Near & Dear Summer Escapes

As the summer months (and the fog) roll in, what better way to celebrate than to roll out of town! The Bay Area offers a plethora of car-free, care-free escapes, from short rides you can do in an afternoon to longer jaunts with an overnight stay. We asked SFBC members to share their favorite rides and helpful hints for getting away from it all by bike.

Three Days in Point Reyes
Wine Tasting in Livermore
Cruising the Coast to Santa Cruz
From the Pier to the Headlands
Day Tripping in Alameda
Planning Your Escape: Helpful Hints & Tips

Three Days in Point Reyes By Rich Coffin

Photo by Dave Snyder
To celebrate the first anniversary of selling our car, my wife, Cheryl, and I decided to try our first multi-night bike getaway. We loaded our bikes and caught a "slow" noon time ferry (bike storage is easier on the slow boats) to Larkspur.

Our route to Pt. Reyes Station was about 25 miles, with 75 percent of it on back roads or beautiful bike paths. The bright green hills of West Marin against the deep blue sky was stunning during the early spring. Add the ocean, marshes, and abundant wildlife at Point Reyes and you have one of the most beautiful and unique places on earth. We sighted a variety of hawks, kestrels, and other raptors all along our rides, not to mention the turkey vultures eyeing us on the slow climbs!

We spent three relaxing nights at the Jasmine Cottage, part of the Old Schoolhouse Compound in Pt. Reyes Station. The cottage is right up the hill from town, but far enough off Rt. 1 to be peaceful. A wood stove, full kitchen, and access to the shared hot tub were really nice after exploring Tomales Bay and Pt. Reyes each day.

Sea kayaks and horseback riding are also both nearby and make great alternate bike activities. Wildlife viewing in the marshes of Olema and Tomales Bay are worthy of a full day too. The first day we rode out Bear Valley, hiked along the coast, and explored the Estero. The second day we packed a lunch and rode to Kehoe Beach on the quiet northern end of Pt. Reyes. The tumultuous surf and skies were spectacular, since a small storm front had passed through the previous night.

We rode back on Monday to the transit hub in San Anselmo and caught a waiting #20 Golden Gate Transit bus back to SF. It's a nice ride back to the city, but since we always ride that stretch of road, it was starting to rain, and we were a little tired, and... well, you don't need an excuse when you've been riding all weekend! We got home feeling great and decided that this trip will now be an annual treat.

Jasmine Cottage: www.pointreyesschoolhouse.com; (415) 663-1166
Point Reyes.Net: www.ptreyes.net (a great resource for local lodging, food, and activities)

Wine Tasting in Livermore Valley By Garlynn Woodsong

I went on a wonderful bike ride last fall and did some wine tasting that was completely auto-free. I rode BART to the Dublin/Pleasanton station, then biked from there to the Livermore Valley wine appellation.

The first winery is approximately 10 flat (but potentially windy) miles from BART. Retzlaff Vineyards features organic wines, some of them quite good. This winery alone is worth the entire trip. There are two or three more wineries within about a mile or so of Retzlaff, and probably another five within three or four miles. Most wineries close between 4 and 4:30pm, so get there early. Some of the wineries serve food for lunch, but not after lunch.

I stopped in downtown Livermore at a Taqueria for lunch on my way to the first winery. Unfortunately, Livermore is not exactly a friendly haven for bicyclists, and taking a lane (with a friend or four) may be your only hope for survival. Overall, however, the ride is gentle and pleasant and a great biking day-trip from the City.

From BART, take Stoneridge to Santa Rita, right on Santa Rita to Valley, left on Valley to Stanley, left on Stanley to Murrieta, right on Murrieta which turns into 4th, slight right on College to S. Livermore Avenue and on to the wineries.

Cruising the Coast to Santa Cruz By Anna Sojourner

Photo by Bill Richardson
The San Mateo County coast, often overlooked in favor of more romanticized stretches, is easy to bike, and just might be my favorite getaway. You can ride from San Francisco to Santa Cruz in one day, but I've never wanted to skip the delights of the coast, so I do it in two.

On day one I ride to San Gregorio (1 mile east of Highway 1 on La Honda Road), where I pause at the General Store before riding Stage Road to Pescadero. In Pescadero I stop to eat at Duarte's. Sometimes it's tough going the last 10 miles to the Pigeon Point Hostel with a full stomach in the late afternoon winds, but it's a small price to pay for the artichoke soup and fried squid. I stay at the hostel overnight, and the next day's ride is an easy 38 miles.

The hostel is adjacent to a lighthouse squeezed between brussels sprouts fields, a small reef with tide pools, and the ocean. Try to get there soon, before the luxury hotel is built next to it (no kidding). There are other places to stay on the way, too. Among them, the Montara Hostel, hotels in Princeton, and $2 bike camping at Half Moon Bay State Park.

After a gorgeous trip down the coast, Santa Cruz by bike is a reward in itself. There are bike lanes everywhere, and people of all ages ride squeaky-chained cruisers with surfboards under their arm. Then there are the beaches, surfboards for rent, bookstores to get lost in, pubs, and friendly people. I can spend hours on a terrace overlooking Monterey Bay, spotting otters in the surf.

I prefer to ride out of San Francisco on weekdays, but I find traffic tolerable south of Pescadero even on the weekends. The Krebs touring map shows side routes like Princeton Road, the long bike path on the Half Moon Bay waterfront, and my favorite, Stage Road. Travel southbound to catch great tailwinds, then escape the headwinds by taking the bus and train home. Amtrak runs a bus between downtown Santa Cruz and San Jose Caltrain. Your bike goes (unboxed) on its side in the luggage compartment.

