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Cycling San Francisco

A few weekends ago, I went with a group of fellow international students to hire bikes and pedal around San Francisco. This was the first time I really explored the city and its western and northern most areas.

We spent around seven hours all up pedaling around the city, and saw many amazing things. We also experienced the fickleness of San Francisco weather: the conditions varied from brilliant sunshine to chilly overcast to icy winds as we ventured through the districts. Never leave home without a jacket!

Starting off from a bike rental in Haight-Ashbury, we proceeded west into the lovely Golden Gate Park. Approximately 5 km in length from east to west, the park is a wonderfully diverse habitat that features playgrounds, walking and biking trails, sports fields, flower gardens, and more.

Slow going through Golden Gate Park

In the middle of the park we encountered the California Academy of Sciences, which was featuring a free entry day. Unfortunately, our idle plans to drop by the Academy was stymied by the extraordinary line that snaked out of the entrance and down the road. Looks like Americans are just as enamoured of free things as Australians are!

Passing a soccer match and a wedding on our way out of the park, we found ourselves at Ocean Beach. By now we had passed out of the glorious sunshine and into the fog, and the beach was about the most pitifully sad that I've ever seen (though I'm told there are parts of the year when there is less fog). There was a stiff, cold breeze blowing, and few people felt the need to brave the conditions (though several dedicated surfers valiantly tried to make the most of it).

Gloomiest beach ever

From here we encountered San Francisco's most annoying feature for cyclists: hills. Riding north from Ocean Beach was a long, uninterrupted hill proceeding past Land's End (where I had chowder for lunch, yum!) and into the Richmond district. We climbed and climbed and climbed, until we reached the inevitable downhill run. And what a run it was.

The dedication to grid layouts in American cities is in complete contrast to the crazed mess that is the Sydney road network. Hills or no hills, the roads continue straight along in their lines.

Pedaling up more hills along the Lincoln Boulevard, we finally arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge. Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, the bridge is an absolutely stunning sight.

Random aside: why is the Golden Gate Bridge not coloured gold? It's because it's named after the strait that it crosses: the Golden Gate. So across the bridge and back again we rode, buffeted by the strong winds blowing through the Gate. It was such that we could actually see the famous Bay fog streaming out towards the ocean above the bridge. Possibly the most incredible part of the whole bike ride.

Finally, we rode south and east from the bridge, through the Marina section (where one of my compatriots crashed into a low concrete bollard and fell off, injuring his hand!). We finished at the Ferry Building near Embarcadero, having spent a very nice day of riding. I highly recommend this experience to anyone coming to San Francisco: but be prepared for hill climbing and all manner of weather conditions!

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