4 ways to experience and enjoy the Golden Gate Bridge

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.

Golden Gate Bridge

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.

Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge

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.

Cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge

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.

Golden Gate Bridge cruise

Images: Shutterstock

Comments (17)

  1. I walked across GGB one time and it was great. Would love to do again.

    How about seeing from the air? You covered all other possibilities.

  2. Kevin Nelson says:

    Charles, what an absolutely brilliant comment. I wish I had spoken to you before I wrote the article. Believe it or not, it didn’t even occur to me—the idea of seeing the bridge from the air. Which is very strange because just a few weeks ago I took a marvelous helicopter ride over the Napa Valley. There are helicopter tours of the Golden Gate and bay, so what I think I’ll do is do some more research and maybe write a piece on scenic tours from the air for ALTB. If you have any ideas on that, please share. Thanks again for the idea and reading.

  3. Eileen Fahy says:

    Last but not least… My favorite place is actually under the Golden Gate Bridge wiith my feet in the sand on the beach! I have seen ships squeeze underneath and watched dolphins jumping in the ocean. It indeed is a special bridge!

  4. Kevin Nelson says:

    What a great comment. There are at least two more ways to enjoy the bridge that I didn’t think of—in the air and on the beach. I might need to do a follow-up article. What beach–Baker Beach or another?

  5. Eileen Fahy says:

    Baker Beach is my favorite ~ a nice walk out to the Golden Gate Bridge and to sit on the rocks with waves crashing and the salty ocean spray!

  6. Kevin Nelson says:

    I’ve been to Baker Beach too. Great place. Chilly water but amazing views. And yikes! naked people on one end out of sight. At least that was the case the last time I was there.

  7. Jeffrey Trybull says:

    I’d add underneath from Fort Point as well as
    From Crissy Field – though you need to warn
    Folks visiting Fort Point they recently reduced
    Their operating hours as I recently discovered
    Taking some cousins on a city tour!

  8. Kevin Nelson says:

    Thanks, Jeff, that’s a great add and a great reminder too. As I’ve mentioned, I’ll be doing a followup article on this, and the notice about Fort Point is a really great tip for travelers.

  9. George Aimer says:

    I walked back and forth over the bridge a few years ago.Was reluctant at first but glad I did as great views of the City.

  10. Kevin Nelson says:

    And George, great exercise too! I’m thinking one of these days about taking my sons to the bridge and walk it with them. Great bonding, great fun.

  11. Paola says:

    climb to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge! it could be another option…like they do in Sydney, Australia!

  12. Caroline Connolly says:

    Hubby & I walked it, drove over it & sailed under it in April 14 Loved it, loved San Francisco.

  13. Kevin Nelson says:

    Paola and Caroline,
    The hits keep coming. You know, when I wrote this article, I had no idea there were so many possible ways to enjoy the bridge. And now, two more: climbing up and sailing under. Now, granted I don’t think they’ll let you climb up, but it’s an interesting thought. And I had always thought about riding on a tourist boat or even a fishing boat under the bridge, but a sailboat had never occurred to me. Amazing! What creativity travelers show!

  14. Dawn Finding says:

    I enjoyed GGB from a balcony high in the Berkley Hills overlooking that fantastic bay….oh with a glass of wine in my hand.

  15. Jim Kennedy says:

    Love your article.Thank you
    We visit GGB every few years as my wife lived in Half Moon Bay .
    We flew over it , drove over it cycled and walked over it but our favourite way is Kayaking under it.

  16. Kevin Nelson says:

    That may be the best way I’ve heard to enjoy the bridge yet. Especially the wine part! I’ve seen that view from the Berkeley hills myself. Maybe at sunset, with the fog starting to roll in from the Pacific. Wonderful.

  17. Kevin Nelson says:

    Kayaking under the bridge! Yet another way to enjoy the bridge. The bridge is stationery (obviously), but it’s really remarkable how many different ways there are to interact with it. And ways, such as kayaking under it, I hadn’t even thought of. Thanks for the comment.

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