Coit Tower, just one of the memorable views on the Butterlap route — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
Although seeing San Francisco by bike is a great idea, getting lost in San Francisco on bike is not. Despite the fact the city is a compact 49 square miles, within those miles lurk plenty of side-streets, alleyways and wrong turns for the San Francisco newbie.
Instead of pedaling around a city dense with harried walkers and frantic taxi drivers on your own, meet up in front of San Francisco's iconic Ferry Building on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. for the city's legendary "Butterlap" tour.
"The famous San Francisco Butterlap is a great half-day ride through our gorgeous city," explains Kristin Smith, Communications Director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "The ride is a favorite for locals and visitors alike. With waterfront views, city vistas, neighborhood exploration and the Golden Gate Bridge up close, this is one of the best bike rides in the city."
Biking is all in the family in San Francisco — Photo courtesy of San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
This two-and-a-half- to three-hour bike ride avoids most of the infamous hills that make San Francisco so magical, so the bicycling is only moderately strenuous. And since it's a night ride, reflectors and lights are a must.
Luckily, all of the major bike rental agencies in town will get you well-equipped for this ride, including Ferry Building Bike Rentals, the Bike Hut and Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals.
Once you've got your bike squared away, head to the Ferry Building a bit early. Butterlappers are friendly and social by nature, especially towards out-of-towners adventurous enough to skip the bus tour and see the city on two wheels. Take some time to introduce yourself because getting the lowdown on a city from locals is how a lost tourist becomes an informed traveler.
Mayor Ed Lee leads the charge on San Francisco's "Bike to Work Day" in 2013 — Photo courtesy of San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
No matter the time of year, you'll get plenty of sightseeing highlights on this route, too. After leaving the Embarcadero, the Butterlap route includes seven major stops to re-group. Re-grouping is key to not losing anyone; this is not a competitive race, just a fun way to see the city.
The stops include Fort Mason Green, a scenic overlook around Lincoln Blvd and Washington Blvd, the Legion of Honor Museum, Clement and 43rd, Ocean Beach (Great Highway and JFK), the "Panhandle" of Golden Gate Park near Kezar and Stanyan and the final stop: Bender's Bar and Grill, which features great food and "Whiskey Wednesdays."
Legion of Honor Museum, one of the stops on the Butterlap route — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
"San Francisco's a great city for bicycling," Smith adds. "The number of people biking in SF has doubled in the last five years, and with good reason. Our city has mild weather, is only 7x7 square miles and most of the bike routes go around our famous hills."
If you love bicycling and want a unique way to see San Francisco, sign up for the Butterlap tour.
First "Green Zone" in San Francisco, which greatly increased bicycle safety — Photo courtesy of San Francisco Bicycle Coalition