SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Reveling in the lush green canopy above and savoring the fragrance of eucalyptus trees as we pedaled through the Golden Gate Park Panhandle, we paused for a few moments to take in the scene: San Franciscans young and old wandering by on foot, on bikes or in strollers; balls and Frisbees sailing through the air; friends sipping coffee and chatting.
Against this backdrop, our tour guide enlightened us with tidbits of history and local color. We were on a tour, but we felt nothing like tourists. We felt as if we belonged there.
Just then I noticed a tour bus chugging along a nearby street, and I realized why touring San Francisco by bike was the way to go. Stuck on the bus, those visitors could only look out the windows at places we were experiencing with all our senses.
In all we pedaled an 18-mile (29-kilometer) route that took us farther and wider than we ever could have gotten on foot, with stops for delights that included treasures tucked away in the park, a riveting view of the Golden Gate Bridge, street murals in the Mission District, and vibrant street scenes in the Castro and Haight-Ashbury.
Our tour was run by Streets of San Francisco Bike Tours, launched in early 2011 by a group of friends who are passionate about both San Francisco and bicycles, and who'd worked as travel guides internationally before returning home to lead their own tours.
Since my boyfriend, Timothy McCarthy, and I both love bikes, it's natural that we would gravitate to a city bike tour. (We love wine, too, which is why we also gravitated to the heavenly pairing of bikes and wine called Velo Vino Napa Valley. More on that in a bit.)
But even if you're not a frequent bike rider, these tours can be for you, as long as you're reasonably fit. SoSF provides city bikes with easy gearing, and the pace is relaxed enough to keep you comfortable and enjoying the sights. There are plenty of stops along the way, and the bikes have baskets to tote what you need for the day.