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San Francisco's Bay to Breakers footrace happens Sunday. Here's what to know.

Tie up the laces and race in San Francisco for the annual Bay to Breakers 12k run
Tie up the laces and race in San Francisco for the annual Bay to Breakers 12k run 03:20

The 113th edition of San Francisco's Bay to Breakers will bring thousands of runners to the city's streets early Sunday morning, along with street closures to accommodate the roving party.

Famous for its wild costumes, nude and/or scantily clad participants and themed running groups, the freewheeling footrace is one of those unique "only in San Francisco" events that has become an institution with over a hundred years of history behind it.

What is the Bay To Breakers?

The Bay to Breakers is an annual footrace held in San Francisco that usually happens on the third Sunday of May. The race was started in 1912 with the intent of raising spirits in the city that was still recovering from the deadly 1906 earthquake as well as to promote the then upcoming Panama-Pacific International Exposition that happened in 1915.

The race has continued long after its initial purpose, though there were points that participation dipped as low as only 50 runners during World War II. Still, the race continued to be held every year, gradually building in popularity and becoming an iconic and irreverent fixture of San Francisco's culture.

According to the Wikipedia page on the race, the Bay to Breakers "has been run for more consecutive years over a given course and length than has any other footrace in the world." The race entered the annals of the Guinness Book of World Records in 1986 when that year's edition boasted 110,000 participants, setting the record as the world's largest footrace. The global pandemic led to virtual versions of the race in 2020 and 2021, but the Bay to Breakers returned in full force two years ago.

What is the Bay to Breakers route?

The Bay to Breakers route has changed slightly over the decades. Initially, the starting point was the Ferry Building, where racers would run along Market Street to Golden Gate Avenue before turning onto Divisadero Street. However, in 1968, organizers moved the start to less busy Howard Street, while the climb up Divisadero was moved to Hayes Street. The current course cuts over from Howard St. at Ninth St., turning west along Hayes St. and up the challenging Hayes Street Hill near Alamo Square. After the hill, the course follows the Golden Gate Park Panhandle on Fell Street before moving west through Golden Gate Park to the Great Highway and Ocean Beach, where the course ends. 

Bay to Breakers race route map
Bay to Breakers race route map Bay to Breakers

The complete Bay to Breakers course is 7.46 miles (12 km) long. The route was originally set up by organizers to emulate another venerable Bay Area event, the Dipsea Race. That Marin County footrace founded in 1905 travels from downtown Mill Valley to Stinson Beach.

When does the Bay to Breakers start?

This Sunday race begins at 8 a.m., with the first wave of runners taking off from the Howard Street starting line at that time and subsequent waves following until 8:45 a.m. The course will close at 12:30 p.m. on race day at the intersection of JFK and Chain of Lakes Golden Gate Park. Race organizers advise that participants who have not passed that intersection by 12:30 p.m. will not have the opportunity to cross the finish line on the Great Highway, which closes promptly at 1 p.m. More detailed information on the Bay to Breakers can be found on the race's official website.

What is the traffic impact from Bay to Breakers?

The Bay to Breakers takes place early enough on Sunday morning that the traffic from the huge throng of runners and attendant street closures doesn't see huge impacts. However, there are closures across the city, but for preparation and for the race itself.

The earliest street closures begin Saturday at 7 p.m. in the downtown staging area near the start of the race at Main between Mission and Folsom. That area remains closed until Sunday at 5 p.m. The race will also shut down the Great Highway between Sloat and JFK between Saturday at 9 p.m. until Sunday at 4 p.m.  

On Sunday morning, there will be closures all along the race route, with a concentration of street closures downtown in the staging area starting at 3 a.m. They include: 

  • Beale between Mission and Folsom 
  • Fremont between Mission and Folsom 
  • First St. between Market and Folsom (Muni allowed from Market to Mission) 
  • Second St. between Mission and Folsom 
  • New Montgomery between Mission and Howard 
  • Howard between Beale and Third St .

There will also be intersection closures on Howard at Beale, Fremont, First, Second, and New Montgomery. Drivers should anticipate heavy traffic along the race route due to street closures. There will also be Sunday morning closures for multiple entrances to Golden Gate Park during the race. 

While the Bay to Breakers will be forcing a number of bus route changes, the race is also changing Muni's usual weekend service time to accommodate the expected crowds. The Market Street Subway will open early at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, with extra service provided on the N Judah and S Shuttle lines between West Portal and Embarcadero stations. Full details on street closures and service impacts are available on the SFMTA website

BART is also providing four trains with limited stops before regular weekend BART service to help transport Bay to Breakers runners. The special service will get race participants to the Embarcadero station at around 7 a.m.  

The special early morning trains will pick up passengers with limited service from the Millbrae, Daly City, and 16th Street Mission stations in San Francisco and on the Peninsula and from the West Oakland, MacArthur, Pleasant Hill, El Cerrito del Norte, Bay Fair, and Dublin stations in the East Bay. These stations will be the only stations opened early for service. The four early trains will go out of service once they drop riders off at Embarcadero. Riders will not be able to board those trains at Embarcadero. 

More information on the special service is available on the BART websiteCaltrain and Golden Gate Ferry also will be providing additional service to accommodate Bay to Breakers participants. Public transit is recommended for those running in the race due to possible traffic and parking issues.

Is the Bay to Breakers still a roving party?

While there inevitably will be some drinking among participants (not to mention spectators who line the race route), back in 2009 San Francisco city officials and race organizers made changes to the rules that banned the use of floats (which were often used to transport full kegs of beer), alcohol, drunkenness and nudity. The changes were in response to residents who lived along the race route who complained about problems with public drunkenness and urination in their neighborhoods. While the race has become somewhat toned down since those changes, there is still a festive and hedonistic atmosphere to the proceedings. 

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