Saturday, April 7, 2012

Cycling in San Francisco: Embarcadero-Presidio-Great Highway-Twin Peaks city ride

San Francisco city view from Twin Peaks
I really enjoy city riding right out of my door, and one of my favorite rides is the loop through the presidio, ocean beach and up over Twin Peaks.
Looking back over Crissy Field to downtown San Francisco
Most of my city rides start out by heading down to the Embarcadero, in my case by heading down Townsend, which has new bike lanes and limited traffic on the weekends.  As an aside, this ride is nicest when started before 8:30am on Saturday, 11 am on Sunday, or after about 4 pm on either day. Otherwise, there is usually a lot of car and pedestrian traffic, especially on Saturdays. Today, though, we headed out at around 3pm. 

The Embarcadero takes you through Fisherman's Wharf. I usually avoid the Wharf area in the afternoon due to the intense car and tourist traffic, but today we went straight through it.  There are nice views of the bay and Alcatraz  from Aquatic Park, which you reach after Fisherman's Wharf, then the ride continues up a steep grunt of a little climb over Fort Mason. Golden Gate bridge views at the top provide a reward for the climb, and there is a usually a cluster of folks at the top taking in the view. Then, a descent on a path down into the Marina. 

After riding along the Marina Green, you enter the Presidio and start climbing up towards the bridge. The day was exceptionally crisp and clear and I couldn't stop taking photos! I felt like a tourist in my own town.

Golden Gate Bridge view from Lincoln Street in the Presidio
We continued on into Lincoln Park, passing the Palace of the Legion of Honor, but my photos were blurry.  Then a descent onto the Great Highway. I haven't ridden here for a while and had forgotten how great the views are. The traffic was pretty light, bonus.

Looking back towards Marin from the Great Highway
Most SF city rides have some gritty riding along with the pretty riding, and this route is no exception. The gritty starts with the left turn onto Sloat near the SF Zoo. Sloat pretty much sucks, between heavy traffic, poor pavement and two nasty merges from the right. But if you get through the first 3/4 of a mile for so, there is a great new bike lane, which helps a lot.  Once you make it across 19th Avenue, you get back to pretty (or at least pleasant)  with the slow grind up Portola towards Twin Peaks. You can avoid Sloat by heading through Golden Gate Park then climbing Twin Peaks from the north side, but that route is much steeper. Plus, you miss the great views from the southern climb to Twin Peaks.

Twin Peaks Blvd feels bucolic, except for the occasional Muni bus grinding up the hill
After the left turn onto Twin Peaks Boulevard, the climb to the top of Twin Peaks is a lot of fun, and surprisingly short since most of the elevation from the beach has already been gained during the grind up Sloat and Portola.

Big views on Twin Peaks Blvd looking south
The views at the top were exceptional today! We hung out a bit taking in the view, then descended the windy road on the northern end. Lots of fun to descend, but a bit wet today so I took it easy. Then, we headed  home through the Castro and Mission districts. What a great ride!

View to the north from Twin Peaks
About 25 miles
1700 feet of climbing

Route Maps:

Map of San Francisco city cycling route through Embarcadero, Fisherman's Wharf, Fort Mason, Marina, Presidio and Lincoln Park

Map of San Francisco city cycling route from Lands End, Ocean Beach, Great Highway, to Twin Peaks and Mission District

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