If there is one event that is truly unique to San Francisco, it would have to be Bay to Breakers. It is basically a foot race that stretches across the entire city of San Francisco, starting from the San Francisco Bay (the “Bay” part of the name) to the western edge of the city that meets the Pacific Ocean (aka the “Breakers”). But while this would be a cool running event on its own, that doesn’t even begin to cover the concept of Bay to Breakers, which actually set a Guinness World Record in 1986 in the world’s largest footrace category (although the title would eventually be lost in 2010, beaten by an event in Sydney, Australia called City2Surf).
The first thing that set this unique event apart from your standard races like marathons, 5Ks, 10Ks, etc, is the fact that most participants in the event wear costumes. And by costumes, we don’t mean just a weird hat or a funny shirt, we’re talking full-on crazy costumes that some people spend a lot of time putting together. Including the Pink Gorilla costumes, the mascot of Bay to Breakers, that starts off the race.
Another interesting thing about Bay to Breakers is that most of the participants don’t actually “race” during the event. In fact, up until 2009 when the city imposed stricter regulations on the event including the banning of floats, drinking alcohol and nudity, it was one of the biggest, craziest parties in the city. People who didn’t participate competitively in the race, started a little bit later and walked along the course behind the runners and engaged in a lot of drinking, dancing and some general debauchery. Bands set up along the path and a string of house parties along the way added to the fun, party atmosphere. Despite the drop in numbers due to the strict anti-partying regulations, the event is still a fun time and definitely worth experiencing at least once.
Bay to Breakers has been one of the signature San Francisco events for a long time and has actually been run for more consecutive years than any other footrace in the world. It was started as a way to cheer up and bring together the citizens of San Francisco after the devastation caused by the 1906 earthquake and fires. It inaugural race took place in 1912 and has taken place every year since, even though some years had extremely low attendance (an estimated 50 people ran the race during World War II). Unfortunately, due to the the regulations associated with COVID-19, the race in 2020 was held as a virtual race.
Whether you want to compete to win the race as an individual, participate in the “centipede” part of the race (where teams of 13 or more people run the race together and are “connected” via a bungee cord or something similar) or just want to check out the amazing costumes and enjoy a beautiful walk through San Francisco, Bay to Breakers is an amazing event with a little something for everyone.