Riding a bike across across the Golden Gate Bridge is great fun! Here are my tips on the best ways to do it: how to rent the bikes, how to choose a tour, and tips for taking the ferry back from Sausalito.
Many visitors say this is one of the best things they did in San Francisco. You can experience the Golden Gate Bridge up close, and get a birds-eye view of the beautiful bay and city skyline.
After crossing the bridge, you have the option of riding down the hill into the charming town of Sausalito, to browse the quaint shops and enjoy fresh seafood...and the delectable ice cream shops.
Another cool thing: when you're ready to return to San Francisco, you can hop on a ferry in Sausalito (with your bike) and enjoy one of the prettiest boat rides in the world.
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Most people rent the bikes and go, but the guided tours can be a lot of fun, too.
There is no shortage of bike rental places in the city, especially around Fisherman's Wharf where the self-guided tours often start. You'll see the bike kiosks and offices all over the wharf. But which one to choose?
I looked into this for my own ride across the bridge, so I'll share what I discovered. There are some really good deals on renting the bikes;-)
There are lots of bike rental companies in San Francisco, and at least 9 of them provide bikes to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and ride down into Sausalito.
It's pretty overwhelming comparing all the prices and reviews, but I spent some time on it and came up with what I think are the four best options for renting bikes.
Bike rental tips in a nutshell:
#1: Basically Free Bike Rentals. Is it really free? In a way, yes. And they have great customer ratings as well.
How does it work? You rent the bike, and they give you a voucher to spend the entire amount on anything at the Sports Basement store. Pretty cool!
The bike rental office is at 2568 Jones Street, at Fisherman's Wharf, and there's a huge Sports Basement store at Crissy Field, on the route to the bridge, where you can use your voucher. They have a wide variety of things to buy, not just sports equipment, so it shouldn't be hard to find something you want.
See bikegoldengatebridge.com for more info and booking. (Tip: it's also 20% off if you book online.)
#2. Book online to get a discount. The following companies rent bikes for the day in the $24 to $27 range for the standard mountain bike (after the discounts, which range from 10% to 25% for booking online), listed from lowest rate to highest:
All of the companies listed above have rental offices at Fisherman's Wharf (except Bike and View), convenient for picking up the bikes, plus the Blue and Gold ferry from Sausalito brings you back to Fisherman's Wharf so you can easily drop off the bikes.
The Bike and View rental company is at 1771 Lombard Street, a bit closer to the bridge than Fisherman's Wharf. This could be a good choice it you don't plan to go on to Sausalito, either for lack of time, or because you have younger children who may not be up for such an extensive bike ride.
If you plan to turn around at the end of the bridge and ride back, instead of taking the longer trip down to Sausalito and returning on the ferry, you'll have less distance to travel to return the bikes to Bike and View. Plus, you'll skip the hill in Fort Mason and join the bike route right after that, and enjoy all the rest of the sights on the ride to the bridge.
Most of these companies also rent electric bikes, and have seats for kids, trailers, and other accessories. Check with the individual companies for more info.
I didn't include bike rental companies that are farther away. You can also rent bikes near Golden Gate Park and the Ferry Building, but that makes for a much longer bike ride.
3. Get a package deal. Another way to save money on these bike rentals is to get a pass that includes the bike rental along with other things you want to do in San Francisco.
City Sightseeing has a Mega Pass where you can choose 3, 4 or 5 activities from a list of over 25 things to do. The list includes the bike rental along with the Hop On Hop Off bus tours, bay cruises, museums, aquariums, and other tours. See Mega Pass for more info and booking. $2 off to book online.
Most of the companies offer a variety of bikes to rent, including electric bikes. Do you need an electric bike to get up the hills on the ride to the bridge and Sausalito?
The short answer is no. The route is pretty much flat all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge from Fisherman's Wharf...with two exceptions.
There's a fairly steep hill just as you leave Fisherman's Wharf and enter Fort Mason. You may have to get off and push it at least part way there, but most people don't have a problem with that. And there's a milder hill just before you get to the bridge, but it's pretty easy to get up it using gears.
Once you're across the bridge, it's downhill all the way to Sausalito.
On the other hand, electric bikes are a lot of fun to ride! They charge a little more, but I would be tempted. The hills would be effortless. You have to be at least 16 to ride them, and you can't use the electric boost on the bridge itself (which you wouldn't need, anyway). I have an electric bike and love it; perfect for San Francisco hills!