Pigeon Point Youth Hostel: (650) 879-0633
Amtrak/Caltrain: www.transitinfo.org

From the Pier to the Headlands By Greg Bailey

I have lived on a boat in the Pier 39 marina for the past four years with the other marina rats (who are very bike friendly). My current favorite ride is a 20-mile multi-sensory experience consisting of everything from the smell of freshly steamed ocean crabs to the diesel exhaust of the commuter buses and finally to the salty winds of the Pacific Ocean.

From Pier 39, travel along Fisherman's Wharf, over the hill to Fort Mason, and on along the Marina Green. Enter the Presidio and ride the lovely new painted lanes along Crissy Field and up the hill towards the entrance of Fort Point. Get yourself on the Golden Gate Bridge (which side to ride on depends on the time of day-check the signs) and be prepared to enjoy a cool and invigorating breeze.

Once across the bridge, take a sharp left on Conzelman Road, heading up to the top of the Marin Headlands. The climb is long but not too rough and there are several easy and safe stopping points along the route. Spectacular views of the bay and ocean are great distractions from burning calves. Once at the top there is really nowhere to go but down, and the best way to get there is an exhilarating ride on the single-lane, one-way road along the cliffs. Following this road will take you to an intersection where a left turn heads directly to Rodeo Beach-a great spot to watch surfers. (See the Feb/Mar 2002 Tube Times for a quick detour from Rodeo Beach to the Marine Mammal Center.)

From the beach, I usually head along the flats past stables and through the tunnel to Sausalito. Then it's a quick climb back to the bridge and across, a last burn through infantry row in the heart of the Presidio, down to Crissy Field, and back to the Pier for a nice hot bowl of chowder, a tasty beverage of choice, and the final glimpses of a setting sun.

Day-Tripping in Alameda By Ryan Singel

Photo by Dave Snyder
Alameda, that little island town across the Bay, has got a lot more going for it than you might imagine-an historic downtown, miles of shoreline bike paths, sunny beaches, and shady streets lined with antique Victorians and bike lanes. The town also boasts of an aircraft carrier, a winery, and the world's only drawbridge exclusively for bicycles.

Since Alameda is flat, small, and full of bike lanes, it's the perfect place to explore by bike. It's also accessible by BART and the ferry. All you need is a detailed map of Alameda (available free from The Best Of Alameda, (510) 747-1060) and a bike map from Bike Alameda (www.bikealameda.org/info/map.html) and you can build yourself a route anywhere from 10 to 25+ miles. Two small hints: Get an early start to avoid southerly winds in the afternoon, and don't ride the Webster Tube.

While the cyclist-only drawbridge from Alameda to Bay Farm is a must see (and ride) for any cyclist, here are some other places of interest:

Planning Your Escape: Helpful Hints & Tips

Trying to convince your partner, spouse, friends, or family to join you on a multi-day bike trip? Here are just a few of the advantages of a car-free vacation:

It's cheap! For the price of one car rental, you can buy panniers you'll use for future tours (trust us, you won't go just once), shopping, and commuting. Worries about summer gas prices become a thing of the past. You can spend the money you save on nice lodging and fine dining.

Traffic? What traffic? Leave when the mood strikes you, not when rush hour is over.

Getting fresh air and exercise begins as soon as you embark on your trip, not when you've reached your destination and turned off the car engine (and let the exhaust dissipate).

You'll be supporting the local economy, not the ground ozone level.

You'll get home and feel GREAT!

Now that you've persuaded some folks to join you, keep these tips in mind as you plan your trip:

  1. Don't over pack. If you're biking most of the time, then comfortable biking clothes, rain gear, and a comfortable change is all you really need.
  2. The Bay Area boasts plenty of camping spots within easy biking distance. However, if camping isn't your cup of tea, try to find lodging in or close to town. After a long day's ride, you'll appreciate having only a short walk for dinner or groceries.
  3. Combining bikes with transit increases your range, equalizes different abilities, and lets you avoid traffic, bad weather, hills, and prevailing winds. Check out www.transitinfo.org for schedules, fares, and bike policies for transit throughout northern California. Some bikes with a front rack (including lowrider racks) cannot be properly fastened into the bike racks on the front of buses. Do a test run BEFORE departing on your trip.
  4. For peace of mind and at trailheads and in-town stops, the small krypto u-lock and cable combo cannot be beat! A mini kryptonite lock and a coated steel cable is an ideal combination to lock one or more bikes to just about anything without adding a horrendous amount of weight.
  5. Use your bike to visit friends and relatives scattered around the Bay Area-you're guaranteed a good meal and a hot shower at the end of the day, and you don't have to carry a sleeping bag or towel. At dinner, you can impress everyone by polishing off 5 or 6 servings, but try to warn them you'll be hungry.
  6. Youth hostels are a great lodging option. They are inexpensive and won't turn away a cyclist if they have space, but try to reserve in advance.
  7. Do it! A car-free overnight bike trip changes your whole perspective on time and distance. A getaway can be close to home and the journey will be as delightful as the destination.

Persuasive arguments and helpful hints provided by veteran bike travelers Anna Sojourner and Rich Coffin

ALSO Short Bike Rides in and around San Francisco is an excellent resource for cyclists of all skill levels. Written by SFBC member Henry Kingman (and available from the SFBC!), the book provides detailed descriptions, directions, times, and distances for 24 auto-free rides throughout San Francisco and environs.