San Francisco: A golden way to travel

By Shandelle Battersby

Shandelle Battersby finds the ride over San Francisco’s famous bridge is worth the slog.

Biking over the Golden Gate Bridge is a fitness-friendly way to experience San Francisco. Photo / Getty Images
Biking over the Golden Gate Bridge is a fitness-friendly way to experience San Francisco. Photo / Getty Images

There were a couple of moments when I wondered if deciding to cycle over San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge on one of the busiest public holidays of the year was up there with the time I visited Disneyland on Independence Day or tried to shop in Hong Kong during a typhoon.

I'd left the rest of my tour group from The Californian, a guided holiday with Trafalgar giving a taste of the best of the state, at Fisherman's Wharf. They were catching a ferry to Sausalito then walking across the 2.7km bridge back to the city while I'd decided to slog over by bike, a total ride of 13km.

It had been a thrill to cross the Golden Gate from Marin County in the north the afternoon before, passing historic San Quentin State Prison, the former home of Charles Manson, and the pretty houseboats of Sausalito Bay before spotting the iconic bridge's distinctive arches through the trees. It was also our first taste of how frantic the long weekend would be, with lots of traffic on the roads and out on the glistening waters of the bay.

There's a lot of competition in the bicycle hire market in San Francisco and it's probably worth shopping around to see which rental company is best for you. I went with Blazing Saddles, which has the largest bike rental fleet in the state and has been operating for more than 30 years.

After being fitted with a mountain bike and helmet each, our group followed guide Winston to the tour's starting point at Aquatic Park at the western end of Fisherman's Wharf.

Following the National Park Bike Path along the waterfront, we passed historic ships and coastal fortifications, classical buildings and the self-sustaining Presidio National Park, before a quick rest stop at the charming Warming Hut cafe and store on the site of former US Army airstrip, Crissy Field.


"There's a bit of a hill before we get up on the bridge," warned Winston in the biggest understatement of the year, and about halfway up it I wished I'd stuck with my tour group and done it the easy way.

But the 15 minutes or so of hard graft were worth it. San Francisco is notorious for fog, but it was a beautiful day, and the views of the city, Alcatraz, the empty blue Pacific Ocean to the left and busy San Francisco Bay to the right were terrific.

The Golden Gate is mercifully flat, and though it is long, it's not actually that wide. Cyclists are alloted one side, pedestrians the other and there are five lanes of traffic between.

This is where things really got crazy: the narrow cycle lanes were jampacked with people stopping suddenly in front of you to take selfies or group photos, those who looked like they'd never sat on a bike in their lives, those who spent every spare moment on two wheels, tandems and bikes with baby trailers. The bottlenecks around the famous towers were akin to gridlock.

All the while the bridge rumbled and bounced with a steady stream of traffic, most of which was moving faster than the bike lane.

As I approached halfway, the wind got stronger and the views more spectacular. I may have been guilty of stopping for pictures once or twice too, but only of the scenery and I stuck to the little resting bays along the way. Then I felt - or maybe I imagined - what our travel director, Mary Lee, had told us the day before: the slight increase in temperature as we crossed the invisible line into Marin County, home of the Napa and Sonoma winegrowing regions.

It all went downhill from the end of the bridge - literally - as we coasted for an easy 10 minutes single file, down into the bustling seaside town of Sausalito, about three hours after we'd left Aquatic Park. It had been a crazy ride but I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Grand designs



The art deco Golden Gate Bridge took four years to build during the Great Depression at a cost of $50 million and opened in 1937 ahead of schedule and under budget.

It's known as the "bridge that couldn't be built" because of fears during construction that the high winds and strong ocean currents of Golden Gate strait were too much of a challenge.

Eleven men died during its construction.

It's official colour is International Orange, a reddish dark orange, chosen because it blends well with the surroundings.

The bridge can sway up to 8m to withstand winds of up to 160km/h.

Its two towers rise 227m.

The two cables extending from the bridge contain enough wire to encircle the Equator three times.

Checklist

GETTING THERE

Hawaiian Airlines flies from Auckland to six cities in California - including San Francisco - from $1799 Economy Class return including taxes. hawaiianairlines.com

DETAILS

Blazing Saddles offers twice-daily guided tours over the Golden Gate Bridge for US$55/$35. blazingsaddles.com

Trafalgar's 11-day The Californian guided holiday is priced from $4750 per person twin-share, with 5 percent savings available until April 28, 2016. Departures from April 2016. trafalgar.com

ONLINE

visittheusa.com

- NZ Herald

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