Golden Gate beckons with a scenic ride; like all monuments, it’s bigger than you think

Sausalito is a quirky little waterfront community on the scenic northern coast of California, just beyond the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is a great destination for a day trip from San Francisco – particularly if you are travelling by bicycle.

With the completion of the new bike path through the Presidio National Park a “great bike ride” has now become the “bike ride of a lifetime.” You can follow the bike path along the San Francisco Bay towards the Golden Gate Bridge while passing several exciting points of interest

With the completion of the new bike path through the Presidio National Park a “great bike ride” has now become the “bike ride of a lifetime.” You can follow the bike path along the San Francisco Bay towards the Golden Gate Bridge while passing several exciting points of interest

Sausalito is a quirky little waterfront community on the scenic northern coast of California, just beyond the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is a great destination for a day trip from San Francisco – particularly if you are travelling by bicycle.

As I pedaled my way up a rather long hill leading to the picturesque community, I was pretty sure why the bike rental company I had rented my equipment from was called “Blazing Saddles” – my gluteal muscles were on fire. I’d already made several stops under the guise of taking important “must-have” photos of this cycling trip, but one more stop and my husband was certain to discover the real reason behind the reoccurring delays.

Our plan for the afternoon had been a simple one – rent a bicycle, ride it to Fisherman’s Wharf, travel along the Presidio National Park Bike Path to the Golden Gate Bridge, cycle across the bridge and coast down the hill into Sausalito. Unfortunately, before you can coast down the hill leading into town, you have to cycle up the other side.

From the rental shop on Hyde Street to the edge of the town of Sausalito is about a 13-km ride, so we figured that 90-minutes would be enough time to complete the entire journey. If time permitted, we thought we might travel an additional 10 km into Tiburon and bike through a redwood forest near there.

The ride from the Hyde Street bike rental office to Fisherman’s Wharf had been mostly flat and easy. Although we were riding on the edge of busy roads, the bike lanes were well delineated and the trip was short. At Fisherman’s Wharf, we made a last-minute decision to head up the wharf and visit Pier 39 before heading north to connect with the Presidio National Park Bike Path that would take us off the road system and along the scenic edge of San Francisco Bay.

After locking up the bikes, we had wandered up the pier to take some photos of the wharf and the famous sea lions that congregate outside pier 39. You can smell the sea lions well before you see them, but they are probably one of the most famous natural attractions in the Bay area. They took over their current spot near the pier in the early 1990s, shortly after the Loma Prieta Earthquake. Today, countless visitors stop to watch the sea lions bask and play near the Bay.

After a short visit to the wharf area, we were on our way to Presidio National Park and the bike trail that passes through the park and along the water’s edge. The scenery along this trail is spectacular — so most of the stops along the way were legitimate photo ops.

Near the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, we made a stop at Fort Point National Historic Site, an historic fortification built to protect San Francisco Harbor from Confederate and foreign attack during and after the U.S. Civil War. Although it was an incredible fortification in its time, Fort Point never had to fire its guns in defence. The fort never came under attack, because its presence served as a deterrent to any who may have considered launching an assault on the Bay.

From Fort Point, we climbed a short, steep hill leading up to the sidewalk on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Cyclists are allowed to travel on one side of the bridge while walkers travel on the other, but whether you walk or cycle, seeing the bridge up close is an amazing experience. When the bridge was built in 1937, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Today it is the ninth longest and you can really appreciate the size and height of the bridge when you stand on it.

After stopping on the bridge for some pictures, we followed a bike path leading under the bridge and up over a ridge into the town of Sausalito.

By the time we arrived in the town, we had been on our bikes for well over two hours — much longer than we had originally anticipated — so we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the town and ride the ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Getting to Sausalito by bicycle had proven to be more work than I originally thought, but nothing worth doing is ever as simple as it seems when you first set out. Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge and exploring the tiny coastal town that has inspired artists and musicians ranging from Otis Redding to Robert Louis Stevenson is worth the effort — even if you get a little saddle sore along the way.

If you go:

• There are several companies that offer bike rentals in the San Francisco Bay area. We rented from Blazing Saddles, one of the Bay area’s oldest rental agencies with 25 years of experience and several locations. It cost $36 per day to rent a high performance mountain bike or a deluxe comfort hybrid cruising bike. A high performance comfort tandem bike (a bicycle built for two) would cost $78 per day to rent. If you are unsure of your ability to bike the bridge, you might also consider renting an electric bike for $69 per day. For more information on self-guided tours or rentals, visit: www.blazingsaddles.com.

• If you just want to bike one-way, you can take the ferry system back to Fisherman’s Wharf from either Sausalito or Tiburon. Blazing saddles provides a discounted ferry ticket that you don’t have to pay for unless you use it.

• If you can’t visit the Golden Gate Bridge, consider checking out the virtual bridge walk on this site: www.goldengatebridge.org. To check out a live webcam of the California seals at Pier 39 visit: www.pier39.com/webcam.cfm.

• For more information on visiting San Francisco and the surrounding area, visit the San Francisco Travel Association’s official website at: www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com. For information on the rest of the state, visit the official state tourism website at: www.visitcalifornia.com.

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.