Welcome to San Francisco for the Marathon and Half Marathons!
Are you here here to run the world-famous San Francisco Marathon, a USA Track & Field-certified Boston Marathon and Olympic Team Trials qualifier race? Or perhaps you've chosen one of the half marathons? That's right, in San Francisco, half marathon runners can choose their course—either the first or second half of the marathon.
San Francisco's challenging but beautiful marathon course loops around the city, across the Golden Gate Bridge (full marathon runners only), through the famous San Francisco fog, and visits some of the city's most unique neighborhoods. This guide not only provides insight and tips for the race itself but shares some of the Best Hotels and Places to Stay, Best Places to Eat and Top Things to Do while you are here. Make time to grab a bite at some famous San Francisco restaurants, visit must-see attractions like Alcatraz Island, and enjoy the eclectic diversity that the city and its people have to offer.
To help you experience the best San Francisco has to offer—with the least amount of stress and strain—we've called upon our Racertrips™ San Francisco Ambassadors to answer your marathon FAQs and to recommend their favorite sites, their top restaurants, and their go-to hotel accommodations.
This is your custom-tailored San Francisco Marathon Travel Guide. Your Racecation Starts Here.™
San Francisco Marathon and Half Marathon FAQs
If you're staying downtown, we recommend taking BART, which is the regional transit system that operates a train going from the San Francisco Airport (SFO), through the south side of the city to the Mission District and then up to Market Street, ending at Embarcadero. This is the most direct shot from the airport, but check to make sure your hotel is along the BART station line. (Check this pdf map to see if your hotel is near a BART station.)
If your hotel is not near a BART station, then you will need to transfer to MUNI. This is the city of San Francisco's light rail and bus system, and there are stations inside most BART stationss. This system is most used by San Francisco residents and travels to nearly every part of the city. Because of this, it can be a very complicated system. We recommend you pick up a map or download an app, such as Routsey, to help navigate BART and MUNI.
To take BART from the airport, head to the International Terminal, which is a short walk from Terminals 1 and 3. For Downtown San Francisco, you'll want to board an Antioch train. Trains arrive at SFO about three to four times times per hour, and the total ride takes about 30 minutes.
When it comes to buying your ticket, note that the system charges by zones or distance. You can view the chart on the ticket machine to determine how much you need to put on your ticket. (Note: You will need to insert your ticket on the way into the station and on the way out. So do not lose your card during your trip and make sure you put enough money on your ticket. Otherwise, you won't be able to exit the BART train at the arriving station.)
Lyft/Uber now service San Francisco airport, but there are designated locations where drivers can pick up passengers and the signage is not great. Once you request a driver, it takes about 5-10 minutes for them to get to you. This should give you enough time to get to the pick-up spot.
When you request the Lyft or Uber, you will be asked to designate a specific Terminal and door number. The pickups are only done on the second floor Departures level for domestic arrivals or the third floor Departures level for international arrivals. Once you specify the door number, find the door and walk outside to the curb, where you will be picked up.
If you prefer to take a cab, you should know that while not every cab in San Francisco has a credit card machine, it is required for all cabs picking up at SFO. As you're leaving the terminal from baggage claim, look for signs to "Ground Transport" and/or "Taxis." Once outside, you'll need to look up and down the sidewalk for the central spot where all the cabs are picking up passengers. There is usually at least a little bit of a line, although it can move quickly. This should be fairly easy to spot.
The Health & Fitness Expo is held at the Festival Pavillion at Fort Mason.
Festival Pavillion at Fort Mason
2 Marina Blvd.
San Francisco, CA 94123
Friday, July 26: 12 pm to 7 pm
Saturday, July 27: 9 am to 5 pm
If at all possible, we recommend going early on Friday to avoid the crowds, to avoid traffic, to save your legs and to get the best selection of goods from the vendors.
While you're there, you must pick up your race bib, timing chip, and race shirt. There will be no race day opportunities for pick-up.
The expo features over 40 exhibitor booths, samples of the on-course drinks and nutrition (Nuun and GU), official merchandise and course strategy information.
How to Get There — Avoid Driving
We don't recommend driving. It will be very crowded and there is not much parking at Fort Mason, or in the surrounding neighborhoods. This is true of any weekend, but especially true on race day weekend.
How to Get There — Free Shuttle from Downtown
The expo provides a free shuttle bus from the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero:
- Hyatt Regency San Francisco, 5 Embarcadero Center: Go outside of the hotel main entrance on Drumm Street.
