Part of the magic of staying at a HI USA hostel is that you get to do and see things in a new city that go above and beyond the typical tourist experience. Whether it’s on a walking tour that takes you through the underrated streets of a local neighborhood, or from the seat of a bicycle across the city, you get to see a new perspective of a beloved place. The Bike the Bay Tour, which pedals off every Tuesday from HI San Francisco Downtown, gives guests a chance to tick off the bucket list item of getting across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge while also seeing the popular and off-the-beaten-path sides of San Francisco and Sausalito.
On a typical summer’s morning in the Bay (so, overcast and slightly foggy), a group of us gathered in front of the hostel to walk together to Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals, which offers a discount for hostellers taking this tour. Once we got our bikes, helmets and safety tips from Ellysa, the hostel’s engagement coordinator and leader of the tour, we were off. The ride started with a meander through San Francisco’s morning traffic in the Financial District, the towers of skyscrapers looking down at the single file of travelers from around the world weaving down the street. We emerged on the other side at the Embarcadero, almost underneath the Bay Bridge to Oakland and behind the Ferry Building where we stopped to look at San Francisco’s other great bridge and learn a little about its history. All throughout the tour, El would stop and share a fascinating bit of knowledge, like why the Golden Gate Bridge is the color it is, or when the seals at the pier first arrived, adding interesting flavor to the bike ride.
We continued to ride along the pier, the wood drumming underneath our tires, and we stopped for a while to hear the seals bark and play before heading towards the aquatic park where it felt like you were looking at the city from behind. On the way, the bay breezed by as views of Alcatraz, Treasure Island and the small boats docked in the water unfolded to the right of our bike gang until they were replaced by a host of seafood restaurants and the scent of clam chowder and salty sea followed us to the end of the piers.
Mercifully, the bike tour only includes two hilly climbs (a relief for those of us with not-so-strong legs) and the first happens to be right behind HI San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf hostel, which sits pretty in Fort Mason overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. We caught our breaths at the top and wound our way down to the Presidio and the breathtakingly serene Palace of the Fine Arts. The park around the palace is a bike-free area, so we walked our rides along the path, admiring the Romanesque structure and the birds peacefully wading through the lagoon waters.
Next, it was on to the Golden Gate Bridge. The road to the 1.7 mile-long national icon is a steady incline through Monterey Cypress trees, making it almost feel like you’re somewhere else completely before the Golden Gate reveals itself at one of the lookout points. We stopped for a group photo and then took on the bridge, biking under the impossibly tall International Orange (the official name of the bridge’s color) towers with the city, the bay and the Pacific spread out below. Some people chose to cross the bridge at a leisurely pace, stopping to take pictures and admire the view, while others sped from end to end to feel the cool wind rushing past their ears. From the peak at the Golden Gate Bridge, it was all downhill to Sausalito for a lunch of delicious deli sandwiches bought at a little spot just off the main tourist strip.
By this time, the sun had broken free from the clouds and Sausalito looked like a blue haven as we biked right alongside the water and row of restaurants and stores. We had our lunch on the afternoon ferry back to San Francisco, relieved to give our legs a rest and just admire the beauty that was in every direction that you turned to look.
Part of the group had chosen to stay to do some independent exploring of Sausalito, and the rest of us arrived back at the Ferry Building feeling proud and exhilarated that we’d managed to survive the 13-mile adventure around the Bay. After all, it’s not every day you get to see San Francisco from the seat of a bike, and get to do so with a group of strangers that quickly turn into friends. But that’s just how it’s done at HI USA hostels.
HI USA tip: Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals gives all HI San Francisco hostel guests a discounted rate of $16 for full-day rentals (whether you took the tour or not), so once you’re done with the bike tour, you can explore more of San Francisco with your new friends!