BART to the Parks
Although this is a short ride at 16.7 miles, it is truly a tour, not a bike ride. The tour takes you through four of the major parks in San Francisco; Golden Gate National Park, Lincoln Park, the Presidio and Fort Mason. Each of these parks has its own special ambiance and attractions. While on tour, take the time to stop and look around, you're riding through some of the most scenic and well known parts of the city. Enjoy yourself. Travel at a leisurely pace and give yourself time to "smell the roses." If you do, the tour will take the whole day. (Route Sheet)
You don't have to ride BART to do this trip but it makes things a lot easier since the bike portion starts at the Civic Center and ends at the Embarcadero at Market Street. Since we live in the valley, our closest BART terminal is in Pittsburg. Each train car is allowed three bikes. However, bikes are not allowed during rush hour and you must yield your space if the trains are crowded. Tickets are disbursed from vending machines. The cost of a one-way ride from this station is $4.55. The trains leave every 20 minutes. It takes about an hour to get to the Civic Center once on board.
Jeanette and I left on a Saturday morning in early March. We would have preferred to go on Sunday but the weather gods were predicting heavy cloud cover and lower temperatures on Sunday while the weather report for Saturday was spectacular, clear with few clouds with highs in the mid sixties.
The ride to San Francisco was particularly uneventful with no characters to watch or people who looked ready to talk. We sat and held our bikes until the train finally stopped at the Civic Center Station. We rode the elevators up to ground level and stood for a few moments getting our bearings. The usual congregation of bums and winos was almost nonexistent as we mounted our bikes and headed west on Grove and then turned north on Polk. We were soon cruising west on McAllister, looking at all the painted ladies, many under current restoration.
McAllister has one small hill on it that has to be conquered but is not a real problem. Looking at the San Francisco bicycle map, it seems the easiest of the streets to travel to the park, has a wide lane next to the curb and not too much traffic. We turned and rode down Baker a few blocks to the Golden Gate Park panhandle. Once there we were on the bike trail. The park was very active with picnics, basketball, lots of kids in the children's play area, walkers and other bicyclists. We threaded our way through the traffic and soon reached the park proper.
The sun was out and the park practically glowed green. Since it was a Saturday, Kennedy drive was open to vehicle traffic so we rode alongside the cars and headed into the central area of the park. We had planned to stop and visit at least one of the many attractions, the museum, the aquarium, the tea garden or the botanical gardens but were a little late to start on an extended visit. We contented ourselves with looking at the front of the Flower Conservatory, still under restoration, as we rode past on our way to the sea.
As we passed Spreckels Lake, we were entertained by some people racing miniature hydroplanes. One had overturned and it's owner was patiently waiting for the wind to blow it to shore while the other boat running was screaming down straight-aways and making impossibly sharp turns, miniature rooster tail flying high. We stopped and looked at the park's herd of buffalo for a few minutes and then mounted up for the ride to the sea. Just before we exited the park our eyes caught the sight of a Dutch windmill in a field of tulips. We had to stop and admire the flowers and the setting. We were not alone, lots of other folks were walking around, enchanted by the impact of the tulips in bloom.
We were getting hungry and had planned to eat lunch at the Cliff House, a San Francisco landmark, just north on the Great Highway. We exited the park and rode our bikes up to Fulton Street where we would have to cross over to the sea side of the highway. The sea side had a wide walkway traveled by both pedestrians and bicyclists, separated from the vehicle traffic by a concrete barrier.
The Cliff House has been a part of San Francisco since 1853. When I visited it long ago, it housed a penny arcade and some artifacts from the Barnum and Bailey Circus including a Tom Thumb exhibit. As we closed the distance to the building, we could see that some renovation was taking place. The only things open were the dining room, the gift shop and the bar.
dining room had an hour and twenty minute wait. We signed up and then went to
the bar. We found a table right away. A table tent was on the table advertising
a number of appetizers and we decided that appetizers would do just fine for
lunch. We ordered some pot stickers and a plate of nachos as well as a beer for
me and a specialty drink for Jeanette.