On these tours, a guide takes you to the Golden Gate Bridge, across the bridge and down into the town of Sausalito. You'll hear about the history of the sights you're passing and interesting tidbits along the way.
When you get to Sausalito, you're free to explore the shops, galleries and restaurants and then return on the ferry with your bike to San Francisco.
The guided tours over the bridge all seem to run around $55. The reviews seem pretty comparable, none really stood out, except maybe Dylan's Tours (dylanstours.com) which are electric bikes only and $69 for 90 minutes, but had excellent ratings.
Tip: Get tickets 50% off.
It's often possible to find these bike tours for 50% off, from either Goldstar or Groupon.
Goldstar often has tickets for the guided Golden Gate Bridge bike tours for $27.50. It's free to sign up, then you can check to see what they have available. See Goldstar for more info.
Groupon also has some good deals on these tours, when available. Check out their half-price Golden Gate Bridge tours, $55 for two people.
Other than Goldstar and Groupon tickets, the best deals I saw for the guided tours were:
Want to combine a visit to Alcatraz with a bike tour of the Golden Gate Bridge? See Alcatraz/bike tour for more info and booking.
When you get your bike, you'll also be provided with a helmet, bike lock, and route map.
The bike ride from Fisherman's Wharf, across the bridge and down to Sausalito is 8.5 miles, and takes about 50 minutes (without stops).
The typical bike ride starts in the Fisherman's Wharf area where most of the rental places are.
The Route: from the rental office, you ride to the western end of Fisherman's Wharf, past Aquatic Park, then into Fort Mason (where the above-mentioned hill awaits).
The route takes you through Fort Mason, then join the bike path that runs all along the waterfront to the bridge. You'll pass the San Francisco Marina and Crissy Field, then take the bike path that goes up to the Golden Gate Bridge. All this will be marked on the map you'll be supplied with.
You'll see options for scenic detours, like the Palace of Fine Arts (beautiful buildings from the Pan Pacific Exhibition in 1915) and a run down to Fort Point and one of the most beautiful views of the bridge. (See my tips on how to get to all the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge.)
There are two sidewalks on the Golden Gate Bridge used by cyclists: the east sidewalk, facing the bay, and the west sidewalk, facing the ocean. The bridge has a schedule for which sidewalk is open to bicycles.
Daylight to 3:30 pm, east sidewalk.
3:30 pm to dark, west sidewalk.
Weekends and holidays:
Daylight to dark (all day, in other words), west sidewalk.
The bridge is open to cyclists 24 hours a day, but after dark, the gates are locked and riders have to push a button to get buzzed in.
Pedestrians must use the east sidewalk, and share it with bikes on weekdays.
Tips for biking crossing the bridge.
You don't have to ride to Sausalito; you can always just turn around and ride back across the bridge. But if you have the time, I highly recommend the ride down to Sausalito. The views are great, and Sausalito is a fun place to visit.
If you have kids with you that are a bit unsteady on bikes, then the trip down to Sausalito may not be the best idea. There are some steep places and you will be riding with traffic once you get to the town. But if they can handle their bikes reasonably well, they should be fine.
When you get off the northern end of the bridge, you will be following a path that goes under the bridge and taking a scenic route down the hill into Sausalito. This is a newer route, safer for bikes, with less traffic and prettier views than the previous Alexander Avenue route.
Crossing on the East Sidewalk: you'll arrive at the Vista Point parking lot. From there, you'll need to cross under the bridge via an underpass to get to the North Tower Parking lot (aka the Trailhead). At the edge of the lot, you'll see the beginning of a bike trail and the sign for Sausalito.
Follow the bike path downhill, pass under the bridge and coast down to Fort Baker. Your supplied map will show you how to navigate the rest of the way to Sausalito.
Crossing on the West Sidewalk: you will already be at the North Tower parking lot. Find the signpost for the bike route to Sausalito, and enjoy!
The bike route now takes you through Fort Baker, formerly a military fort, and home to a hotel, restaurants, a yacht club and a very popular children's museum, the Bay Area Discovery Museum.
Once you're in Sausalito, there are bike racks where you can leave your bike and explore the town. The main street with shops and places to eat is Bridgeway, and the houses climb up the steep hills behind it.
There are lots of small shops in the town that sell all sorts of interesting things. It's a fun place to wander around and browse. There are some local art galleries to check out, as well.
