For as small as 7x7 miles may seem, San Francisco is nonstop full of hills to climb, sights to see, and delicious meals to eat. Follow this 1-day cycling guide if you’re running short on time but want to see it all.
Pro Tip: Pack a bag for the day with a water bottle, sunglasses, charger, jacket (for the always-cold evening), and your favorite snacks.
Step 1: Adventure bike ride along the waterfront
To start off your exploration, head to the Ferry Building to grab a hot drink from Blue Bottle Coffee and a healthy and quick breakfast at Farm Fresh To You. Enjoy your fare on the Bay side where you’ll find benches to sit on while you people watch as commuters make their way elsewhere aboard a myriad of ferries. Wrap up when you’re done and get ready to roll.
Stop 1: Pier 39 and Sea Lions
Rent a bike from Parkwide Bike Rentals and Tours https://parkwide.com/ to switch over to wheeled transit and head out along the Embarcadero towards Golden Gate Bridge. While you advance, you’ll see the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, and other distant locations. Keep riding until you get to Pier 39, or veer off and ride up and down a few piers. At Pier 39, take a quick peak at the sea lions to see if they’re up yet to sunbathe or cheer on a few street performers before you journey on.
Stop 2: Fisherman’s Wharf
There’s something for everyone at the Wharf. For history, visit the Maritime Museum where the National Park rangers can regale you with stories of San Francisco’s past. You can see a World War II ship near Pier 45, famous actors made of wax at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, or get your fortune from a mechanical psychic at the Musée Mécanique.
Don’t forget to glance out across the Bay to see Alcatraz (you can visit the actual prison some other time—you aren’t missing much).
Stop 3: Aquatic Park
Don’t forget to keep your water filled! Ride through the Aquatic Park, where you’ll see parked boats and swimmers as you look out across the Bay. Ride over the hill along the shore through Fort Mason. From the top of the park you can look down upon the historic buildings. Ride to the bottom of the hill then head into the parking lot for lunch.
Stop 4: Vegetarian Lunch at Fort Mason
Ride through the lot to Greens restaurant where you can order a hearty vegetarian lunch from the grab n’ go counter. Bring your food over to the Interval, where you can sit and order a drink with ingredients made from scratch or a a pot of pu’erh tea steeped to the perfect temperature. Pro-Tip: Whip out your charger while you’re here if your battery is getting low and roam around to read all of the exhibits at the cafe. You can even sit at a table made out of a 70-foot clock.
Stop 5: Choose-Your-Adventure at the Presidio
After your break it’s time to get back on the saddle. Ride along the Marina Green towards the Presidio. If you’re into history you can check out Fort Point, an old army barrack that sits underneath the bridge. It’s also great for Instagram pictures. ;) For a more scenic route, hang right while riding along the Marina Green and take the trail along the Bay. It’ll be a bit sandy, so be careful as you ride. If you want to get off your bike and walk around a bit you can head deeper into the Presidio for a walk, but you’ll have a chance to do that later as well.
Bonus Stop: Hop on in to House of Air if you’d like a fun and active pit stop. Where else can you jump on trampolines in a former airplane hangar?
Stop 6: Be a Complete Tourist and Ride Across the Golden Gate Bridge
Next stop is the tourist must-do of riding a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s a reason everyone does this—as you cross the bridge you’re engulfed by the wind and sensation of movement on the bridge. It’s an exhilarating feeling, especially if you peer upward at the structure of the bridge and try to grasp its immense size.
Bonus Stop: If you’re up for a challenge, you can ascend Hawk Hill on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, about 2.8 miles of a challenging climb followed by a stunning view of the city and a whirlwind descent to the bottom the hill. A short way up you can also lock your bike to a wooden fence and hike in the Marin Headlands on a relatively quiet trail.
Pro Tip: If you need a rest there’s a pit stop on the east side and an underground bridge from the west side to get there. (The Golden Gate Bridge alternates which side you can ride across depending on the day of the week and the time of day.)
