Bay to Breakers is a mix of pure fun, a few hills, silly costumes, some serious runners and a good dose of history to boot. These days, serious competitors come from 40-plus nations. It has been 20 years since we’ve seen an American champion, male or female, besides our beloved 13-member centipede teams, of which locals excel. Bring a camera because the costumes get better every year. If you’d rather watch the action than run with the masses, here are some of the best places to view the pack. But wherever you go, get there early.

The starting line is at 300 Howard Street, San Francisco, at 7 a.m. on May 19. If you haven’t been for a couple of years, note that the start time used to be 8 a.m. Check out some of these recommendations for viewing spots — unless you live on the route, in which case you and your friends already know where the party is.

Bay to Breakers Start

Runners poised for the starting gun at the 101st Bay to Breakers footrace in San Francisco. (CBS)

Beale Street and Howard Street

It’s not yet 7 a.m. on the third Sunday in May near the Embarcadero, the “bay” part of Bay to Breakers. Onlookers already crowd the sidewalks several people deep. The roads have been closed to vehicular traffic since the previous night. Muni buses and street cars are on detour. Helicopters hover. Police motorcycles arrive, lights flashing, escorting a clutch of lean professionals, who will complete the 7.45 miles averaging faster than five-minute miles from start to finish. The best things for spectators about being at the starting line is to hear the countdown, watch the pros push off, get photos and videos of all the costumes while they’re fresh and experience the excitement of one of the world’s largest races and San Francisco’s biggest annual mobile street party.

Check out our photo gallery of costume ideas.

Participants run up Hayes Street Hill with the backdrop of the city's 'Painted Ladies' houses during the ING Bay to Breakers race May 17, 2009 in San Francisco. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Participants run up Hayes Street Hill with the backdrop of the city’s ‘Painted Ladies’ houses during the ING Bay to Breakers race May 17, 2009 in San Francisco. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Hayes Street Hill, Alamo Square

Alamo Square is a landmark along the B2B route. Runners know that the New York City Marathon has the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge ascent and the Boston Marathon has its Heartbreak Hill. This is ours for Bay to Breakers. Position yourself at the top or bottom of Hayes Street Hill. Both are great vantage points, but crowded. From the top of Hayes Street Hill, as far as you can see, a swarm of festive humanity fills the street. You get the famous postcard view of the San Francisco skyline beyond the Victorian Painted Ladies and if you have a patch of grass, what could be better? At the bottom, you see smiling faces of relief as participants leave that hill behind them.

Photo Gallery: Bay to Breakers Through The Years

(Photo Credit by 99.7

(Photo Credit by 99.7


A bit further west, anywhere along the flat stretch of the Panhandle offers a good view and a good party. Here the runners’ parade reaches its midway point at Cole Street and Fell Street before proceeding into Golden Gate Park. Weather allowing, live bands are set up on the grass, the mood is a jolly one and porta-potties are plentiful.

Related: Bay Area’s Best Summer Festivals

(Photo Credit by 99.7

(Photo Credit by 99.7

Golden Gate Park

If you prefer to spend to spend your morning in the park, one of the recommended viewing spots is in front of the Conservatory of Flowers on John F. Kennedy Drive, which is closed to traffic from Stanyan to the Great Highway. It’s pretty and there’s a small hill at the top of about 30 stairs leading up to the gorgeous building. Walk west toward the Dutch Windmill in Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden alongside the Beach Chalet, right to the very end of Golden Gate Park. The runners will be headed this way, too.



Great Highway

The finish line is at the Great Highway, the “breakers” part of the race, where the runners wind up facing the breaking waves of the Pacific Ocean, an in-your-face fact of nature which city dwellers sometimes overlook. According to the event website, “The Great Highway will be closed between Sloat Boulevard and Fulton Street, starting Saturday at 9 p.m. and ending Sunday at 2 p.m., so Bay to Breakers organizers can set up the finish line on the Great Highway across from Golden Gate Park. Local access for the Beach Chalet will still be open, via the Great Highway and Fulton Street.” Given reasonable weather, there’s nothing better than dunking your toes in the Pacific surf at Ocean Beach.

Related: Best Running Clubs in San Francisco

Laurie JM Farr is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. A transplanted New Yorker, she has traveled throughout the world as the Big Apple’s official tourism representative. She served as organizer for three Royal Visits to America. As an international relocation consultant, Laurie assisted more than 400 families with overseas moves and is a proud mother of two, thoroughly bi-cultural children. Her work can be found on