San Francisco Exposed at Bay to Breakers

A grown man wearing nothing more than a cowboy hat and tighty-whities walks past a group of young girls dressed in seductive taxi outfits as thousands of tortillas whizz by and beach balls bound atop the throngs.

With a scene like this at the start line of San Francisco's famous Bay to Breakers race, it's easy to forget that you're about to run 12 kilometers (7.46 miles). But that's the beauty of Bay to Breakers: there's so much to see that it never really feels like a race—even after the gun goes off.

More: Bring Fun Into Your Run—Wear a Costume

The event starts on the bay side of the city near The Embarcadero, runs up Hayes Street—hitting the highest point on the course—then rolls down Fell Street into Golden Gate Park. The finish line stands on Highway 1 in Ocean Beach, giving racers a chance to cool off in the Pacific on a hot day.

San Francisco residents line the streets with boom boxes, lawn chairs and beer to take in the view, while local musicians provide the soundtrack. One DJ's rendition of The Muppets' classic Manamana had me smiling all the way up Hayes Street Hill thinking, "this is not your typical road race."

More: Obstacle Runs: Which One do I Choose?

For some participants—like Sammy Kitwara, the first-place finisher at the 2009 event—this is a serious race. Kitwara took home a total of $40,000 in prize money and set a new course record, finishing in 33:31.

If your competitive side overruns your secret desire to dress up like Spiderman, you should join the more serious athletes in corrals A and B. Although some of those runners wear costumes, up front you are less likely to get stuck behind a naked man carrying a gold purse or a gaggle of middle-aged men wearing shark fins on their heads. 

If you'd rather enjoy the festivities, stick to the middle of the pack. Keep in mind, however, that most of the costumed drunks and outlandish floats don't actually make it to the finish line, so if you want to catch some of the inebriated entertainment, loop back along the course before relaxing on the lawn at Footstock. Post-race festivities in Golden Gate Park include music, food, and beer and wine gardens.

More6 Best Post-Race Beers

History of Bay to Breakers

Bay to Breakers—originally called the Cross City Race—made its debut in 1912 with less than 200 participants. Over a 100 years later, it has grown to more than 30,000 registered runners and walkers, and almost the same number of unofficial participants.

Captain Kidd was the first costume to make its way into the race in 1940. He crossed the finish line in last place. But he is not the only inspiration for dressing up: That same year the first woman to ever run in the race ran disguised as a man.


Over 150,000 participants and spectators come out for race day, but the crowd makes its way across the city and into Golden Gate Park in time to open the streets by 2 p.m. Although it is popular with city residents to skip registration and hop in near mile one, registration fees help pay to clean up the mess left in their wake.

If you have ever wanted to dress up for a race, run naked in a race, or if you just want to check out San Francisco, this is the perfect place to let loose and get a glimpse of Everybody's Favorite City. 

More10 Post-Race Essentials

Active logoSign up for your next race.

Discuss This Article