SF Chronicle’s Bike About Town Column: Golden Gate Park

Bike About Town: Golden Gate Park on 2 Wheels

What’s the best way to see Golden Gate Park? On a bike, naturally. Just ask the hundreds of tourists who take to the park on their rented bikes each weekend, the surfers who ride through the park with boards attached to their beach cruisers and the kids who learn to bike on the park’s car-free Sundays and some Saturdays ( www.sfbike.org/?ggp).

Last week, the Recreation and Park Department voted to make it even better – and safer – to ride through Golden Gate Park. In the coming months, a new bicycle lane is going in on the busiest stretch of JFK Drive (between Stanyan Street and Traverse Drive). The bicycle lane will be added between the curb and parked cars that will act as a barrier between bicyclists and the often-heavy traffic.

With better bicycling on the mind, take a curated bike tour of Golden Gate Park. This world-class park isn’t just for tourists to enjoy. San Franciscans get discounts to many of Golden Gate Park’s attractions, so bring proof of residency. The tour starts at the entrance of the park on JFK Drive, just off the Panhandle.

Conservatory of Flowers

The Conservatory of Flowers is a great place to warm up on a cool fall bike ride. Duck into the beautiful white-domed greenhouse that opened in 1879 and features exotic plants from around the world, including a 100-year-old Imperial Philodendron known as “Phill.” There are two convenient bike racks on both sides of the building where you can lock up your bike. With proof of residency, you get into this gorgeous space for a reduced price; the conservatory also offers free admission to all visitors on the first Tuesday of the month. For more information, go to www.conservatoryofflowers.org.

Music Concourse Drive

Keep pedaling down JFK Drive and within a few minutes you’ll arrive at Music Concourse Drive, featuring two of the city’s beloved museums – the California Academy of Sciences and the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum. Opened at its currently location in 2008, the Academy of Sciences offers engaging scientific exhibits ranging from a four-story rain forest, multiple aquariums including one with an albino alligator, a high-tech planetarium, and daily penguin feedings. There are abundant bike racks available outside of the Academy as well as more in the Music Concourse parking garage. In keeping with its commitment to be the greenest museum in America, the Academy offers a $3 discount to those who arrive by bike. For more information, go to www.calacademy.org.

Located just across from the California Academy of Sciences is the de Young. Along with its incredible permanent collection, the de Young brings in some impressive traveling exhibits, including the recently opened “Masters of Venice: Renaissance Painters of Passion and Power from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.” Bike racks are located in front of the de Young, and once you’ve locked up your ride, make sure to enjoy the stunning views of the park and San Francisco from the Hamon Observation Tower. For more information, go to deyoung.famsf.org.

Polo Field

Ride down to the Polo Field for a glimpse of biking past. Race around the 1-mile track and channel the waxed-mustache bike racers of yore who raced around its dusty track in the 19th century. This track never quite became what it was meant to be – a giant stadium. But it has seen its fair share of bike races. And there’s a current movement by some riders to bring the track to full velodrome glory.

Onto the end

Those on foot don’t usually make it to the far end of the park, but on a bike, you can easily ride to the end. Just before the Great Highway, there are a few really great sites. Be sure to check out the archery range, the gorgeous Dutch Windmill and tulip garden and the newly renovated Murphy Windmill, closer to Lincoln Drive.

By the end of the ride you’ll probably need something to eat and drink and a good place to relax. The Beach Chalet offers a great sampling of food in a beautiful setting, and plenty of sustenance for the fun ride back. Who knows, you might enjoy the ride so much that you’re not ready to turn around. Well, the Great Highway has a nice multiuse path to explore. Oh, the places you can go on a bike.

Bike About Town is presented by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, a 12,000-member nonprofit dedicated to creating safer streets and more livable communities by promoting the bicycle for everyday transportation. For more biking resources, go to www.sfbike.org

E-mail comments to 96hours@sfchronicle.com.