San Francisco is known for its treacherously steep hills, so it may be surprising to see so many cyclists. This is actually a great city for biking—there are ample bike lanes, it's not hard to find level ground with great scenery (especially along the water), and if you're willing to tackle a challenging uphill climb, you're often rewarded with a fabulous view—and a quick trip back down.
BikeMapper. The regional 511 SF Bay transit website has an online app that allows you to plot your ride on a map and choose either the shortest or the flattest bike-friendly route. San Francisco, CA. 511. bicycling.511.org/maps.
San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has extensive information about the policies and politics of riding and lists local events for cyclists on its website. You can download (but not print) a PDF version of the San Francisco Bike Map and Walking Guide. 833 Market St., 10th fl., San Francisco, CA, 94103. 415/431–2453. www.sfbike.org.
Where to Rent
Angel Island. A former military garrison and a beautiful wildlife preserve has some steep roads and great views of the city and the bay. Bicycles must stay on roadways; there are no single-track trails on the island. The café is open weekends only mid-November through February, so if you visit Monday through Friday you'll need to bring your own grub. From April through October you can rent mountain bikes on the island for $12.50 an hour or $40 a day. Segway tours are also available for $68 per person. Tiburon, CA, 94920. 415/435–5390. www.angelisland.org.
Bay City Bike. With three Fisherman's Wharf locations, Bay City Bike isn't hard to find. The shop has an impressive fleet of bikes—many sizes and types—and friendly staff to help you map your biking adventure. 2661 Taylor St., at Beach St., Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, CA, 94113. 415/346–2453. baycitybike.com.
Bike and Roll. You can rent bikes at this national outfit's locations $32 per day to $58; discounted weekly rates are available, and complimentary maps are provided. 899 Columbus Ave., at Lombard St., North Beach, San Francisco, CA, 94133. 415/229–2000 or. www.bikethegoldengate.com.
Bike Hut. Known for its mom-and-pop–style service, the Hut is a small rental, repair, and used-bike shop. Rentals begin at $6 an hour. Pier 40, SoMa, San Francisco, CA, 94124. 415/543–4335. www.thebikehut.org. Closed Mon. and Tues.
Blazing Saddles. This outfitter with branches all around San Francisco rents bikes for $8 to $9 an hour ($32 to $60 a day), depending on the type of bike, and shares tips on sights to see along the paths. 2715 Hyde St., at Beach St., Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, CA, 94109. 415/202–8888. www.blazingsaddles.com.
Where to Bike
A completely flat, sea-level route, the Embarcadero hugs the eastern and northern bay and gives a clear view of open waters, the Bay Bridge, and sleek high-rises. The route from Pier 40 to Aquatic Park takes about 30 minutes to ride, and there are designated bike lanes the entire way. As you ride west, you'll pass the Bay Bridge, the Ferry Building, Coit Tower (look inland near Pier 19), and historic ships at the Hyde Street Pier. At Aquatic Park there's a nice view of Golden Gate Bridge. If you're not tired yet, continue along the Marina and through the Presidio's Crissy Field. You may want to time your ride so you end up at the Ferry Building, where you can refuel with a sandwich, a gelato, or—why not?—fresh oysters. Keep your eyes open along this route—cars move quickly here, and streetcars and tourist traffic can cause congestion. Near Fisherman's Wharf you can bike on the promenade, but take it slow and watch out for pedestrians.
Golden Gate Park
A beautiful maze of roads and hidden bike paths crisscrosses San Francisco's most famous park, winding past rose gardens, lakes, waterfalls, museums, horse stables, bison, and, at the park's western edge, spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. John F. Kennedy Drive is closed to motor vehicles on Sunday (and sometimes Saturday), when it's crowded with people-powered wheels. Get a map of the park before you go—it's huge.
As Fell Street intersects Stanyan Street at the park's eastern entrance, veer right to begin a 30- to 45-minute, 3-mile ride down John F. Kennedy Drive to the Great Highway, where land meets ocean. Take a break and watch the waves roll in at Ocean Beach, or cross the street for a drink or a bite to eat at the casual, tree-shrouded Park Chalet (behind the Beach Chalet). Extend your ride a few more miles by turning left, riding a few blocks, and connecting with a raised bike path that runs parallel to the Pacific, winds through fields of emerald-green ice plant, and, after 2 miles, leads to Sloat Boulevard and the San Francisco Zoo.
The Marina Green and Golden Gate Bridge
The Marina Green, a vast lawn at the edge of the northern bay front, stretches along Marina Boulevard, adjacent to Fort Mason. It's the starting point of a well-used, paved bike path that runs through the Presidio along Crissy Field's waterfront wetlands, then heads for the Golden Gate Bridge and beyond. To do this ride, first take the path from Aquatic Park through Fort Mason to the Marina Green. Continue into the Presidio, and you'll eventually reach the base of the bridge, a 60-minute ride round-trip. To view the bridge from underneath, stay at water level and ride to Fort Point (where Kim Novak leaped into the drink in the film Vertigo).
If you want to cross the bridge, take Lincoln Boulevard to reach the road-level viewing area and continue across the bridge (signs indicate which side you must use). Once you're across, turn right on the first road leading northeast, Alexander Avenue. After a 10-minute all-downhill ride, you'll arrive on Bridgeway in downtown Sausalito, where you can rest at a café. After a little shopping, board the Blue & Gold Fleet's ferry (the ferry terminal is at the end of Bridgeway) with your bike for the half-hour ride back to Fisherman's Wharf. If it's overcast, foggy, or windy, don't bother doing the Golden Gate Bridge bike ride—the wind can feel downright dangerous on the bridge, and the trip is only awe-inspiring when you can take in the view.