While we were sitting there enjoying our drinks and snacks, a guy in rubber boots, fishing clothes, carrying a white plastic pail and a surf casting spinning outfit stepped down into the lounge. My wife heard him speak and with her discerning ear said, "He's from the east coast." The only open chair was right next to our table. He sat down and ordered a drink and we soon engaged him in some conversation. Sure enough, he was originally from Maine and had recently transplanted to the west coast. He told us he was striper fishing but that he was waiting for the tide to change. We talked about fishing and salt water fly fishing, Maine and the best time to visit. The time flew. Our glasses were empty so I ordered another beer and Jeanette another designer drink. "Norkie" told us about his brother and dolphin training as well as his own experiences with dolphins while commercial fishing. An hour and a half later we were ready to leave, "Norkie" to catch the fishing tide and us to ride on into the next park.
We unlocked the bikes from the bike stand and started up the Great Highway again, passing another possibility for lunch, a seafood place called Leo's. Our San Francisco bike map showed a bike trail running through Lincoln Park at Land's End. We turned left onto Merrie and were soon on the dirt bike path. The path was pretty rough in some parts and we stopped to carry our bikes over the worst ruts. Jeanette told me that the drinks had made her a little "tipsy". Hmmm, not a good sign when I knew the major hills were going to be encountered in the next hour. After a few more stops to carry her bike over ruts, Jeanette declared that she wanted her money back for the map, that this was NOT a bike trail. We continued on to some spectacular views of the gate from this southern headland.
Things got worse. We came to the foot of a set of primitive stairs. They went up as far as we could see. We asked a couple with mountain bikes if that was the way we were expected to go and they said yes, that the path to the left led to a dead end. I shouldered my bike and headed up the stairs. Jeanette tried to carry hers as well but didn't get very far. I doubled back and alternately carried hers and mine up the stairs, all the time listening to her say that, "This is NOT a bike trail." At the top of the stairs we found another path that continued off to the left. We rode along for another two tenths of a mile and then saw a path to our right. One of the hikers said the path would take us up to the Legion of Honor museum. We hiked our bikes the rest of the way up to the golf course path at the top of the hill.
Once at the museum, we started out down El Camino del Mar in what was a glorious downhill. The road wound its way past some of the most elegant and impressive mansions in San Francisco. We were caught between the thrill of the downhill mixed with the captivating views of some of San Francisco's most fashionable houses. We couldn't decide whether to go fast or slow and ended up riding our brakes most of the way so we could take in as much of the passing scene as possible.
Every downhill has its counterpoint and this road was no exception. The road changed from a downhill to a steady uphill where it changed from El Camino del Mar into the Lincoln Highway as it passes through the Presidio. I made my way up the hill at a good pace but Jeanette, suffering the effects of the two designer drinks (she's usually a teetotaler), was doing poorly and had to dismount and walk her bike up the hill. The walk allowed her some spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and the entrance to San Francisco Bay. We crested the rise at the southern end of the Golden Gate and were soon racing downhill again, looking for Long Avenue to our left to take us down to the Golden Gate Promenade.
The promenade is filled with people walking, riding bikes, sunbathing, swimming, playing with dogs, flying kites, fishing, or just standing or sitting around, admiring the scenery. We rode our bikes along the promenade, weaving in and out of the crowds and at the same time looking at the view and all the activity. We reached the end of the promenade and turned onto Marina Avenue to take us past the Palace of Fine Arts and on to Fort Mason. We cut through the park at Fort Mason and came out at Van Ness, rode up to Beach and headed east, competing with the trolleys and cars for road space. We stayed away from the Fisherman's Wharf area since we found in the past that the crush of people in the area required us to dismount and walk our bikes.
After bumping along on the cobblestones on Beach, we arrived at Pier 39. I had been dreaming of a cheeseburger and fries all day. I'm sure Jeanette would have preferred a nicer dinner but she humored me for carrying her bike up the stairs at Land's End and ordered a chicken sandwich and fries while I ate my cheeseburger, supremely happy.
The distance from Pier 39 to the BART station at the foot of Market street can be covered in a very short time. It seemed no more than a few minutes from the time we left the Burger Cafe until we found ourselves at the sidewalk elevator to the underground BART terminal. The elevator was broken so we walked our bikes down the stairs, bought our tickets and were soon homebound, just a little tired even though we covered less than 20 miles the whole day.