The Golden Gate Bridge is so well known it is easy to take for granted. It has been photographed more times than Angelina Jolie or the Queen. The only U.S. bridge that can compare to it in iconic grandeur is a continent away in Brooklyn. But even admirers of that bridge (of which I am one) must concede that for sheer beauty and aesthetic pleasure, nothing quite delivers like San Francisco’s landmark span.
But after you’re done marveling at its size, history, architecture and the fact that it isn’t actually golden but sort of burnt orange in color, what do you do then? Well, here are four ways to experience the bridge and increase your enjoyment of it:
1. Drive across it
The Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco, which is on a peninsula, with Marin County and the Marin Headlands. It crosses over the Golden Gate Channel that flows between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific. Besides being a potent gateway symbol of America and the West, it is a vital and very busy link in California’s highway system, with more than 100,00 cars and trucks passing over it every day.
While you can easily get around San Francisco using cabs, cable cars and the Muni, consider renting a car for the day to drive across the bridge and explore Sausalito, the Napa and Sonoma wine country and other destinations to the north. Speeding across it will give you an exhilarating sense of what a magnificent structure it is—the main span is 4,200 feet long, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world—and provide equally exhilarating views. The only downside is that your experience will be over as fast as it takes to drive across, which leads to the second and third ways to experience the bridge.
2 & 3. Walk or ride a bicycle
Both ends of the bridge—north and south—offer extraordinary views and on Saturdays and Sundays, extraordinary crowds too. The north end is Vista Point and Sausalito; the south end is the San Francisco approach, the starting point for most bridge walkers and bikers. Walkers can walk on the east side of the bridge facing the city. The length of the span is 1.7 miles although it is safe to say that most travelers do not venture that far. They walk long enough to get a Facebook picture of themselves, often turning back due to the mighty winds that blow through here. Fog is another near constant, even in summer. Be sure to wear a windbreaker or sweater.
Bicyclists can ride on either the east or west sidewalks, although they too must be ready for the cold and billowing fog. One advantage bikers have is they don’t have to worry about parking, which is a headache in San Francisco wherever you go. Transit officials say to leave the car in the garage and take public transit, taxi, tour bus. Or heck, maybe even ride a bike. Once you’re there a pavilion has historical exhibits and a gift shop.
4. See it from the water
Before the bridge was completed, in 1937, there was no way to get across the channel except by boat. The span took four years to build and eleven men died during construction, falling to their deaths while stringing the cables suspended between the bridge’s twin towers, each 746 feet high. You can best appreciate the magnificence of all this—not to mention the natural beauty of the bay and ocean—by seeing it from the water. Ferry operators such as the Red & White and the Blue & Gold offer cruises that take off from the city waterfront and pass by old Alcatraz prison, Angel Island and under and around the immortal bridge. A twilight or sunset voyage is an attractive possibility. Have dinner, sip on a cocktail and watch the sky turn crimson over a deep blue sea as old as time. That is a splendid way to enjoy the bridge as well.