San Francisco boasts one of the most iconic skylines in the world. It has the high rises clustered next to the bay, the Bay Bridge, the hilly peninsula, the surrounding waters, and, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge. All of it combined creates a unique and beautiful setting.
In fact, the setting itself can be a big draw for visitors in addition to the city’s famous casual, alternative culture and array of sights and activities to check out.
With so many popular attractions, it can be hard to decide what to do in San Francisco. I’ve made a number of visits to the city, but on my most recent trip I decided to check it out from two different angles: by bike and by boat.
For those especially attracted to the city’s scenic setting, I highly recommend both activities.
San Francisco by Bike
I can’t say I was particularly excited about committing myself to a full day of biking San Fran’s famous hills. The thought of burning out my quads on near-vertical inclines while getting side-eye from the locals was not an appealing way to spend my vacation.
But I’m a good sport, so I went along with it.
I’m glad I did.
We rented bikes through Blazing Saddles in Fisherman’s Wharf, one of many bike outfitters in the city. Fisherman’s Wharf was a good starting point for us since we planned to take our bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge, located nearby.
We wound our way downhill through the Presidio with the bay to our right. The ride was easy. The warm breeze smelled like saltwater.
We stuck to walking and biking paths for the most part, enjoying the lazy ride past the stunning Palace of Fine Arts Theatre and through the park.
We eventually made our way to the large hill leading up to the Golden Gate Bridge, which is shared with traffic. I joined the others walking their bikes up the steep incline, because #quadssoweak.
I had only ever crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in a car – never on foot or on a bike. It’s an unforgettable experience.
The bike gives you the freedom to take the ride slow and enjoy the scenery. You can pull off to the side of the bridge to take photos and enjoy the views without obstructing other cyclists.
Once off of the bridge, a path to nearby Sausalito winds you down and under the bridge to the Coast Guard station and the luxury Cavallo Point resort (formerly Fort Baker). I was lucky to have had the chance to stay at Cavallo Point on a client trip, and have relished the view from this spot ever since. I was glad to be back.
From here, cyclists can continue to Sausalito and catch a ferry back to San Francisco. After grabbing a quick bite in Sausalito, we opted to ride our bikes back across the bridge to enjoy the views once more. The journey is about 16 miles roundtrip, or eight miles if you take the ferry.
San Francisco by Boat
I was stoked for this activity: a sunset dinner cruise in San Francisco Bay. How romantic!
I found this deal through Viator and jumped at the chance to see the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset. Fingers crossed for clear weather, we eagerly stepped onto the vessel departing from Fisherman’s Wharf.
The evening couldn’t have been clearer. There was the usual San Francisco chill in the air, but my excitement for the cruise made me forget all about it.
We pulled out of the dock and chugged around Alcatraz Island before turning westward toward the bridge.
The sun was a golden orb behind the red bridge, creating that famous silhouette we all know.
We grabbed sandwiches from the buffet as we slowly made our way through the choppy waters toward the bridge. The food was standard fare – sandwiches, veggies, cheeses, and other snacks . But let’s be honest, we were all there for the views.
San Francisco delivered a fine evening for sunset cruising.
We craned our necks as we floated underneath the bridge, watching it slowly pass overhead, the echo of tires and steel and water melding together.
The open Pacific stretched out before us. We turned around soon after passing under the bridge and hugged the coast from Sausalito to Oakland. The dark pink glow of dusk reflected off of the black water, houselights illuminating the hills. I was entranced.
I’ve done a lot in San Francisco, but these two activities will go down as my favorite ways to see the city.
Have you biked the city or cruised the bay? Let me know about your experience in the comments!
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