The number one thing we knew we wanted to do on our vacation in San Francisco was to rent bicycles and ride across the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito. I wasn't 100% sure how this worked, if it was guided or if we had a time limit, but I was beyond thrilled with the whole experience.
We walked from our hotel (The Westin Market Street) all the way down to their office on Columbus just past North Point St. We got down there at around 9:45am, and after we filled out the proper paperwork, we were then shown the route to Sausalito on a large map on the wall.
We decided that since it would be a while before we made it to the bridge, we should probably eat something. So once we got the bikes, it took us less than ten minutes to ride them down to the Wharf to see what we wanted to eat. We decided the Blue Mermaid Chowder House & Bar would be a great place for some Pacific coast seafood! Once we finished with brunch around 11am, we hit the road toward the bridge.
Something to note: in San Francisco, it's actually illegal to ride bikes on the sidewalk. There are bike lanes throughout most of the city, and if there aren't specific bike lanes, there are bike "compatible" lanes, that require motorists to share with cyclists. As I personally have not ridden a bike since I was 12, this was a bit unnerving for me!
The Blue Mermaid Chowder House is literally just a few streets away from Ghirardelli Square, as we saw the sign on our bikes as we were riding by. Not long after you pass by Ghirardelli, there's a pretty steep hill. We realized we would NOT be able to do this unless we walked our bikes up the hill, which gave us our first official view of the bridge! Then we were able to make it down to a gravel path portion of the bay, which was just a few feet from the ocean! Naturally, we had to briefly stick our feet in the water. :-) Then back on the bikes, we got closer and closer to the bridge. I must say- the houses facing the water are SPECTACULAR. I cannot imagine what the real estate is like down there, but the views are just fantastic.
Onto the most unpleasant part: the winding hill that leads you from the water to the opening of the bridge. Again- I haven't ridden a bike since I was 12, but even an avid cyclist would find this difficult (at least I think so!). Due to the humidity and the cute polyester blouse I chose to wear, this portion of the ride was absolutely miserable. The only reason I rode instead just of walking the bike up the hill was due to the fact that 1) all my other friends were riding and 2) it would have taken me twice as long. UGH. NOT fun.
When we approached the entrance to the bridge it was a MAD HOUSE. I'm guessing this was because it was very warm out that day, but also because it was the day before a holiday so tourist traffic might have been at a high. The narrow pedestrian part of the bridge was impossible to ride down. People were stopped to take photos and milled around, which was a complete nuisance to anyone on a bike. However, about 1/4 of the way down, the tourists cleared out, and we could actually start riding again. As you can tell in my photos- the fog on the bridge was pretty intense, and even though it was an abnormally warm day, the bridge was definitely 5-10 degrees cooler to begin with. Again- the farther we progressed, the more the fog lessened and the sunnier it became again. I must say though: the freedom you feel with the wind through your hair and the ocean breeze whipping across your face as your glide across the bridge is the absolute best.
Once you cross the bridge, it's actually fairly downhill from there- no joke. My favorite moment of the entire trip was the stretch of downhill street, where you're first able to see the bay from the Sausalito side. It's an absolutely incredible view, and one that truly solidified how wonderful this experience was. Once you've made it down a fairly long downhill stretch, you start to see all the cute little homes on the side of the hills. It's like a less colorful Cinque Terra (as I have yet to go there, I'm only assuming this based on picutres)! I would guess after another mile or two, you finally roll into the adorable little town of Sausalito.
Again, since this destination is EXTREMELY popular to bike to, there were probably HUNDREDS of people who had parked their bikes all throughout the little downtown area. Luckily the town was prepared, and we were able to finally find a non-full rack, just a little farther down the main strip.
After being there for probably 2-3 hours, a ferry ticket was included for our passage back to San Francisco. Again- since it was clearly a very popular day for tourists, we didn't quite realize just how many people would be doing the same thing. The line of cyclists to take the ferry back across was probably half a mile long. Regardless of this, we definitely had to wait and catch the next one at 6pm. The ferry ride was definitely a nice easy way to get back to the other side. For the amount of people AND bicycles, it seemed like they had things down to a science. It was probably only about 30 minutes, but we were enjoying the leisurely pace of the ferry and the up close views of Alcatraz, so we honestly didn't care. I actually don't even recall looking at my watch for the rest of the day after we'd finished brunch!
The ferry docked at the Port of San Francisco, and by that time, the original bike office was closed, so we had to navigate ourselves to the evening dropoff location. I'm not actually sure how far this was from the port, because we drove the wrong way/got a bit lost, but again, we were enjoying ourselves and the pedestrian view of the city so we really didn't mind. The bike lanes down close to the port are all painted a very bright green, which made this a lot less scary for me. It's such a cool thing to be able to bike right along the water and cars and have down town San Francisco be just several feet away.
Getting to see the city of San Francisco AND Sausalito at our own pace was an experience of a lifetime. I think being in such a bike friendly city made me want to live there- as it feels almost European. Of course, the 70 degree temps probably did most of the work, but still; I will never forget our bike tour on the west coast.