Among the Bay Area's many, many charms is the diversity of amazing bicycle rides all within a short distance of wherever you happen to be. From urban rides through city parks, to grueling mountain bike climbs, to a leisurely cruise around an island, there's a ride for all ages, interests, and skill levels. Below we bring you what we consider to be the best twelve around, and although no doubt everyone has their own favorites, if you're ever feeling the need to try something new or just don't know where to start, look no further than this list. These rides will do you right.
Angel Island Loop
Right in the center of the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island is both a fascinating piece of history and a gorgeous state park. With 360 degree views, picnic areas, and great hikes, it's a wonderful place to spend a day. Thanks to a paved, 5-mile long service road that loops the island, it's also a great place for a relatively easy and scenic ride. What's more, if you don't own a bike you can rent one there (check availability before heading over as on-island bike rental is seasonal). The ride is a complete circle around the island, and provides plenty of opportunities to stop and take in the view. To get on the paved road, exit the Angel Island Ferry and continue toward the grassy picnic area. With the picnic area on your right, head up the paved road to your left. That road will T-bone into the loop — from there, you can either ride to the left or right. Take your time and enjoy (just don't miss the return ferry!). — Jack Morse
Cyclists who tackle the trail from Pacifica up Montara Mountain couldn't be faulted for describing this route as a Choose Your Own Adventure — with a fork about halfway in, this ride can be an easy cruise, or a go-for-the-gusto beast. As laid out by Bay Area Mountain Bike Rides, cyclists begin on Old San Pedro Mountain Road, then it's decision time: For an easy ride, take the turn at Gray Whale Cove Trail and enjoy the scenery. If you want a more challenging course, then head uphill on North Peak Access Road, instead. And if you want to really do yourself in, you can loop around and do it all, for a 17-mile ride with the best of both — gorgeous coastal views, as well as stretches where the grade reaches around 30 percent. Not for the faint of heart! — Eve Batey
Tennessee Valley Beach. Photo via the National Parks Service
Tennessee Valley / Muir Beach
One of the most scenic mountain biking trails in the Bay Area, this grand singletrack loop extends from the Tennessee Valley parking lot all the way to the edge of Muir Woods and Mt. Tamalpais State Park, offering views of both, along with Muir Beach, Tam Valley, and major ocean vistas. It's almost 21 miles in total and includes some pretty steep grades, but for in-shape cyclists the rewards are great and many as you pass through some of the most famous scenery Marin County has to offer. Also, you have several lovely picnic spots to choose from when it comes time to rest, either on the cliffs overlooking Muir Beach, the beach itself, or back at Tennessee Valley beach, where your car will be just a quick, flat trip on a wide trail away. Jay Barmann
(Photo: Troy/Third Uncle)
Enjoy the splendors of Baker Beach, that perennially popular warm weekend retreat, while saving the planet and avoiding traffic: Ride there. From wherever you set out, find your way to the Wiggle. Follow through to the Panhandle and into Golden Gate Park, then take a right on Conservatory Drive E. to get to Arguello. That will take you to Lake Street (take that left, or West) which is divine and flat and lined with trees and houses at which you will marvel. At 25th Avenue, turn off and follow signs to Baker Beach. There, sand, surf, and bike racks await your arrival. Your friends, however, do not: Expect a text saying they're still looking for parking. —Caleb Pershan
Photo via Yelp.