To avoid rush hour traffic, we recommend going as early as possible on Friday. If you simply cannot go Friday, we recommend going early on Saturday.
How to Get There — By MUNI, BART or AC Transit (Bus)
There are not many options for public transportation directly to Fort Mason.
How to Get There — Bike-Sharing
San Francisco is like most cities that now have bike-sharing options. In San Francisco, your options include JUMP bikes and Ford GoBike. (Both operate through mobile apps: Download the Ford GoBike app. Download the JUMP bike app.)
JUMP bikes are all-electric, which is ideal if you're not accustomed to San Francisco's famous hills and you're trying to save your legs for race day. We recommend taking these to the race expo. Even though they can be harder to find (because there are fewer of them and they're docked randomly all over the city), they only need to be locked at a bike rack not in a specific location. They'll be much faster overall when it comes to traveling to the expo.
Ford GoBikes are easier to find because there are set stations for docking them. However, this can also make it less convenient if your location is a few blocks from a station. In the case of Fort Mason, the closest Ford GoBike station is at Embarcadero and Sansome, which is quite far away. There are both electric and non-electric bikes available.
How to Get There — By Cab, Lyft/Uber
Don't want to try out the train, buses or JUMP bikes? Grab a cab, Lyft or Uber to get you to the expo. Let someone else worry about how to get there! Again, if you go Friday afternoon, you're likely to hit rush hour traffic going through downtown.
For those staying father out of the SF, the Biofreeze San Francisco Marathon provides shuttles from six Bay Area BART stations on the morning of the race. (BART does not run that early.) The BART stations are Walnut Creek, MacArthur (Oakland), Bay Fair (San Leandro), Daly City, El Cerrito Plaza, and Millbrae. The shuttles guarantee that you will arrive at the starting by 4:45 am on race day morning. There is plenty of free parking at each of these BART stations that you can utilize.
You will need to purchase a ticket to take the shuttle, although you don't need to present it when you get on the bus: The bus drivers will have a list of names they'll check as you board. (Please note: This a one-way ticket only. After the race, you will need to take BART back to the station where you parked.) They haven't yet released details for how to buy shuttle tickets for the 2019 marathon. As it gets closer to reace day, you can check the San Francisco Marathon website for details.
For those running the half marathon, there are free shuttles from the Main Start Line to the second half starting line and from the first half finish line to the Main Finish Line on the Embarcadero.
If you are staying in San Francisco, there are a number of MUNI bus lines that run all night that you can use to get to the race starting line. We recommending looking this up ahead of time and to check again on race morning because these are subject to change as needed. (The best way to understand what route you should take is to look at the Muni Owl service map.)
This might be the most convenient way to get to the starting line in the morning if you are staying close enough to justify the cost. Instead of booking a car the second you need it, make sure to do an early booking on your Lyft or Uber app. This way, you can book it in advance for the next morning and ensure you will have a ride—instead of waiting and hoping there are drivers in the area when you need one.
Because the race starts so early, it is possible to drive and find parking in the general vicinity of the starting line. However, traffic is very unpredictable in the Bay Area and most of the time, it is worse than you would think. So be sure to plan accordingly and use a service like Spot Hero for finding parking nearby. Your best bet for parking is in a nearby parking garage, of which there are several. Just expect to pay upwards of $30 for the day or more. (Click here to access Spot Hero in the general area of the race starting line.) Also, expect leaving to be a challenge if you plan to leave while there are still people running the race or celebrating afterward.
The San Francisco Marathon is the perfect course to see all that the city has to offer. You'll be running across the Golden Gate Bridge, seeing the redwood trees of Golden Gate Park and experiencing the notorious fog, affectionately known as Karl the Fog. The fog will keep the weather pretty cool during the race, which makes it a perfect day for running. And while San Francisco is a hilly city, this course isn't too bad. It's about half flat, a quarter uphill, and a quarter downhill. The majority of the uphill occurs during the first half of the race approaching the Golden Gate Bridge. Another fairly tough climb happens when you are leaving Golden Gate Park around the halfway mark, as you make your way back onto the city streets.
The Full Marathon has 16 water stops that supply water and Nuun energy drinks, plus medical tents and toilets. Note that the first two water stations are far from each other, so it's important to prepare ahead of time.
The Full Marathon limit 6 hours (a 13: 44-minute mile pace).
