Regardless of the constant hills and busy streets through San Francisco, there is still a prevalent bike culture in the city. In the past 20 years, the city of San Francisco has installed a lot of sustainable infrastructure throughout the city, like bike lanes on busy streets, bike locking stations, and bike racks on MUNI buses. This has made biking a lot safer and more accessible for both commuters and those biking for leisure. Additionally, the prevalence of bike rental companies like BayWheels has made biking more accessible to those who do not own a bike, offering both regular and electric bike options. There are docking stations adjacent to the USF campus near Koret Center as well as many other locations around the city. 

Bay Wheels station at Stanyan and Turk

Though the intense bike culture may seem intimidating, I promise there is no need to buy a spandex suit and clip-in shoes– there are plenty of beginner-level bike rides for people who are new to biking or want a casual, fun outdoor activity to release stress or to make their weekly commute a little more sustainable. Remember, sustainability is about adjusting your routine where you can– if you can only bike to school once a month, this is better than not at all. This blog post will recommend a few tips on staying safe when biking in the city, as well as some bike routes and bike events in and around San Francisco at varying levels of incline and difficulty to make it easier to get into the biking community in San Francisco. 

Cyclists riding on the street during Critical Mass.
Source: Wikipedia, Michael W. Parenteau (Critical mass 2005)

Tips for staying safe when riding in the city: 

  1. Always wear a helmet when riding. It is always better to be safe than sorry. 
  2. Stay to the right, and ride with the flow of traffic. Many streets in San Francisco now have bike-only lanes which are painted on the road in green paint. If you are riding on a street that does not have a bike lane, try to stay on the right side of the road and always pass other bikers on their left side. 
  3. When making turns make sure to use arm signals. To indicate a left turn, hold your left arm out straight, perpendicular to your body; to indicate a right turn, hold your left arm out with your elbow bent to a 90 degree angle and your hand up. 

Diagram of proper hand signals to use when making a turn or stopping.
Source: California Department of Motor Vehicles

  1. Plan your route ahead of time and avoid distractions. Planning your route before starting your ride allows you to focus on your surroundings and stay alert. Avoiding distractions like music also ensures safety when riding. 
  2. Be visible; make sure to wear bright colors and reflective gear, especially when riding at night. 
  3. Yield to pedestrians, especially when riding in highly populated areas, like Golden Gate Park or the Panhandle. 

Bike Rides and Events! 

USF to Ocean Beach through Golden Gate Park – Beginner Level 

This ride is great for someone who is new to biking in the city and may not be super comfortable riding in the street alongside cars. Start from USF or one of the bike rental stations around Koret and ride west along Fulton until you reach the Golden Gate Park entrance at the intersection of Fulton and Stanyan. For beginners I would recommend using the crosswalk lights to cross the street, as making a left turn here can be stressful. Here you will enter Golden Gate Park and continue on the paved path until you reach Conservatory Drive, then take a right. Continue on Conservatory Drive until you reach John F Kennedy Drive, then make another right. Continue on John F Kennedy Drive until you reach Ocean Beach. This ride is about 3.5 miles of slight decline and takes roughly 30 minutes. 

Map of Golden Gate Park showing bike route from USF to Ocean Beach.
Source: Frisco Vista

2: Presidio Bayside Ride- Beginner 

The Presidio is another great ride for those who are wanting a space with a dedicated bike trail. This ride starts along the Golden Gate Promenade near Crissy Field marsh and continues along the Promenade under the Golden Gate Bridge and west towards Baker Beach. There are a lot of great places to stop along this route like Crissy Field.  This ride could be extended to include roads within the Presidio, though it should be noted that the Presidio includes a lot of hills and can be challenging. This ride is adjustable, but the loop around the Presidio is two miles and takes roughly thirty minutes to complete. 

Rainbow over the Presidio on a cloudy day.

3: Angel Island Loop Ride- Beginner (Ferry Required) 

Though a ferry ride is required (for a $9.25 fee), getting to Angel Island is a great escape from the city, and there are some great bike paths. Riding the perimeter of Angel Island is another great leisurely ride that avoids hills and is good for a day trip. The perimeter of the island is roughly five miles, with many coves to explore and picnic benches to rest at throughout the day. Biking the perimeter of the island without stopping should take roughly 45 minutes. 

Angel Island State Park biker information signage
Source: A Modern Mother Blog

4: Sausalito Bike Ride- Intermediate 

This ride starts at the Golden Gate bridge, taking the bike lane on the left side of the bridge and making sure to stay on the right side of the lane. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge can be a bit stressful since you are riding directly next to traffic, so be extra careful during this portion of the ride, and make sure that you are not stopping at any time while crossing the bridge. Once you arrive at the other side of the bridge, go left down Fort Baker Bay Trail, then continue on to Center Road, which eventually turns into East Road and takes you into Sausalito. East Road is a gradual hill, but there is ample sidewalk space to walk your bike if necessary, as well as viewpoints to stop and rest at. Bike parking in Sausalito is paid, costing $3. You can take the same route back, or take a ferry back to the Ferry Building for $7. 

Sausalito on a clear day.

SF Critical Mass: 

Critical Mass is a group bike ride that takes place on the last Friday of each month in different cities around the world. It was started here in San Francisco in 1992 with the intention of raising awareness for the biking community in the city, and today there are roughly 300 rides taking place around the world each month. SF Critical Mass starts at 5:30 PM at Pee Wee Herman Plaza at the foot of Market Street. Everyone is invited, and there is no one in particular in charge and no goal other than building community. The route is not set, and cyclists will often break into groups based on interests or desired difficulty level for the day. This ride is a great way to meet other cyclists and bike in a large group! 

SF Critical Mass poster



Bay City Bike, SF Biking: Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Biking in a City. 2023. 

Tanner, Michael. Bike About Town: Flat Routes in San Francisco, 2009. 7 top biking trails in San Francisco for Families, 2022.