone. Often the person renting will throw in a helmet and a lock, even panniers.


man on bike

FUEL UP

There is no one place or thing you “must eat” in San Francisco. There are literally hundreds—if not thousands—of spots (see: 7X7’s annual list). In an attempt to frantically Yelp them all, you’ll find yourself dazed and wondering why you just paid $4 for toasted bread.

So relax. Eat in whatever neighborhood you happen to be in. But … if you’re headed towards Golden Gate Park already, hit up Nopalito or Green Chile Kitchen for sustainable south-of-the-border fare in portions that won’t leave you gut-bombed.

If you just need coffee and a quick bite, Velo Rouge, a small, bike-themed cafe just two blocks outside the park, is the place to go. We also like Mojo Bicycle Cafe.

WHAT TO DO

Biking is a great way to wind through San Francisco’s vibrant ecosystems, and a little route planning means hills are easily avoided.

Our all time favorite place to ride is through Golden Gate Park—a 1,000 acre swath of green that bisects the city. And conveniently, the iconic Haight Street feeds right into one of the park’s East entrances.

PRO TIP: Cyclists may now take their rides on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) at any time of day! This is especially helpful if you’d like to head over to Oakland or pedal the futuristic bike path across the eastern span of the new Bay Bridge.

Lower Haight has always been more laid-back then the blocks around Haight & Ashbury. The neighborhood boasts hip thread shops (like Upper Playground—slinging streetwear since 1999) and probably the highest saturation of beloved bars in a single city block—that would be Noc Noc, where glowing lights and misplaced caverns make it feel as if you’ve stepped into someone else’s acid trip, Torando, a no frills beermonger’s refuge with 40+ rotating taps, and Molotov’s, where you’ll find dogs atop barstools and exactly zero “Glassholes.”

Be sure to visit Buena Vista Park, with footpaths through fernlandia and a rooftop of trees, it can be disarming to summit a hill and be treated to a panorama of houses and skyscrapers.

Views of San Francisco from Buena Vista Park Photo: Helder Ribeiro

Upper Haight is now a more strung-out version of counter culture, but still the spot to go for vintage duds (Wasteland), nerdy lit events (The Booksmith), and or any kind of hardware that music is encoded on (Amoeba Music). You can even check out Jerry Garcia’s former digs.

Riding through Golden Gate Park is sublime given the low levels of traffic along John F Kennedy Drive— the main way through. Feel free to peel off to check out the sites, like The National AIDS Memorial Grove, the 360 degree view from the top floor of the de Young museum or impromptu roller disco-ers at the 6th Avenue skate park.

Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park

DRINK GOOD BEER

If beer is what you seek, there are multiple choices for breweries around or near the Golden Gate Park. Newcomer Barrel Head Brewing, a few blocks east of the park, has decent brews and an authentic plate of one of Canada’s finest: poutine. If you’re along the southern end of Golden Gate, skate into the Sunset neighborhood for suds and the spartan ambiance of Social Kitchen and Brewery.

If you bike the entire span of Golden Gate (about 3.5 miles all told), you’ll run right up to the waves of the Pacific. Beach Chalet is there waiting for you with killer ocean views and a crackling fire, a necessary feature if you happen to be dealing with fog that day. Sample all eight of Beach Chalet’s brews for $13 (decent by SF standards).

Views of the Golden Gate Bridge

If you want wine ... go to Napa.

SHOP FOR GEAR + GET A TUNE-UP

Huckleberry Bicycles on bustling Market Street has all the gear, from funky lace arm warmers for the casual commuter to all the serious spandex. If a tune up is what you’re looking for the staff of the worker-owned collective Box Dog Bikes is friendly and knowledgeable. Plus they pack a great selection of touring bikes.

HEAD NORTH FOR DIRT TRAILS

Just across the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County is generally regarded as the birthplace of modern mountain biking. For some easy single track, head up to China Camp and race to the top for incredible views of the San Francisco Bay (note: it’s roughly 25 miles one-way to get to China Camp, so plan accordingly).

mountain biking Marin County