San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge: 14 Facts, Six Things to Do and 24 Ways to See It From Every Angle
San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most famous, photographed and beloved landmarks in the world. Yet as popular as it is, there are several things that most people don’t know about the graceful span and all the ways to experience it.
Fourteen Little-Known Facts:
A bridge across the Golden Gate Strait was first proposed in 1872 and championed by railroad mogul Charles Crocker but the idea didn’t catch on.
Chief engineer Joseph Strauss’ first design, in 1921, was rejected as too ugly.
The great California nature photographer Ansel Adams worried that building a bridge across the Golden Gate would ruin the beauty of the place. When Adams saw the finished Golden Gate Bridge, he changed his mind.
Eleven men died in accidents during construction, 10 of them on the same day. Another 19 workers caught by a safety net below the bridge were dubbed members of the “Halfway to Hell Club.”
The Navy suggested that the bridge be painted in black and yellow stripes. The Army Air Corps wanted candy cane red and white stripes. The signature International Orange hue was actually the color of the primer. Consulting architect Irving Morrow successfully lobbied for the bridge to be permanently painted International Orange.
According to urban legend, the Golden Gate Bridge is painted continuously, end-to-end. Not so. The bridge is painted and touched up according to need.
Fifty thousand people walked across the new bridge on May 26, 1937. It was opened to motor vehicles the next day. On May 24, 1987, some 300,000 people squeezed onto the bridge for a 50th birthday party called Bridgewalk 87. The weight of bridge walkers that day caused the roadway to sag in the middle by 7 feet, but bridge engineers said the structure always remained safe.
The six-lane bridge is 1.7 miles long, linking San Francisco on the south with Marin County on the north.
Total cost of construction was $35 million.
The bridge weighs 887,700 tons, after shedding 12,300 tons when the roadway was replaced in the 1980s.
The two main suspension cables use a combined 80,000 miles of wire. Looped around the Earth’s equator in a single strand, it would circle the planet three times.
The Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world until 1964. It is now the ninth-longest.
By 2015, more than 2 billion motor vehicles had passed over the Golden Gate Bridge
Six Ways to Visit:
Visiting the Golden Gate Bridge is a great experience but needn’t end with the bridge itself. There’s a wide range of things to do within walking distance of the bridge.
Marvel at the Golden Gate Bridge Strauss Plaza
Approaching from San Francisco heading north, visitors come to the Golden Gate Bridge Strauss Plaza, a handsome gateway named for the bridge’s dynamic first chief engineer, Joseph Strauss. The plaza, opened in 2012 just southeast of the bridge toll stations, includes the Bridge Pavilion, the Round House Café and a small parking lot. Approaching from Marin County heading south, the parking lot is accessed from the bridge’s far-right lane via the Merchant Road exit.
Buy Gifts at The Bridge Pavilion
The Bridge Pavilion, a glassy modern building in signature International Orange, is the place to go for branded Golden Gate Bridge merchandise. This attractive visitors’ center highlights orientation and interpretive information about the bridge and its construction from 1933 to 1937 and offers views of the bridge and the Pacific Ocean.
Eat at the Round House Café
The neighboring Round House Café, a circular 1938 Art Deco building, was reopened in 2015 as a contemporary eatery. The café offers barista service behind large, view-friendly windows and a classic roadside menu of clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls, apple pie, hot dogs and the motorist’s friend, hot coffee. All are sourced from Bay Area companies.
Visit the Walt Disney Family Museum
The Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio, located inland and south of the bridge in a repurposed heritage building on the expansive, eye-pleasing former Army base offers an engaging variety of changing, interactive exhibits about the famed movie studio and its entrepreneurial founder, appealing to children and adults.
Wander Down to Crissy Field
Another lure is waterside Crissy Field, the Presidio’s transformed former airfield, located downhill and to the east of the bridge. It includes a popular and helpfully flat pathway. It winds past beaches and restored sand dunes studded with native plants all the way to Fort Point, which affords commanding views of the world-famous bridge from the water’s edge.