For those who decide to run the half marathon, you have the choice of running the first or second half. In the past, those who chose to run the first half were able to run across the Golden Gate Bridge. However, to prevent too much backup on the bridge, only marathon runners cross the bridge now. If you are deciding which half marathon course to race, there are a few options to consider. The first half features more elevation at the end, while the second half features more elevation at the beginning. The first half starts at the main starting line, runs down the Embarcadero and along the Bay to the Golden Gate Bridge, and finishes at Golden Gate Park, where there are festivities, live entertainment and a free shuttle to the main finish line. The second half starts in Golden Gate Park, runs through the park and some of the more iconic neighborhoods in San Francisco (Haight, Castro, Mission) and finishes at the main finish line. In the past, most people ran the first half to be able to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. However, now that is not an option, both options offer scenic views of San Francisco.
Traveling with family and friends who want to cheer you on? Here are our Racertrips™ Ambassadors' tips for the best places to spectate on race day:
Racertrips Tip: Spectactors, tell your runners ahead of time where you'll be watching for them, such as near major intersections or mile markers, and on which side of the street you'll be standing. It can also help if (or your runner) wear brightly colored clothing or hats and if you you carry balloons, signs or other paraphernalia to help you stand out.
You'll want to be part of the buzz and excitement of the starting line, even if you're just spectating the race. Besides, you'll have enough time to get to the other points as your runner makes their way through the course. The race starts at Mission and Embarcadero. Make sure you know when your runner is scheduled to start so you can see them take off.
Golden Gate Bridge
Easily the most exciting part of running the San Francisco Marathon is the opportunity to run across the Golden Gate Bridge. Everyone will be buzzing with excitement to get the opportunity most locals never have, so this is a great place to view the runners and catch the buzz! Make sure you bring signs and ways to make noise, so your runner can spot you out from the large crowd.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park marks the halfway point for the marathon, as well as the end of the Half Marathon (for those who chose to run the first half). For this reason, there are plenty of activities centered here, including a live DJ. For additional views in the park, grab a spot on Strawberry Hill. This is a great place to watch your runner come through.
The last few miles of the race are when your runner is going to need you most. For this reason, make sure you are there to help them get through the last few miles as they get back onto Embarcadero for the final stretch! Mile 24 will get them right back along the Bay and up to ATT Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Find some space along this stretch of Embarcadero to cheer them on! Check out the course map here to help find a spot.
To get around to each prime viewing location, the best option is going to be Lyft or Uber. This is because parking is usually challenging in all of the above areas of San Francisco, and public transportation may not be able to take you directly where you need to go. Another option is an electric scooter or bike share, but expect to travel multiple miles and deal with cars on the road, which can be a little frightening. Plus, the total cost will likely equal that of Lyft or Uber as well. Ride shares in San Francisco can be quite cheap, especially if taking a shared car, which is an option.
Because you likely won't see your runner cross the finish line, you'll want to set up a meet-up spot beforehand.
The San Francisco Marathon provides live runner tracking online and through the official race app. All you need is the runner's bib number, and you'll be able to see where they are in the race as well as their times and pacing. This way, you can check to see where they are both during the race and after the race ends, making it easier to find them. However, it's best to have a backup plan in place with your runner in case the app gets glitchy. It has been known to happen in the past.
The best place to meet your runner, though extremely crowded, is at the finish line. There will be lots of fun activities and post-race snacks and beers for the runner, so they likely will want to partake in the action for a while before finding a spot to grab a nice meal.
Here are a couple of specific landmarks near the finish line where you can plan to meet your runner:
- Vaillancourt Fountain - This will likely be less crowded and is still only a couple of blocks from the finish line. It is right across the street from the Ferry Building.
- Ferry Building - Meeting outside of the main Ferry Building entrance is easy because it is a big landmark and is only about two blocks from the finish line. The only downside is that it is quite large and can be hard to find each other, and it is a few extra blocks for your runner to walk.
- Cupid's Span - This giant bow-and-arrow structure is hard to miss and is right at the finish line, making it easy for your runner, who will likely be tired. The only downside is that it will be extremely crowded because many people use this as a meeting point.
- Union Square: 278 Post Street
- Tenderloin: 856 Market Street
A Runner's Mind
- Presidio Heights: 3575 Sacramento Street
- Mission: 1590 Bryant Street
Most people think that because this is a summer race, they won't need layers. But they forget that summer in San Francisco is not warm. In fact, the temperature is usually in the mid-60s during the race. And with the huge range of micro-climates in San Francisco, you'll find yourself weaving through areas of dense fog followed by direct sunlight. Having a light layer with you at all times will ensure you're always properly dressed.
Meet our San Francisco Ambassadors
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