Golden Gate Bridge to Black Sands Beach via Hawk Hill
OK. This ride will definitely leave your legs sore for a day or two, but oh, is it worth it. With huge climbs, sweeping views, and a beach for a quick (or long) rest, the ride across the Golden Gate Bridge, through the Marin Headlands, and to Black Sands Beach is a Bay Area treasure. Ride across the bridge like any old tourist, but then instead of heading down to Sausalito, cut a hard left up the very steep hill that is Conzelman Road. The hardest part is the first hump — if you can manage that you can manage the rest. Ride the winding road all the way to the top and you'll be rewarded not just with a view, but with a descent down the back side that is one-way (meaning you can bomb it without worrying about getting hit by an oncoming car). From there it's an easy ride to Rodeo Lagoon and the beach. Perhaps best of all, you can get back to the bridge without having to do any crazy climbs back. Simply take Bunker Road through the tunnel under 101 and you're practically back at the Golden Gate Bridge. — Jack Morse
(Photo credit: Jon Carr)
Great Highway to Fort Funston
Fort Funston is a fine and pretty destination for a non-ambitious biking day, down at the southwestern-most corner of the city, accessible via a mostly flat trip down the Great Highway from Golden Gate Park. Sure, if you were feeling more energetic, you could go a lot further than those 4.6 miles and head straight down Route 1 to Pacifica, but why not take a load off at the popular dog park that is the beach at Fort Funston, with its succulent-covered dunes (which are in bloom this time of year), and watch some hang-gliders float around overhead? Jay Barmann
A bike rests at Ocean Beach. Photo: Swell Bicycles/Yelp
The Panhandle To Ocean Beach
It's not the ride to Ocean Beach through the Panhandle and Golden Gate Park that's the killer, it's the ride back. Sure, the trails that run from the Park's far-eastern tip all the way to the beach aren't beset with the kind of hills for which San Francisco is both beloved and reviled, but the constant grade to the beach makes for a gentle downhill trip to the ocean and a consistently challenging one back. If you're unfamiliar with Golden Gate Park's seven miles of bike routes, get ready for a treat, though: With waterfalls, gardens, bison, and lakes, GGP can feel like another world. And if you really want to feel other-worldly, take your ride on a Sunday, when the Park's main auto pathways are closed to cars. It's like Sunday Streets every weekend! — Eve Batey
Mission Peak Regional Reserve, one of the good lord's masterpieces near Fremont, is accessible, for the most part, by bike, although you can't summit that way. Bay Area Bike Rides counsels you to start at the Ohlone College campus parking lot, which has a parking fee of $1 per hour or $4 per day. Though it's a bumpy, roughly 5-mile fire road ride up the Peak Trail, the views are breathtaking and well worth the climb. For this ride, you'll want a mountain bike, or at least you'll prefer something with some fat tires. —Caleb Pershan
Photo via Yelp.
San Francisco Peaks
There are a lot of great rides in San Francisco itself, and not all of them are on bike lanes. A cobbled together mountain bike trail ride that cuts through Glen Canyon Park, Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve, and Mount Davidson Park exists that allows you to feel like you've stepped out of the city for a bit. This ride shares trails with hikers, so make sure you're keeping an eye out for them (and yield!), but it is a great way to get some mountain biking in without ever needing to leave the wonderful city. — Jack Morse
Photo courtesy of San Mateo County Parks Department
Crystal Springs Regional Trail
If you're looking for a mostly flat, paved, scenic place to take your bike out on a weekend, the Crystal Springs Reservoir just down 280 is a perfect choice. The popular trail is used by hikers, joggers, bicyclists, rollerbladers, people pushing strollers, and equestrians alike, so it's only really appropriate for leisurely biking, but it extends for 15 miles south from San Bruno and, when completed, will extend 17.5 miles all the way to Woodside, essentially parallel to the freeway. There are restrooms available, as well as a picnic area about halfway down in the Sawyer Camp segment of the trail, but be warned, despite there being a reservoir beside it, there are no drinking fountains anywhere. Jay Barmann
Photo via yelp.
Inside of El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve, the Skeggs Point ride is a favorite among Bay Area mountain bikers. While definitely a drive, the park features a wide variety of trails of all different skill levels. And while many of the trails are old fire roads, and thus wide open, there are numerous singletrack trails to chose from. This specific ride has a big descent that is followed (naturally) by a big climb, so be warned that that it ends with some serious work. It's totally worth it, of course. — Jack Morse
One of the views from the Grey Whale Cove Trail in Pacifica: All Trails/Dan O'Friel
Mt. Tam Old Railroad
Who needs the long gone "Crookedest Railroad in the World" (1986-1930) to take you up Mount Tamalpais when you've got a mountain bike at your command? To get to the top (a feat, to be sure) from downtown Mill Valley, according to We Like To Bike, you'll want to take Throckmorton to Corte Madera, then a left on West Blithedale to the Old Railroad Grade. Make a left to stay on West Blithedale. There's an entrance to the fire roads off that road, and you'll climb those all the way up to Fern Canyon Road. Next, take Gravity Car Road up, which will lead to Panoramic Highway and the Mountain Home Inn. Keep going up Gravity Car Road over the former crookedest railroad path, and you'll arrive at West Point Inn. From there (take a break, people!) it's just two miles to the top. —Caleb Pershan