Cycling the sights in Cisco

 

Go Feedback: There are hills and heavy traffic but San Francisco also has off-road cycle lanes and, once you’ve worked the pedals, you know you deserve the fab refreshments on offer, writes NICOLA BRADY

I’D BEEN TOLD that San Francisco is a cyclists’ city, but it was only when I hopped on the saddle and began my first descent that I realised how truly steep the San Francisco slopes are. I’d borrowed a friend’s bike (complete with ridiculous penny-farthing handlebars) and it was at that moment I decided that I’d chosen both the wrong vehicle and the wrong hill, to begin my city adventure.

Before I continue, let me tell you that I’m a Leitrim girl. Better still, I’m a cycling Leitrim girl. I’m used to hills. I’m happy on hills (mostly). But what’s missing from the bracing slopes of the northwest is a steady stream of traffic coming at you in 10-second interludes. From the wrong side of the road. In bizarre one way systems. With tram lines spaced precariously, just waiting to trap your front wheel and leave you stuck in the firing line of an iconic San Francisco cable car.

All of this taken into account, this is a city that caters to the cyclist, from the Lycra-clad man-racer to tweedy side saddlers.

It takes a little getting used to, but then there are plenty of routes that take you through the highlights of a city that is slightly too large to explore on foot.

What better way to begin a San Francisco cycling holiday than a spin over the Golden Gate Bridge? I began at Fisherman’s Wharf. From the touristy enclave I made my way along the waterfront, past the imposing structures at Fort Mason, stopping at the farmer’s market for beautiful fresh juice and bread. The rest of the journey to the bridge is on a traffic-free cycle lane, taking in Marina Drive and Chrissy Field beach, where you pass windsurfers and joggers.

The Golden Gate Bridge looms endlessly throughout the journey, and only gets more impressive as you get closer. I managed to resist the urge to take hundreds of identical photos, and waited until I reached the viewing point at the end of Marina Drive. From here, you can shoot from below, with beautiful views back to the city as well.

At the other side of the bridge, the trail leads to the pretty town of Sausalito. The seaside spot seems to cater mainly to cycling tourists, but don’t let this stop you taking a wander around, grabbing a bite to eat and a well-earned rest.

You can either cycle back to the city (though the long hill you saunter down to get to Sausalito makes for a rather imposing climb back) or do as most do and get the ferry back to the Wharf, taking in Alcatraz as you go.

The following day and one landmark down, I decided to head inland and explore the Hippy Trail. I took the long way round to the Golden Gate Park, staying close to the water and getting amazing views in every direction. At Ocean Beach, the park spreads out to your left, and includes stunning lakes, nature trails and, oddly, a buffalo enclosure.

Lock the bike and explore some of the best museums in the city – the De Young and the Natural History Museum. From here, it was a short hop to Haight Street, to wander through the birthplace of the hippy movement.

If you’re looking for a day of lighter cycling, the North Beach district is worth exploring. Start at the iconic City Lights Bookstore, birthplace of the Beatniks, and browse through its fine collection of literature and poetry. Check its website (citylights.com) in advance of your arrival in the city, to see if your visit collides with a reading session – these literary happenings are a must-see.

Enjoy a coffee (or something stronger) at the Vesuvio Bar, and you may be lucky enough to witness one of the leftover Beatniks coming through the doors to tell their tales to anyone who will listen. Chances are you won’t have a choice.

From there, hop over Broadway, stopping at the Beat Museum if you want to see rare letters and early editions from Kerouac, Ginsberg and co.

Making your way up Columbus Avenue, you’ll notice a definite Italian atmosphere – the scenery changes from strip joints and smoke shops to bistros and trattorias, many with outdoor seating to watch the world wander by. Finish up your day at the bijou Melt Cafe (700 Columbus Avenue) for a fondue at one of its regular open mic nights.

Which brings us to one of the greatest moments of a cycling holiday. The hills are behind you, the bike is locked away for the night, and you’re freshly scrubbed and feeling virtuous. What better city to reward your burning thighs than this, with an array of outdoor cafes, rooftop bars and bustling restaurants?

And as you watch the city pass you by, and work your way through a glass (or more) of sumptuous Californian wine, you can be safe in the knowledge that you deserve it.

Get there: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com ) flies from Dublin to San Francisco daily from about €590 return