If you want to see more than the quaint downtown, you can ride your bike farther north along the main street, Bridgeway, look at the cool houseboats, and check out the very unique Bay Model up the road (a huge, working model of the entire system of waterways for the Bay Area).
Restaurants. Sausalito is a great town for food, as well. They have a Scomas seafood restaurant (sister to the one in Fisherman's Wharf) sitting on the water in a pretty wooden building at 588 Bridgeway.
The Trident is another good seafood restaurant, also with great bay views, which has an interesting history. This was a famous hangout for 60's rockers, and was originally owned by the Kingston Trio. It still has its original hippie decor. (Ask the staff to point out the table where Janis Joplin used to sit.) 558 Bridgeway.
Many people swear Sausalito has the best ice cream in the area. Lappert's is the place most people head for. They have over 260 flavors in their creative repertoire, so their selection changes frequently. 689 Bridgeway.
The tickets for the ferry aren't for any specific sailing; they are good for 90 days (Golden Gate Ferry) or forever (Blue and Gold Ferry), but there are no reserved places. People line up for each ferry, first-come, first-served, but the ferries are large enough so it's rarely a problem getting on.
There are two lines for boarding: people with bikes and those without bikes.
With a bike, it's not quite as easy, as there's only room for about 50 bikes. Most of the year, it's not a problem, but in high season the ferry may fill up with bikes. But there's a solution; see below.
1. Taking the right ferry. There are two ferry companies that run between Sausalito and San Francisco.
The Blue and Gold Ferry goes to Pier 39 and the Golden Gate Ferry goes to the Ferry Building. If you need to return your bike near Fisherman's Wharf, make sure you take the Blue and Gold Ferry. If you rented a bike near the Ferry Building, you would take the Golden Gate Ferry.
2. Lining up early. The ferry rarely fills up for pedestrians, but there can be long lines to board in Sausalito, especially towards the end of the day. They suggest being at the dock 30 minutes before the scheduled departure.
Travelers with bikes board before those without bikes, and people with bikes get off the ferry last, after the pedestrians.
3. Buying the tickets. There is no place to buy ferry tickets in Sausalito; there's no ferry terminal, just a dock.
Blue and Gold Ferry. You buy the ticket after you get on the ferry. There's a cashier on the boat who sells the tickets (cash or credit cards). You don't need a ticket to get on the ferry, but you do need a physical ticket to get off. If you bought your ticket online, you can show your confirmation number, either with a printout or using your cell phone, to get your paper ticket from the cashier.
Golden Gate Ferry. You buy your tickets as you board the ferry. If you've already purchased the tickets online, you can show either the printout or the confirmation on your mobile phone for your ticket.
You can also buy the ferry tickets in San Francisco before you go, at the Blue and Gold kiosk next to Pier 39 for the Blue and Gold Ferry, or at the Ferry Building for the Golden Gate Ferry.
4. Reserving a space for your bike in advance. There's a limit to the number of bikes they can carry, which can be a problem with the large crowds in summer. They board the bikes first-come, first-served, but people with bike reservations get on first. You can avoid waiting in the long line of cyclists in the standby line if you have a reservation. On really busy days, people without bike reservations may have to wait for the next ferry.
It's free to make the reservation, but most people aren't aware of this option. Go here to make a bike reservation.
5. Return your bike in Sausalito. During the summer, there's a new program that lets people return their bikes in Sausalito (for a fee, naturally). They will return the bikes to your rental place in San Francisco for you, and you don't have to deal with getting your bike on the ferry. See bike return for info.
Note: if you are going in the other direction, San Francisco to Sausalito, on the Blue and Gold Ferry, you do need a paper ticket to board the ferry. You can buy the tickets at the Blue and Gold booth at the left of Pier 39. If you purchased the tickets online, you will need to pick up a paper ticket at the pier at the same booth before boarding.
Ticket prices for one way, Sausalito to SF:
Blue and Gold Ferry: $12.50 ($7.50 for 65+ and 5-11 yrs).
Golden gate Ferry: $12.00 ($6.00 for 65+ and 5-18 yrs).
Want to see where all the best views of the bridge are, plus how to get there?
Maps, photos, transportation and parking info.
Curious about how they built the bridge? See Golden Gate Bridge history.
For tips on where to park when you visit the bridge, see Golden Gate Bridge parking.