By Regina Hope Sinsky
Kids and bikes go together like peanut butter and jelly. But kids on bikes and city streets can go together like peanut butter and pickles (If you’re pregnant, like me, that might actually sound good. It isn’t.). Fear not, families, there are some fun, safe places to take your kids for a spin in San Francisco.
What makes a kid-friendly bike ride in the city? Little to no hills, little to no traffic (Bike paths! Bike lanes!), with lots of fun sites to see and rest stops. The next time we get a sunny day, here are a couple of options.
Golden Gate Park
This is an obvious choice any day of the week, but Sundays on John F. Kennedy Drive are 100% car-free, opening miles of pavement for kids to flit about with impunity. Pit stops might include a visit to the California Academy of Sciences and the Japanese Tea Garden.
And adding on the 40+ years of Car-free Sundays in GG Park, Saturday car-free space is now a reality every year from April thru September on JFK Drive between Tea Garden Dr. (near 8th Ave.) and Transverse Dr.
Take 8th Avenue’s “sharrow” bike route (you won’t be alone on Sunday with lots of other riders to help increase visibility) into the park and go left towards the Conservatory or right to Stow Lake. Be sure to stop by the park carousel to ride a horse, lion or ostrich. But don’t stay too long or the bikes will get jealous.
Mountain Lake Loop
This ride offers several fun park breaks for tired little feet. Go up 14th Avenue until it dead-ends into the Presidio. Stay to the right on a little path that will take you into the Presidio. Stay left to go around Mountain Lake, then follow the path up the hill, across Arguello, and join the new bike path down to Julius Kahn playground. There’s a bathroom there too, but it’s locked on holidays. Little ones may need to push their bikes up the hill back from Julius Kahn, but then the gentle downhill to Mountain Lake Park will send their handlebar streamers soaring!
Lake Merced Loop
It’s pretty cool to think about the Ohlone Tribe that once lived on the shores of this lake located south of Golden Gate Park (“We’re riding our bikes where Native Americans once lived!”). Plus you’re close to San Francisco Zoo and Fort Funston. The lake’s loop is just over 4 miles long and the entrance to Harding Park Golf Course offers a picnic area with tables and grills. Lake Merced will get busy on sunny days so beat the crowds and give newly-minted training wheel-free riders more room to ride by going when its cloudy or on weekdays.
This section of the city has a flat, three-mile sidewalk along the ocean. Parents should take wind into consideration when attempting this route (Hint: If it’s windy where you live, it will probably be extra windy here). Tired of riding? Build a sand castle. Better yet, a sand parklet!
With the exception of occasional slow-moving park ranger truck, this is a traffic-free ride. And it starts and ends with a boat trip! No cars are allowed on Angel Island, which you reach via the Blue and Gold Ferry from pier 41 in San Francisco. The five-mile loop does have some hills but rest stops are everywhere, along with amazing views and historic ruins to explore. This is a good ride for kids that have been riding for a couple years and little ones in bike seats. Toddlers on the back of your bike are going to be pointing at the island’s deer the whole ride.
On April 11th, the Great Highway will be a great place for family bike rides — Sunday Streets is taking over! There will be live music, food vendors, a kids’ area, and bike repair. Another fantastic offering is the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Freedom from Training Wheels program where trained instructors will help kids learn to ride their two-wheelers and tools will be on hand to remove training wheels for good! Check SundayStreetsSF.com for future dates and locations.
For more ride ideas and summer bike programs for kids (like bike rodeos) be sure to check out YBike.org, the new Presidio Community YMCA Bicycle Program’s website.
This post also appears on our Bay Area Transit blog on sfgate.com