Land’s End: One of the Best Bike Rides in San Francisco
San Francisco, the beautiful city by the bay with all its crazy steep hills, is a surprisingly bike friendly town, filled with an extensive network of bike paths—(currently about 50 miles on our little 7 mile island, with another 30+ in the works). Not bad. And maybe it’s a San Francisco thing, but the drivers here seem much more relaxed and aware of cyclists. Perhaps they are just used to looking for bikers, but, I have yet to have any sort of collision or near catastrophe on my bike here, which I cannot say for any other city I’ve lived in.
When I was a kid, I lived in the country; the very deep country in the southeastern part of Oregon, approximately 100 miles or so from the middle of nowhere. We weren’t even a dot on the map yet. I was raised riding horses and by about the age of seven, driving tractors. The transition from horse, tractor, bike, was a logical and easy one for me. I never much liked cars, still don’t. My feelings were summed up perfectly in a book I read as a kid, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”
I would not call myself an avid cyclist by any stretch. My knees have grown a little stiffer and my bottoms a little wider as I slide down the back side of middle age. But I do ride my bike and I love it. I especially love it here in San Francisco, where every ride is replete with stunning views, the thrill of neighborhoods with equally thrilling names-Haight-Ashbury, The Mission, Lower Pac Heights, synagogues and storefronts proudly waving their colors under a fog drenched sky and people in an array of ethnicities adorn the streets.
There are many methods to route your course, as you explore the city. The nonprofit San Francisco Bike Coalition has a great website filled with tips and laws regarding safe biking, as well as a downloadable topographical map! In San Francisco, this is a true find. Google Maps, which Gaines is a huge fan of, has a bike route feature, which makes things a whole lot easier. I’m still a fan of HopStop, your one stop directions for transit, car, walking or biking. In order to use HopStop though, you need to have a destination in place. And if you get tired and need a break, the MUNI buses come equipped with bike racks, which is great. But every street in the city seems to come equipped with a brew pub of some sort, which is even greater.
I recently did a ride to Land’s End, a perfectly fitting name for a perfect ride. Land’s End is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation area, filled with hiking trails, windswept vistas, the Sutro Baths, the Cliffhouse, and more spectacular views of The Golden Gate Bridge. Two recommendations; 1) there is so much to see and experience, so make sure to allot yourself plenty of time. 2) Remember this is San Francisco and you are on the ocean. Make sure to carry a light windbreaker, scarf and hat. The wind will get fierce, and you will get cold.
I rode my bike from 19th/California towards 48th Avenue, ending at Seal Rock and El Camino del Mar Drives. You can take the bus—(#38L) or, if you choose to drive, there is tons of parking available.
I checked out the Sutro Baths first, or ruins, I should say. In 1896, the Sutro Baths were opened to the public as the world’s largest indoor swimming pool. Visitors had a choice of seven different swimming pools that were ostentatious in appearance and style; with private dressing rooms, toboggan slides and the ability to accommodate 25,000 people! The baths were so expensive to operate that they were closed in 1965, and then the building itself was burnt to the ground in 1966.
Overlooking the baths is The Cliffhouse Restaurant, which in and of itself is a San Francisco landmark. It began in 1858 and has had an amazing history. Today it is an exquisite Zagat rated and Michelin recommended establishment, with a great Sunday Brunch, walking tours and consistently touted as “San Francisco’s Best Restaurant with a View”, by travel journals and reviewers.
The Coastal Trail is clearly marked; bikes/no bikes. It is a beautiful, woodsy trail; light to moderate in difficulty. Since you can’t take your bike all the way to the bridge from here, you can opt to ride through the ‘bike only’ sections of the trail, or lock it up in the parking lot and walk. If you choose to do the latter, the trail is about 3 miles long and fairly easy to meander. There are two staircases on the trail itself, but lots of trees, shaded areas and scenic views to enjoy along the way. I chose to chain my bike and stroll/hike along the trail. There are oodles of photo ops, paths leading down to the ocean, paths leading up into the trees. Whatever is your pleasure, it is here.
Unlike Golden Gate Park, this place is not overrun by tourists—(yet). Perhaps that’s because it feels far removed or that you are going to the boondocks. Either way, it is an added pleasure for those who do venture this far out.
Whether you live in San Francisco or are just visiting, Land’s End is a must see destination, serving as one more proud example of how this city continues to invest in her future and preserve her unique beauty. To quote Herb Caen:
“One day if I go to heaven…I’ll look around and say “It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco”.