Thanksgiving on the San Francisco Riviera

Many people's idea of traveling by bike is that of loaded touring, where you carry everything you need to be self-sufficient for long distances: clothing, sleeping bag, tent, cookware, tools, and so forth. Like backpacking on wheels. Others may think of "credit-card touring," where you skip the camping and stay in motels or hostels. Or even supported tours, where guides plan your route and vehicles carry your gear (and offer to carry you, too, if you don't feel like riding).

When my husband Dick and I bought our touring bikes last year, we didn't really have a plan. I suspected we'd set out for credit-card type tours, and we still may. But so far, our overnight bike trips don't fit any of the models listed above. I call them "bicycle getaways," two- to four-day trips, more urban than many touring trips. We utilize transit to increase our travel ranges, and overnight in luxury accommodations. Ideally, a hotel with fuzzy robes in the rooms and great restaurants nearby.

Our boutique hotel in Tiburon, situated at water's edge.

So far, we've done four bicycle getaways: San Francisco, Sacramento, Folsom, and one I planned last year for Dick's birthday. Instead of giving birthday gifts, we have a tradition of surprising each other with short trips. Dick's birthday always falls near Thanksgiving, which makes planning more challenging for me. Airports and highways are full of holiday travelers, and after ten years together we've already visited most of the closer spots. I was running out of ideas.

Then I thought of Tiburon, a small town at the north end of San Francisco Bay that, along with neighboring Sausalito and Belvedere Island, makes up what's affectionately called the "San Francisco Riviera." I was sold.

Like on our other bike getaways, the train made it easy to ride from our home in Mountain View. The late-morning Caltrain bullet got us to San Francisco, where rolled slowly up the waterfront under clear blue skies. We stopped for a crab lunch on Fisherman's Wharf, which was tasty but messy; I was grateful for the seafood bib they provided.

Thanksgiving is the traditional start of the Dungeness crab season.

After lunch we changed into bike wear for the 30-mile ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and around the bay to Tiburon. Having ridden across the Golden Gate in the fog and wind of summer, I must say the late-fall crossing was a delight.

We hugged the bayside, then rolled down Tiburon's historic Ark Row, named for former houseboats converted to stores when the lagoon was filled.

We hugged the coastline, including this stretch I’d never ridden along the Strawberry Peninsula.

We arrived with plenty of time to rest and clean up for Thanksgiving dinner on the bay.

From our room, we watched the sun go down, then rise in the morning.

The next day we rode to San Rafael along the scenic Paradise Drive and through the new Cal Park Hill Tunnel, then finished the ride with a 360-degree tour of hilly Belvedere Island. From Belvedere, the complete San Francisco Riviera could be seen in all its glory, from Sausalito to Tiburon.

Getting home was just a ferry ride, short spin down the Embarcadero, and train ride away. Starting from home, we traveled this route for a total of 165 miles: 80 miles by train, 75 by bike, 10 by ferry -- for less than we'd spend on a tank of gas to drive it.

We had none of the holiday traffic a driving trip would've involved, and we enjoyed a greater degree of luxury than on a traditional bike touring trip. Why didn't I think of this one sooner?

A slightly different version of this story first appeared in the Mountain View Voice, where the author blogs the Bike Fun column.


Get more information about bike overnights.

Tip for this adventure: What I loved about the trip was having luxury travel experience despite arriving by bike, with no sag. Camping can be great fun, but it wasn't what I wanted to treat my husband to for a November birthday.

3 responses so far ↓

Jen B. - Feb 10, 2014 at 2:17 PM

Thanks for the inspiration Janet! There are a lot of great opportunities for bike overnights in the Bay Area, whether your self-sufficient or "credit-card touring". I like your idea of mixing other forms of public transportation and look forward to trying a "bicycle getaway", or combination thereof.

Janet - Feb 10, 2014 at 2:33 PM

Thanks, Jen. The Bay Area does offer a lot of options for transit + bike touring. We took Amtrak to Berkeley a couple of weeks ago and had a blast there too. Very different from Tiburon, but very fun and once again very accessible as a weekend trip.

Kristen M. - Sep 17, 2016 at 11:54 AM

This sounds amazing and completely do-able for my husband and I. I am the bike tourist and he is willing to ride with me but doesn't like the idea of camping. What a great idea that he can give me as a gift for birthday or Christmas that's right outside our doors.

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