San Francisco

San Francisco Bike Route: Velo Rouge and the Paradise Loop

A map of riding the Velo Rouge and Paradise Loop Route

A map of riding the Velo Rouge and Paradise Loop Route (for detailed route slip and gps file, click the RideWithGps.com link at bottom of post)

When in the Bay Area, I often find myself plotting out a bike route that takes me across the awe-inspiring Golden Gate Bridge into my favorite riding area of Marin County. Marin is full of excellent climbs and mountain-top views of the Pacific Ocean and of the San Francisco Bay, but every once in a while, the prospect of scaling Mt. Tamalpais just seems a bit much. For those of you looking for a way to take in the Golden Gate and the many charms of Marin’s waterside towns without bringing your climbing gears, this might just be the best ride out there.

Need to rent a bike for this route? Read this post on bike rentals in San Francisco!

Getting Started

We begin the ride on Arguello Boulevard, where between Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, sits the Velo Rouge Cafe, your pre-ride breakfast provider or post-ride recap spot. You’ll find among you a smattering of neighborhood regulars, surprisingly unpretentious hipsters, and a few of your lycra-clad brethren. With offerings like Levi Leipheimer’s Breakfast Burrito and other cyclist-inspired plates, as well as various coffee options, Velo Rouge is everything a cyclist could desire in an anchor-point for a stellar ride…and stellar ride you shall have!

Postcard of the Velo Rouge Cafe via gogobot.com

Postcard of the Velo Rouge Cafe via gogobot.com

Beginning with a short coast down Arguello you then make a brief but steep hill-climb to the edge of the Presidio. From this point forward, beauty will be around you for the entirety of your ride. The Presidio road meanders through trees and well-kept former barracks until you reach the mouth of the bay, where you get a first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge

As you approach the Golden Gate, I must warn you that their will most likely be crowds, and the route you must follow to ride across may not always be clear. Your best course of action is to take your time making your way through this section and consider the posted signs. Currently, the side of the bridge you take will depend on the time of day and day of the week, as follows:

Weekdays: East sidewalk until 3:30pm, then West sidewalk until 9pm
Weekends: West sidewalk all day

Once on the correct sidewalk path across the bridge, enjoy the views! While you’ll find some riders flying by, the number of pedestrian tourists and slower riders, coupled with tight spaces at each support post, make it more valuable to cruise through this section and take in the spectacular sights. Weather conditions seemingly change before your eyes as fog roles in and the sun peaks in and out, so you should be prepared for significant changes in temperature as well.

The Golden Gate from the northern observation point on a foggy day in May

The Golden Gate from the northern observation point on a foggy day in May

Marin County – Lowland riding along the San Francisco Bay Coastline

As you reach the north side of the bridge, you can go under it and come up the other side to reach the lookout point, or spiral down the windy road to the ground-level, where your lowland bay coastline pedaling begins. One can also go from the lookout point more directly towards the towns ahead, but in recent years this road has been in bad condition or under construction and the windy route passes by the Bay Area Discovery Museum, a convenient bathroom break or stopping point of its own merit.

Continuing to pedal north along the water, the first town reached is the Sausalito. I can’t say this town isn’t a bit touristy, but they certainly do a good job of it. The main street is lined with little shops, ice cream parlors, and restaurants to suit all types and the sidewalks are usually abuzz with an interesting mix of people from all corners of the world.

Next, you’ll ride through the Bothin Marsh, where you might well see some peculiar wildlife while you enjoy a pan-flat section of bike-path that will certainly have your legs asking for “full steam ahead!”

After negotiating the William Bagley Highway crossing via the Redwoods Highway Frontage Road, you’ll reach the town of Strawberry, where you’ll begin the Paradise Loop portion of the route.

The Paradise Loop

Here, you’ll pass through Tiburon and Belvedere, home to wealthy Bay Area residents looking for great skyline views of the city from a more relaxed and quiet perch. This section also passes by the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary, so bird-lovers should plan to make a stop.

Upon turning the corner past Richardson Bay and through Belvedere Cove, you will again head north and to the backside of the loop, a still more sparsely populated part of coastal Marin. Here you’ll have the opportunity to visit Paradise Beach County Park for a breather and perhaps to walk along the pier that juts out into the aptly-named Paradise Cove. While there is little motor traffic, please keep in mind that the shoulder in this section is narrow and caution should be taken on the curvier sections of road.

View back towards the hillsides surrounding Paradise Beach County Park from the pier’s edge

After leaving the Paradise Valley Park area, one can take the Trestle Glen cut-off, as shown in the route map, or extend the route a few miles by continuing north on Paradise Road and then heading south again upon reaching Corte Madeira, but either way, the route loops back into familiar territory in the town of Strawberry. This is where you can begin retracing your steps and taking advantage of what is usually a southbound wind to carry you home.

Route Info

Distance: 39 miles
Elevation Gain: Approx. 3,000ft
RidewithGPS: Velo Rouge and Paradise Loop Route detailed route info

Bike rentals in San Francisco, California

 Descending the shaded Bolinas-Fairfax Road after climbing Mt. Tam


Descending the shaded Bolinas-Fairfax Road after climbing Mt. Tam

San Francisco and the Bay Area provide an almost unrivaled diversity of cycling opportunities for all types of riders. A popular starting point for touring cyclists, the Bay Area also provides endless opportunities for travelers to rent bikes and explore new areas.

If you fancy a casual ride to take in many of the best vistas of the city, it’s hard to beat riding along the bay from Fisherman’s Wharf, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and into Sausalito or Tiburon. A leisurely cruise around Golden Gate Park is a favorite among locals looking for low traffic and lush landscaping. Or, hop on a mountain bike and explore the trails of Marin County, birthplace of the MTB movement. Finally, if you’re a roadie looking to bag some classic California climbs, you’ll find Mt. Tamalpais just across the Golden Gate, Mt. Diablo across the Bay Bridge, and Mt. Hamilton to the south by San Jose; some even make a day of reaching the top of all three!

Despite the high price-tag of most things in the Bay Area, heavy competition in the bike rental market here provides comparatively reasonable daily rental rates and also look for opportunities to reserve online and save 10% or more.

San Francisco and Bay Area Rental Companies:

San Francisco Bike Rentals – Large bike rental operation catering predominantly to those looking for hybrid bikes for exploring the Fisherman’s Wharf area to the Golden Gate Bridge, or Golden Gate Park. SFBR also has basic Specialized mountain and road bikes available for rent by the hour or day.

Blazing Saddles – Chain bicycle company with the widest selection of bikes of any rental business in the Bay Area and seven locations. Amongst the many bikes available from Blazing Saddles are tandems, full-suspension mountain bikes, electric bikes, and kid’s bikes. They also offer numerous accessories such as bike racks, tag-alongs, baby seats, and trailers.

Bike and Roll – This company offers a full line of Trek bikes, from comfort hybrids to the high-end Trek Madone racing bike with five locations to serve you.

Undiscovered Country – Specializing entirely in quality road bikes, Undiscovered Country rents for very low rates and will deliver anywhere in the Bay Area for a variable fee.

Uber-Bike – If you’re looking to ride the Bay Area wine country north of San Francisco on a high-end road bike, Uber-Bike is your rental company. With offerings from Cervelo, Pinarello, and other high-end bicycle manufacturers, they provide a premium experience. Though they are based in Santa Rosa, delivery is available for a set fee based on distance from their headquarters.

Here’s a great road riding route that takes in the Golden Gate and the lowland part of Marin County