Biking The Bay: The Marin Headlands Loop

City life got you down in the grumps?

Crazy San Franciscans got you hella stressed out?


Immediately beyond the city limits are some of the most scenic bike rides in the country.

If you are new to the Bay, you will not believe how fast civilization disappears and seemingly endless miles of nature and beauty materialize. If you're a veteran, it's equally possible your local-craft artisan-organic self has forgotten how good we have it.

So whether this blog serves as educational or as a friendly reminder, we got it good out here when it comes to life. Pull on those skinny jeans, grab your fixie, and join me in celebrating.

The Marin Headlands Loop

Distance: 20 Miles
Challenge: 700 foot climb to summit
Reward: 18% downhill grade, sweeping S curves, freshly paved asphalt
What to Bring: Camera

Just north of San Francisco, inside the Golden Gate Recreation Area, lie the hilly Marin Headlands. Known for their spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Headlands provide city cyclists with a mental vacation from urban living. Regarding the beauty and fulfillment of this ride, I have heard the Headlands Loop described as such: "The most boring part of the ride would likely be the most exciting part of any of your other rides." From start to finish, the route is packed with scenery, history, challenges, and sweet sexy rewards from Mother Nature.

The Presidio

Beginning in Golden Gate Park, the loop is about 20 miles (easily extendable if you wish to indulge your inner athlete). Head out the Park on 8th Avenue and work your way through the Richmond District. Enter the Presidio on 15th Avenue and warm up your quads on a mini version of the upcoming Headlands climb. Over your left shoulder, take in a unique perspective of the outer SF neighborhood sprawl. Upon reaching the Presidio Summit, head towards the ocean and enjoy a beautiful coastal roll all the way to Golden Gate Bridge. See those rocky hills across the Bay? Pump yourself up! That's what you will be climbing.

The Bridge

Depending on the day and the eclectic construction schedule of the Golden Gate Bridge bike lane, prep yourself for a warzone. Walking pedestrians, serious commuting cyclists and your biggest enemy, tourists on rented mountain bikes, collide (actually collide) in a battle for space. Be careful and be prepared to go slow and stop often. Take in the views, and if you are from the area, notice the looks of awe and amazement on people's faces. It will help keep your brooding frustration in perspective. If you are lucky enough to ride through a small patch of fog, listen for the eerie foghorns of ships passing below you in the clouds. "BOHMMMMM" (Inception)!

The Headlands

After crossing the bridge, follow the bike path until you can double back and cross Highway 101 safely. Spot your target mountain road, drop into your granny gear, and prepare your mitochondria for the monster climb. Head up the asphalt and try to enjoy yourself. The hill is at times LOL ridiculous but will only take the average biker 15 minutes to reach the summit. If luck is on your side, you may even lose track of time in the overwhelming beauty of your surroundings. Can this really be 5 miles from your apartment?!

At the top? Good for you! You're done with hills (uphills). Stop and take a picture; sun or fog, it's a moment worth remembering.

Time to be rewarded for your hard work. A freshly paved, 18 percent descending grade of sweeping S curves awaits you. Let out a guttural caveman howl and scream your way down the edge of the world. Biking with a friend? Bet them a beer that they can't do this part of the ride without cracking a smile. You will never lose. Fellow biking enthusiast, Zach Bemis described the moment as "one of the best things I've ever done in my life." He bought me 12 beers that night.

To finish up, wind your way along the coast and appreciate the historic military fortifications including Fort Cronkhite, Fort Barry, a large number of bunkers and batteries, and the SF-88 Nike Missile silo. At the end of the long coastal road, turn east and make your way back towards the city. The final rush comes as you enter a long underground passage that takes you back to the base of Golden Gate Bridge. If you have any wind left in your sails, let out a final whoop and race your echoing voice to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Keep the rubber side down, SF.

Click here for a map of the route and take a look at images from the journey below:

Marin Headlands Loop