Hawk Hill loop is one of the most popular road rides for cyclists departing out of San Francisco. If you’re looking for a great view with a climb, this is the one.
I first began exploring this ride back in 2012 when the backside was still a decrepit old military road; since then it’s been repaved and it now provides cyclists with a really smooth 6 mile stretch of road from Rodeo Beach to Baker-Berry tunnel.
The hero image above is a great depiction of riding conditions you may encounter on this loop. The conditions can change quickly so make sure to bring a wind vest and gloves at the minimum. You can wear a wind jacket but you don’t need to over layer on this ride unless the weather forecast is looking wet. The best weather for this ride is usually between the months of September through November, otherwise layer up.
(Rating Strava route is located below for reference)
The ride kicks off from the Rapha Clubhouse located at 2198 Filbert Street San Francisco, CA, 94123 and loops back through the Presidio hills.
This loop is going to quickly take you through the Marina, a lively neighborhood with steady UBER traffic and the occasional drunk jay walker. The neighbourhood has great food for refuelling at the end of your ride. I added a few recommendations below that should meet the taste buds of most.
Rice and Rooster – Hole in the wall Thai restaurant that serves mostly rice platters with chicken and tofu, price range is going to be in between $8-$15. Super quick service and there’s a spot for you to watch your bike right out front.
Tacko – A Mexican American restaurant with a small outdoor seating area. Service is slow but the food is great. Price range is between $9-$20. If you order the burrito, be prepared for a body lockdown.
MIXT – Salad spot, with many variations of fresh salads. Price range is about $12-$20 with not so good place to park your bike but it is less than 50 meters from Rapha so you may be able to leave your bike parked in the Clubhouse while you lunch.
Lucca Deli – Super nice family owned sandwich shop with a prince range between $9-15. I would call ahead as their line tends to drift out the door during lunch.
The ride through the Marina happens quickly as you head north on Fillmore and take a left onto Marina Blvd merging onto the bicycle path along the Bay.
From Marina Blvd you will eventually merge onto Old Mason Street where you’ll be able to catch a nice view of the Golden Gate Bridge if the weather permits. The Bridge as the “locals” like to call it is one of the most exciting aspects of this ride. It really is a passage way of many different emotions so it’s important to be cautious, patient and respectful, you never know what you’ll encounter crossing “The Bridge”.
Opened for vehicular traffic in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge spans a mystical 1.7 miles from San Francisco’s peninsula to the lands of Marin and the north. It truly is a spectacle, with over 10 million visitors per year and over 40+ suicides per year, The Bridge gives, and The Bridge takes.
The two challenging factors in crossing The Bridge will be the time of the day you do it and “wind“.
If you’re crossing The Bridge before 3:30PM on the weekdays you have to ride on the pedestrian side, this can get irritating for some cyclists who like to ride a steady pace so this is why I recommend doing this ride early in the morning or after 3:30 PM on the weekdays when the cycling side opens up. On the weekend, both sides are open so you should be able to ride fluidly on the bike side with no issues.
Most of the riders on The Bridge are novice cyclists riding heavy rental bikes with their phones out and their eyes everywhere but on the bike path. It’s best to give yourself some space and act with precision and acknowledgment of proper passing etiquette when getting around these characters. Some of them get their necks all twisted up, it’s bad.
I know a handful of great road cyclists that have wiped out crossing it; most of those accidents happening when attempting to get around someone so be very cautious when doing so.
The wind. Simply put, the wind can be brutal on The Bridge. On those windy days, brace yourself as you’re making it around the pillars, I’ve seen humans on bikes turn into sails on the bad days. It’s always nice to bring a friend so you can take turns breaking the wind. Like my friend Chris who’s pictured below, he’s like a cannonball when he rides in front of me ;]
When you come off The Bridge you will immediately make a left down a narrow pathway that takes you under The Bridge and into Fort Baker. Fort Baker is a former U.S. Army post with an active US Coast Guard Base and a few dozen historical military buildings. You’ll quickly climb out of Fort Baker via East Road and loop back around towards The Bridge via Alexander Ave and then Conzelman Road all the way through to the top of Hawk Hill.
Although this route goes under The Bridge you could technically go straight off The Bridge and make a left a little further down (100 meters) that would skip Fort Baker and take you straight up to Hawk Hill. This is pretty much the main climb that overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. It pitches quickly right away (15% grade) so my preference is to drop down to Fort Baker and ride out because it gives me a chance to warm up. ( reference the Strava route for this)
This area is very microclimatic and the weather can change drastically from mile to mile. On this particular ride the weather was pretty grim as we were crossing, but the weather out of Fort Baker was much warmer and cooperative.
As you loop back around via Alexander Ave you will once again notice a heavier headwind and change in temperature as you climb up towards Hawk Hill. If you do this ride enough, you’ll notice these weather patterns are very consistent, and quite often you have to drop the windbreak and gloves right after you get off The Bridge.
The top of Hawk Hill sits at 923 feet and gives refuge to many different hawks, hence the name. Besides being on a migratory bird route, one of the main reason so many hawks frequent the area is because of the warm thermal air that looms around the hill and creates an updraft allowing the birds to float effortlessly. On a clear day you can catch the best view of San Francisco and plenty of hawks circling the sky for prey high above the Bay.
With that being said you can definitely expect strong headwinds as you climb Conzelman Road :]
When riding up toward Hawk Hill you encounter 2 climbs with a grade ranging from 2-15% . The back side has steepest grade at -20% that sends you down a tear jerking descent along the coast line. I highly recommend you take this descent cautiously, especially if it’s your first time. This is a one way road but I have seen characters riding their bikes the wrong way on this road so be cautious and take it easy the first time around.
The descent happens quickly; before you know it you’ll make a round about towards Rodeo Beach with a climb that takes you to the top of Coast Trail. Coastal trail is an old fire access road with a few missing patches along the way but for the most part you should be okay riding this section on 23s and 25s. The descent on the backside of the Coastal Trail is fairly steep and there are a lot of pedestrians so I would recommend going slowly when you make the drop back down towards Rodeo Beach.
After the descent it’s a straight shot via Bunker Road where you’ll be able to ride a little faster with a few minor rolling hills. Eventually Bunker Road will lead you through the Baker-Barry tunnel and back out onto Alexander Ave. A quick right and you should be back on The Bridge within 5-10 minutes.
The final segment after you cross The Bridge takes you through The Presidio and back to the Rapha Clubhouse with a few minor climbs in between and the wind to your back. That’s pretty much it ya’ll.
Enjoy, ride further, and suffer more.
Besides the descent the back side of Hawk Hill this route is fairly slow moving with the usual meter wide shoulder. Make sure to pay attention to the Conzelman descent because it gets real fast and the corners are tight and sometimes washed out with bits of gravel.