The thought of only having a day and a half in San Francisco on my very first trip to California was daunting. How can I see it all without completely wiping myself out? I knew I wanted to see Lombard St, the seals at Pier 39, and perhaps Alcatraz, but most importantly, I had to see Golden Gate Bridge. After much deliberation, my boyfriend and I decided to bike the Golden Gate Bridge.
Yikes, right? No, not really. It’s a lovely, scenic ride during which you are on a dedicated bike path most of the time and not sharing the road with motor vehicles. The best part is, you don’t have to bike back (unless you really want to). You can bring your bike on the ferry from Sausalito for a beautiful, relaxing ride back to the city. There are a few steep hills, it is San Francisco after all, but for the most part it’s smooth-sailing. Biking over the bridge to Sausalito, including stopping for photos, will take about 2-3 hours.
Important note: you should be in good physical condition and know how to ride a bicycle, otherwise this may not be for you.
Where to Stay
Want to live like a local? Try an airbnb in the North Beach section of the city. It’s fairly quiet, clean and there are several restaurants and bars in the area. It’s also dubbed the “Little Italy” of San Francisco. We got a cute, little studio apartment up on a hill near Coit Tower and were able to walk to several of the sites we intended on seeing.
Here is our itinerary for one perfect day in San Francisco!
Start your day off in North Beach and indulge in an unforgettable breakfast at Mama’s, where you can get fluffy omelets, fresh-baked breads or a sampling of three french toast flavors that will knock your socks off. Mama’s is located near Washington Square Park and it won’t be easy to miss if you look for the long line of people waiting outside.
Helpful Tip: Mama’s opens daily at 8 a.m., so if you are an early bird, get there well before opening to be one of the first seated. Otherwise, I would wait until around 8:30 a.m. when the first diners start to finish up their meals. Even then, you might be one of 10 or more people waiting outside. Trust me, it’s worth it.
My boyfriend and I arrived at 8:15 a.m. to the line pictured above and it took about 30 minutes to get in the door. Once inside, head to the counter to place your order. Here, you can see the chefs in action and get a glimpse of some of the delicious items they are preparing. If you’re with others I recommend sharing a few dishes so you don’t miss out on anything! Don’t forget the mimosas.
Once you are nice and full, take a leisurely stroll down to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s about a 20 minute walk, mostly flat or downhill. You’ll pass by crooked, curvy Lombard Street, but you won’t get a good glimpse of it unless you make the steep hike uphill. Otherwise, continue toward the wharf where you will see the famous San Francisco trolleys. If you choose, you can hop on one for fun later in the day, but be warned the lines for the trolleys are very long at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Continue to head towards the water and make your way over to Pier 39 to see the harbor seals. Watch them swim, bask in the sun and enjoy their loud barks. You’ll also catch a view of Alcatraz across the water.
Rent a Bike
In Fisherman’s Wharf you will see many places advertising bike rentals and offering both self-guided and guided trips across the Golden Gate Bridge. We chose Wheel Fun Rentals for the fact that they gave us the option of leaving your bike in Sausalito (for an additional charge) instead of bringing it back with you on the ferry. There are several bike options, including electric-powered, but we chose an infinity shifting hybrid bike.
Helpful tip: Look for deals before renting. Groupon, and even the company’s website, offer discounts so try to snag one of those before you purchase your rental.
Without discounts, hybrid bikes are $37 for a 24 hour rental, which is still a reasonable deal for a full day. Each bike comes with a map, a helmet, a water bottle holder, and a zippered pouch to keep your cell phone, wallet and other small items.
Hit the Road
Once you’ve adjusted your saddle and strapped on your helmet, you can hit the road! It’s only a couple of blocks before you reach the bike path that runs along the San Francisco Bay. This is where you will hit your first steep hill. After that you will be on a long, flat path, passing by landmarks such as the Palace of Fine Arts and Crissy Field. The views of the Golden Gate Bridge really start to get spectacular at Crissy Field. Feel free to take a detour into the park for some pictures. There are also public restrooms available there.
As you continue down the path, the Golden Gate Bridge will become more visible and your photo ops will be endless. You will also start to hit some steep hills as you make your way up to the bridge, so definitely take advantage of stopping for photos and a breather!
Before you know it you will be on the bridge! This part of the ride slows down a bit because pedestrians and bikers share the same path along the bridge and you will be maneuvering through crowds at times. It’s a great time to make a few stops and take in the breathtaking views of the city! As you make your way across the bridge, be alert for other cyclist’s bells (especially the experienced cyclists), as that will be your indication to move out of the way. Just take your time, be aware and enjoy the view and you should have a stress-free ride.
On the other side of the bridge you will come to a popular lookout spot where you will see tons of people and tour buses. It’s up to you if you want to fight the crowds for a picture from here (we did it). Just be aware of your bike and belongings as things can easily get “lost”.
From there it’s all downhill into Sausalito. Sausalito is a cute, shore town with restaurants and boutiques lining Bridgeway, the main street on the water.
Helpful tip: Park your bike at the ferry terminal for $3 to ensure its safety and so you don’t get towed if you accidentally leave it in an illegal spot. You can decide later if you want to leave your bike or take it with you on the ferry. We left ours there for an extra $9 per bike to avoid the long line (there is a separate, much shorter line for pedestrians without bikes). Either way, try to arrive at the ferry dock 30 min before the departure time.
Grab a ferry schedule, purchase your ticket ($12.50 with or without the bike) and enjoy Sausalito. Along Bridgeway you can browse the boutiques, partake in some wine tasting or have lunch at one of the bustling restaurants on the water. We worked up an appetite, so we sat at the bar at the Napa Valley Burger Company and had a delicious turkey burger with swiss and avocado and a glass of rosé.
Relax and enjoy the ferry ride home from either inside or on the top deck, where you will get the best views and bay breeze. The ferry passes right by Alcatraz and slows down for picture-takers, so don’t miss your opportunity if this is your only chance to see Alcatraz on this trip. Once you get back to San Fran, go take a well-deserved break and perhaps a trolley ride.
After relaxing, enjoy dinner in the Embarcadero, along the eastern shoreline. There are many restaurant options, but we had an incredible dinner at Waterbar, with fabulous views of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which is beautifully lit at night. For a starter, we shared the roasted octopus, which was crispy on the outside and melted in your mouth. As his main course, my boyfriend ordered the Seared Ahi Tuna and I ordered the Pan Seared Halibut. We both made excellent choices. If you like a good raw bar, that is also available and you can scope it out at the main bar. The food and the view will cost you, but it’s worth it. End your night with a crafted cocktail, such as the Cucumber Collins, and pat yourself on the back for making the most of your one day in San Francisco!