Escaping the fog in San Francisco is an art that reliably entails a trip over the Golden Gate or BART ride to the East Bay. But on the foggiest days and craving the brilliant warmth of the sun, we don’t like to take any chances. In those moments, we layer up and point our bikes to Marin County and the legendary ride above the clouds to Mt. Tamalpais, arguably the most legendary Bay Area biking destination. Just see the photos below to see why.
Riding into the ethereal abyss of the foggy, cypress and eucalyptus studded Presidio you can smell the crisp dewyness of nature and hear the wildlife scurrying, while visibility is close to zero. We always pick up a few trails along the way for good measure then blaze onto the Golden Gate Bridge.
After speeding through Sausalito and the wetlands-lined Marin Bike Path, there is a quick cut into downtown Mill Valley where the Redwoods and climbing begin. As the road winds through plush wooded neighborhood the effort is rewarded and the magic beings. The brilliant sun begins to shine above the fog line revealing the city below, while you begin to shed your layers. Moments later the road merges onto the aptly named Panoramic Highway and the ride follows the stunning ridgeline between the Pacific and the Bay as you continue your ascent.
Panoramic Highway meanders through groves of oaks, cypress, and redwoods revealing pockets of fog that hover over the valley that separates Mt. Tam from Muir Woods and the Pacific. You finally clear the trees of the ridgeline, revealing a stunning vista with the whole San Francisco peninsula, Pacific coastline, and Bay visible. The breathtaking views and climbing continues up to the 2,572 ft. (784m) peak.
One of the most magical bits of the ride is summiting along the beloved rolling hills known as the 7 Sisters that deliver brilliant views down to Stinson Beach and up to Point Reyes. Savor the sunny, warm, expansiveness before you shred into the dense, shady, and crisp Redwood grove just up ahead.
As you wind your way through dreamy hairpin turns and forever curving roadway, you mingle with a tranquil, damp, and fragrant forest ecosystem that is quintessentially N. California. It’s a technical descent, the roadway arrayed with wet leaves and organic matter that adds to the exciting, path-less-travelled feel of this stretch of the ride.
The bottom of the descent reveals Alpine Dam, a man-made oasis tucked away in a pristine valley that is always drenched in sunlight and feels like a special discovery.
The winding climb out is exhilarating, as you quickly thaw out into a landscape that turns from dense forest to scrub oak and rocky chaparral. More inspiration begins to build too because I knew brats and beers were only minutes away on the other side of the hill…
Gestalt Haus, the LEGEND. Easily one of the most famous cyclist hangouts in the Bay Area, Gestalt in old town Fairfax (the epicenter of Marin’s world-class cycling culture) is a rite of passage and an essential stop along this route. An epic beer selection, an extensive brat & sandwich menu, along with tons of indoor bike parking, make Gestalt easy to love and hard to leave…
A nice way to mix up the ride (especially after having one too many beers at Gestalt– something I’d never do, of course) is to pick up the Larkspur Ferry which fast tracks you back to the SF Ferry Building. It’s a beautiful finish to the ride and allows for a fresh perspective on the miles you covered. Check the ferry schedule here.
Essential Food & Coffee Stops
Cafe Bunn Mi
This is our favorite bahn mi shop in SF. Why? Substantially sized sandwiches with tons of interesting and exceedingly delicious options. Try their special pork belly with egg, crispy fish, or smoky vegetable bahn mi served w/ a colorful array of pickled veggies. They also have noodle bowls, spring roll, fruit shakes, and spot-on Vietnamese (ice) coffee.
A hip and airy café (with a cool parklet) that serves excellent coffee, gourmet toasts, and artisan pastries. Try their standout vegetarian sandwich of the day, ice tea, and brown bread toast with seasonal jam for a special treat.
A local favorite in Sausalito with great roasted-in-house coffee, delicious fresh pastries, and a menu full of tasty fresh sandwiches, soups, and salads. Their spacious outdoor patio is awesome on a nice day and bonus, there’s tons of bike parking.
Davey Jones Deli @ the new Bait Shop
This place is a hidden gem (tucked inside a liquor store next to Mike’s Bikes in Sausalito) is one of the best sandwich shops we know of. Pick from a diverse menu with extensive vegetarian and vegan options. They also have premade full and half sandwiches ready to grab and go.