When you live in a place as naturally beautiful as the Bay Area, getting out of our too-expensive apartments and taking in the sights is the best way to remind yourself why you came here in the first place. And what better way to get around than on a bike? Whether you’re cycling on long, curving roads up in Marin or barreling down the Santa Cruz Mountains on a singletrack trail, it’s one of the best ways to feel connected to your surroundings (not to mention make room for a Bloody Mary or two afterward). Here are some of the best spots for road and mountain biking around the Bay.
Butter lap ride, photo byMeligrosa via Flickr
If you’re a VERY strong rider, try the Seven Hells ride. Dubbed the “anti-Wiggle,” this takes you up and over all of San Francisco’s seven hills: Twin Peaks, Mt. Davidson, Castro Hill, Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, Nob Hill, and Pacific Heights. With a 25%-30% grade, some parts are so steep that there are stairs for pedestrians instead of sidewalks.
For easier rides, head west through Golden Gate Park, follow the Great Highway south, and loop around Lake Merced, or join in on the weekly Butter Lap ride on a Wednesday evening.
Cyclocross in McLaren Park, photo by Steven Woo via Flickr
The wooded hills of Mount Sutro have about 2.5 miles of looping singletrack trails – just wide enough for one bike – that are fun for all experience levels. Go when the fog is still rolling through the eucalyptus trees and you’ll feel like you’re miles from the city.
McLaren Park, the second largest park in the city after Golden Gate, is great for intermediate mountain biking in the city, and planning and fundraising for a full-on BMX and mountain bike terrain park is currently in the works. You can also check out dirt tracks in the Presidio and Lands End.
View from Headlands Loop, photo by Open Source Grrrl via Flickr
Alpine Dam Loop is probably the most scenic ride in Marin, if not the entire Bay. The 30-plus mile loop will leave your legs heavy after more than three hours of climbs and descents in and around Mt. Tamalpais and through towns like Larkspur, Ross, and Fairfax – a good starting and ending point with downtown parking and spots to eat.
Marin is, of course, chock full of dozens of gorgeous rides for a wide range of experience levels – be ready for hills and the views that come with them. Try the Headlands Loop, the Nicasio to Point Reyes Loop, the Paradise Drive Loop, the Stinson Beach Loop, or the Muir Woods Loop.
Trail in China Camp State Park, photo by Trail Source via Flickr
Fairfax is, as urban legend tells it, where mountain biking began, so it only makes sense to head to the Tamarancho Loop – it’s actually on property owned by the Boy Scouts of America and you have to pay to ride on it – for miles of uphill and downhill singletrack trails. The difficulty level is intermediate to advanced; make sure you’ve got your trail wheels under you before you try your hand at Tamarancho. There’s no parking right by the trails, so leave your car in downtown Fairfax and ride up – look for the B-17 Extension Trail as your way in.
View from Grizzly Peak, photo by Esteban via Flickr
Whether you’re looking to stay close to home or head out into the country, most rides begin anywhere in Oakland or Berkeley and head straight east up into the hills (take Grizzly Peak Boulevard for some incredible views over the Bay). From Berkeley or Oakland, head up through Tilden Regional Park out to Moraga and back through the forests around Canyon for a 30-mile ride, or try your hand at the slightly longer Three Bears Loop farther up in the hills and out into the countryside.
Riding toward Mount Diablo, photo by John Morgan via Flickr
For a ride close to home, take your pick of the trails in Tilden Regional Park, Redwood Regional Park, Joaquin Miller Park, and Lake Chabot Regional Park. These quick escapes from the city will take you on looping singletrack trails up and down intermediate to strenuous climbs and through dense redwood groves on a mix of dirt trails, fire roads, and paved paths.
For a challenge, head farther out in the East Bay and tackle Mount Diablo, the highest peak in the Bay Area at 3,849 feet. The strenuous climb is matched only by the steep, technical descent on the 14.8-mile loop; the ride will take you about three hours with a break for some great views in the middle. The closest town is Clayton, so find some parking downtown and factor the approach into your ride.
Up Old La Honda Road, photo by Phil King via Flickr
Many of the best rides on the Peninsula work on or around the Santa Cruz mountains and are often connected by Skyline Boulevard, the road running along the top ridge and overlooking the Peninsula and the South Bay. From downtown Palo Alto, try taking the 40-mile loop up Page Mill Road, north on Skyline, and descend on Kings Mountain Road through plenty of greenery. A shorter, albeit classic loop is the Old La Honda Road, which also takes you along Skyline and down Kings Mountain.
For longer rides, keep heading west over Skyline and make your way down to Pescadero, but prepare for the five plus hour ride and pack lots of snacks.
Long Ridge Open Space Preserve, photo by vtsr via Flickr
Those same Santa Cruz mountains make for some excellent off-road biking. Try the Saratoga Gap-Long Ridge Loop: ten miles of singletrack trails and fire roads that are uncommonly flat for their location. For a more technically experienced rider, head to the El Corte de Madera Creek Loop, also known as Skeggs Point, an open space preserve with 36 miles of challenging climbs, drops, and switchbacks and through forests, canyons, and ridges.
Main photo by TC via Flickr