Stop 7: Presidio and Historical Baths
Ride back along the bridge then through the Presidio on the scenic Lincoln Boulevard route towards Sutro Baths. You’ll exit near the Sea Cliff neighborhood and make your way towards the ocean. Unsaddle long enough to walk down towards the ruins of Sutro Baths, the concrete remains of an old bath house attraction. At the bottom you can rest for a while as you soak up the ocean as the sun dances across the Pacific.
Bonus Stop: If you’re up for an afternoon hike you can descend the sand ladder to Baker Beach while journeying through the Presidio, or you can wait until you’ve gotten to Sutro Baths and take a hike along the coast on Lands Ends Trail.
Stop 8: Ride back towards the center of the city through Golden Gate Park. Depending on the time you can spend some time checking out the Japanese Tea Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers. When you get to the other end of the park, drop off your bike near Stanyan Street.
*Bike drop off: https://parkwide.com/***Bonus Stop: If you’d like a challenging and fun evening workout, pop into the Circus Center for an aerial conditioning, flying trapeze, or acrobatics class.**
Step 2: Evening Stroll and Operation Refuel
Stop 1: The Haight
After exiting the park and dropping off your bike, journey towards Haight Street. The street is filled with endless fun shops to browse. Stop by Love on Haight to say hi to the Queen of TieDye and to glitter yourself, drop into Amoeba to listen to music, or see if Club Deluxe has live jazz going. If you didn’t bring a warm enough sweater you can find a new one at the premium resale shop, Buffalo Exchange.
Pro Tip: If you need a snack then pop into Haight Street Market and sit on the patio where you’ll probably see buskers performing outside. Their pre-made spring rolls are delicious and have generous portions of salmon. Grab a coffee while you’re here if you need a pick-me-up. They serve Four Barrel Coffee, which is “honest, ethical and sexy”!
Stop 2: Picnic with the Painted Ladies
When you near the end of the Haight Street merchant corridor you’ll be nearing Divisadero. Turn left on this street and head towards Bi-Rite Market and Souvla to grab dinner. Souvla has unbelievably delicious and filling Greek food (link to Fitt article). The salads are full of kale, clementines, and a hearty portion of lean meat (or meat substitutes). If you’re not into Greek you can get dinner at Bi-Rite Market, but either way grab some drinks there. Take your score to Alamo Square Park (around the corner) where you can picnic on the hill overlooking the Painted Ladies.
Stop 3: Check out City Hall
If its not past 8, head inside City Hall to take a picture on the iconic staircase. Head to the top floor where you can look down upon the entire building to see the ornate design that makes up each detail. Don’t forget to take a picture.
Stop 4: Chinatown Gates and a Cable Car Ride
Find the Civic Center Muni Station and hitch a ride to the Embarcadero Station. Above ground near the station’s exit you can hop on the California cable car line to ride towards Chinatown. Hop out at Grant and explore the shops, unique street lights, temples, and more in the area.
Stop 5: Choose-your-own-adventure
If you’re running low on fuel—head on home. You’ve had quite the day! If you’re still seeking adventure you’ll still be able to visit bars and other night life hotspots in North Beach, Chinatown, and Union Square, or you can hop in a car to the Bayview for a late-night recovery spa session at Archimedes Banya.
Early Morning: Hike up Twin Peaks to watch the sunrise
4.3 miles, 2-hour hike
Before you leave town, start off the morning with a hike through a hidden forest to the top of Twin Peaks where you can see the entire city from a 360-degree view. You can find the entrance to the Interior Greenbelt in Cole Valley near Stanyan and 17th streets where you’ll begin the uphill hike along the Historic Trail and Fairy Gates Trail through the forest, one of the gems of San Francisco. A hop across Clarendon Avenue gets you to Sutro Tower and from there you’ve nearly reached Twin Peaks.
Last Stop: Explore murals in the Mission and fuel up with a smoothie at Dolores Park
When you’ve soaked in the sunrise and city views, head down Twin Peaks towards the Mission to refuel at Sidewalk Juice with a smoothie or acai bowl and grab a cup of coffee at Ritual Coffee Roasters before you leave San Francisco. If you have time to spare, wander around the Mission to see the endless murals, or simply chill at Dolores Park and soak up sunshine like a cat. You deserve it!