Risque, Racy and Downright Daring: Bay to Breakers Foot Race

Festival Essentials

Where: San Francisco, California, USA
When: Late May
What’s it about: A crazy foot race often run in bizarre and outlandish costume
Remember to Bring: A good pair of running shoes and as daring an outfit as possible


Where It’s At

The Bay To Breakers is the most famous foot race in San Francisco, often drawing crowds in excess of 100 000 people. If you’re in San Francisco in late May, it’s a must see event for the costumes worn, and not worn, by the participants and is a great way to get a closeup look at the city’s irreverent sense of humour. The foot race is a mere 12 kilometre, making it a quarter of the length of a full marathon.

Active Participation

You don’t have to be a runner to go in the race, and actually most people just walk the Bay To Breakers. This is more fun than sitting by the sidelines because the action will be all around you and there are some hilarious things you will miss if you decide to just watch the parade go by.
If you do want to run the race its essential to get a number (which also entitles you to a race t-shirt) so you are officially registered. Each year some of the worlds top runners compete here. Otherwise, just turn up with sturdy walking shoes (or running shoes if you’re planning to runthe length) and a water bottle and you’ll be ready to race.

The race is so huge that the winner has already crossed the finish line before all the participants have crossed the starting line, down in SOMA near Market Street. Literally thousands of people are gathered here before the race starts at 8.00am, so it’s wise to make contingency plans in case of separation.

Costumes Galore and Bizarre

Once you’re down at the race start, you’ll see why the Bay To Breakers is so famous for its uniquely ‘San Franciscan’ slant to costumes, or lack thereof. Centipedes, Land Sharks, telephone booths, Roman Slave Drivers, S & M displays and much more have become staple costumes and quite a few have been hijacked by corporate logos; in fact whole offices run, en famille, sometimes linked together like the Golden Gate Bridge or an anaconda.
Others still take the costume ideas a little too au naturel and a lot of people come wearing nothing at all, to the bemusement of children and tourists who happily take photos. (some of whom ask out loud “where does he put his carkeys?”) The naked people are so frequent that news crews covering the event have naked alerts (naked man coming!) to the cameramen who can then turn away in time.

Walking the event is a surreal experience and though the costumes have become more muted in recent years it is still very alternative: one minute you are watching a homeless man stare at a group of 6′ foot blonde women dressed as Viking Goddesses complete with metal bras, next thing you’re surrounded by 15 naked people wearing nothing but watches. Next, you’re watching 5 ‘land sharks’ circling a lone policeman, then you’re watching a married couple in full S & M gear giving a live demostration, whips chains or watching a couple of gay guys march by attached to each other with dog collars. Whatever you think of the extreme costumes, it’s an event certainly not to be missed.



Bay to Breakers
Official site for the race with history, images and registration details.