How Bay to Breakers Works

Bay to Breakers Route

A costumed Bay to Breakers runner
A costumed Bay to Breakers runner
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Bay to Breakers gets its name from its starting point on San Francisco Bay and its ending point at the breakers along the shore of the Pacific Ocean. The route is a United States Track & Field (USAT&F)-certified, 12-kilometer (7.46-mile), point-to-point course, but because the start is so distant from the finish, it's considered "wind-dependent." This means that race times are not record-eligible unless no significant tailwind is detected. In 1994, however, the USAT&F allowed American runners to use their Bay to Breakers time to qualify for the Olympic trials for the Atlanta Games.

The current Bay to Breakers route runs east to west across the San Francisco Peninsula in the heart of downtown San Francisco. Beginning on Howard Street near the Embarcadero, participants move west to Ninth Street where they cut north to Hayes Street. The climb from here to Divisadero Street is the only significant hill along the route. After a brief turn south on Divisadero, runners turn west on Fell Street, which turns into John F. Kennedy Memorial Drive. This part of the route passes through Golden Gate Park before reaching the finish at the Great Highway at Orange Beach.

There are a number of pit stops along the route, though they aren't necessarily what you'd expect at a footrace. Like most such events, there are water stations where runners can cool down and rehydrate, and portable toilets where they can take care of business. One thing that's unusual about the Bay to Breakers is the number of these portable toilets you'll see along the route -- 705 in 2009 [source: Wildermuth]. This was in response to numerous complaints by local residents about public urination by drunken participants. What makes the Bay to Breakers truly unique, however, are the pit stop parties, where DJs and bands often provide a soundtrack for merrymaking at houses or random gatherings along the route.

Pit stops aren't the only things that make the Bay to Breakers a one-of-a-kind experience. Find out about other wacky traditions on the next page.