Look out at the Bridge from Battery Spencer and Vista Point
On the Marin side, aptly named Vista Point overlooks the bay, the bridge and the city skyline from just off the bridge’s east sidewalk. From the west, head up Cozelman Road to Battery Spencer, a reinforced concrete battery that was a part of the Harbor Defense of San Francisco.
Run along Baker Beach
Stretching a mile below the rugged cliffs on the Presidio’s western shoreline, Baker Beach’s spectacular outside-the-Gate views of the Bridge and the Marin Headlands are unsurpassed. The beach lies on the shore of the Pacific Ocean to the northwest of the city. It is roughly a half mile long, beginning just south of Golden Gate Point (where the Golden Gate Bridge connects with the peninsula), extending southward toward the Seacliff peninsula.
See It From Every Angle:
Go Over the Bridge
The famed bridge gets 10 million visitors a year. Most drive across on U.S. Highway 101. A $7.25 toll for 2-axle vehicles is paid electronically at the San Francisco end. Limited paid parking is available in the compact lot southeast of the San Francisco toll plaza. In the northeast lot at Vista Point on the Marin County side, parking is free for up to four hours. (Both lots may be closed at major holidays.)
Bridge crossings can be made by tour bus, taxi, ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft and public transit. The hop-on/hop-off, open-top Big Bus includes a Sausalito and bridge tour with a Dynamite ticket. City Sightseeing San Francisco’s Sausalito Loop crosses the bridge in both directions. Gray Line’s Sausalito Loop includes a bridge crossing. Golden Gate Transit buses and San Francisco Muni buses stop at the San Francisco toll plaza, where visitors can get off to walk or cycle the bridge, toll-free.
Walkers and bicyclists share the east sidewalk overlooking San Francisco Bay and bicyclists also use the west sidewalk on the ocean side. San Francisco City Guides lead richly informative and free bridge walks. DYI walking and cycling give easy access to nearby scenic attractions like the California Coastal Trail in San Francisco and the Marin Headlands and Fort Baker in Marin County.
Leading bike rental companies, some of which organize bridge rides include: Blazing Saddles, Bay City Bikes, Bike and Roll San Francisco, Bike and View, Golden Gate Park – Bike & Skate , Park Wide Bike Rentals & Tours, Spinlister and Sports Basement – Gear, Apparel and Bike Rental. Some bicycle tours end in Sausalito and offer the option of returning to San Francisco by ferry.
Go Above the Bridge
Want to see the sights from on high? San Francisco Helicopters offers view-friendly flights above the bridge on their Vista Grande option.
Go Under the Bridge
Going under the bridge allows visitors to appreciate its immensity and brilliant architecture. Walkers can pause under the span at Fort Point. Blue & Gold Fleet’s San Francisco Cruise Adventure sails under the bridge from Fisherman’s Wharf, as does Red and White Fleet’s Bridge2Bridge Cruise. City Kayak has a Golden Gate Bridge Trip from Crissy Field for advanced sea kayakers. Hornblower Cruises & Events showcases stupendous views of the bridge. Adventure Cat takes swift sailing catamarans under the bridge and around the bay. Also check out the Events calendar on Tideline Water Taxi’s website for their Golden Gate Bridge Float Cruise which departs from Sam’s Anchor Cafe in Tiburon.
Over, under or across — no matter what the approach, the Golden Gate Bridge always enthralls.
The San Francisco Travel Association is the official destination marketing organization for the City and County of San Francisco. For information on reservations, activities and more, visit www.sanfrancisco.travel, read the Visitors Planning Guide or call 415-391-2000. San Francisco Travel also operates Visitor Information Centers at Hallidie Plaza, 900 Market Street at the corner of Powell and Market streets and on the lower level of Macy’s Union Square. For more information, visit www.sanfrancisco.travel.
American Express® is the official Card partner of the San Francisco Travel Association.
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