Walking the Golden Gate Bridge | A Visitor Guide
This post is a visitor’s guide to the Golden Gate Bridge, with tips on how to get here, where to park, where to get the best views as well as guided and self-guided tours. Check out our pay-what-like tours of San Francisco, including our Golden Gate Bridge tour!
- How to Get to the Golden Gate Bridge?
- Best Places to Park
- Tips on Crossing the Bridge
- Bike Across
- Guided and Self-Guided Tours
- 4 Great Photo Spots
HOW TO GET TO THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
The Golden Gate Bridge is located over its namesake, the Golden Gate Strait, and stretches from San Francisco on the southern side to Marin County on the north.
It’s a must do on most itineraries and is #1 on our things to do in San Francisco post.
The bridge stands approximately 3.5 miles (5.5 km) west of Fisherman’s Wharf (25 min by bus – see below).
Parking at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center (map) is very limited (particularly during the peak tourist season) and driving there is generally discouraged, but we provide a few alternative parking options that will allow you to drive to the bridge if you so choose.
It’s easy enough to arrive by mass transit. There are numerous buses that will take you to the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge. We recommend using this Google map for directions to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center from anywhere in San Francisco.
From downtown San Francisco, you can take Golden Gate Transit buses number 10, 70, 92, 93 and 101. They will all stop at the toll plaza, which will allow you to walk out to the Bridge. The cost of a bus ride is $2.50/person each way.
TIP: If you are considering a hop-on-hop-off bus service while in San Francisco, then do note that Big Bus Tours and City-Sightseeing (2 open-top double-decker bus companies) make stops on both sides of the Golden Gate Bridge.
If you are considering purchasing the City-Sightseeing ticket, keep in mind that it is included at no additional charge with the cost of a Go San Francisco tourist discount card.
Parking at the visitor center is very limited and driving is generally discouraged during peak travel season. The Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center has a small parking lot with a 2-hour limit.
There are 4 additional parking areas that you could park, though some will require uphill walking.
(OPTION 1) – Our choice (bright yellow). Click the (map). This lot is just a few minutes from the welcome center and the entrance to the bridge. There is no time limit and no fee. BONUS – it is also near a small park for the ultimate photo opportunity.
(OPTION 2) – (map) Fort Point (orange). This lot is a 15 min walk (uphill) to the welcome center + entrance. BONUS – you can park for free, visit the Fort Point Historic Landmark and this location also offers another great photo opportunity.
(OPTION 3) – (map) If you are coming on a weekend, the employee parking lot (red circle) opens up approximately half of its spaces to visitors. This costs $5 with no time limit.
(OPTION 4) – (map) Crissy Field – Our last suggestion. This lot is also free, and like Fort Point is a 15 min walk (uphill) to the welcome center. However, this location isn’t as photo worthy, and depending on the time you come, could also be full of families enjoying the park.
You can also park at the Palace of Fine Arts, at 3399 Lyon Street. That parking lot gives you 4 hours of free parking – ample time to walk the 2 miles to the bridge, enjoy your time there, and walk back.
Check out our map to get walking directions to the bridge from here. They’re a little bit complicated, but the views are great so it’s definitely worth it! You can also catch public bus #28 from the parking lot.
Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge
Possibly the most memorable experience in San Francisco is riding a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. From Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s only 23 min along a beautiful (and mostly flat) waterfront to the bridge.
If you’re going to ride your bike to the bridge, you should take a look at our earlier post, Biking the Golden Gate Bridge and Ferry back.
This post gives a great overview on how to ride your bike across the bridge from San Francisco to Marin County, having a nice meal in the little bay-side town of Sausalito, and then taking the ferry back into downtown.
If you’ve never done it, it makes for a wonderful vacation day!
If you are considering a bike ride and ferry, then keep in mind that both are included for free with the purchase of most tourist discount passes available in San Francisco.
These passes can save you between 15% – 55% on attractions, depending on how many popular attractions that you would like to see.
IMPORTANT: There are no bike rentals at the welcome center. You need to rent a bike from downtown. We provide the information of several bike shops where you can rent bikes for the trip across the bridge.
For further information regarding walking and biking on the bridge, please visit the Golden Gate Bridge biking information website.
Pedestrians have access to the East Sidewalk, which can be reached from the parking lot on the Marin side and from either the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center parking lot or from the walking trail we mentioned before.
We also offer a self-guided tour as a companion guide for your walk.
East Sidewalk Hours
- 5:00 AM – 6:30 PM November through early March.
- 5:00 AM – 9:00 PM from early March through early November.
When is the best time to go to the Golden Gate Bridge?
The bridge is a beautiful entryway to the San Francisco Bay every day of the year! However, there are times when the bridge can be socked in with fog, making it a bit harder (or impossible!) to see these majestic views.
Although there is no way to predict whether it will be foggy on the day of your arrival, we have a couple of good tips for you:
- Best months to visit: September and October (beautiful, often warm weather)
- More troublesome months to visit: July and August (usually cold, foggy, and windy!)
Below are 4 spots that we think make for memorable photo opportunities. The first two are on the south side of the bridge and the remaining 2 are on the north side.
(1) – If you are driving, the best place to park is just down the road from the welcome center at Battery East Parking Lot. This spot is just as good if you are biking or taking the bus.
There is a small field with a great view of the bridge. This spot is alongside a hiking trail that leads from the water to the welcome center.
Click the (map) for directions to this photo spot. There are several other photo opportunities along the trail. In the background, you can see the Marin Headlands, which is on the north side of the bridge.
(2) – Fort Point – If you are planning to visit Fort Point or you decided to park there, you will be treated to an excellent photo opportunity. This time, you will be at water level looking up to the bridge.
Click the (map) for directions to Fort Point.
(3) – Marin Headlands (Vista Point) – For this view, you will need to cross the bridge to the north side. If you are driving from downtown, you will need to pay the toll.
This vantage point is likely the most famous of the bridge. You will see it on countless postcards. This view allows you to capture San Francisco in the background.
You are also much closer to the bridge and looking down on most of the structure. There is parking near the lookout point.
Click the (map) for directions to this spot.
If you are walking or biking across the bride, there is a set of stairs at the parking lot on the northeast side that leads under the bridge and to a path that takes you up to Marin Headlands.
As you can see in the image below, there is an elevation change of approximately 200′ (60 m) over .5 miles (800 m) from the parking lot on the north side of the bridge to Vista Point, so be prepared for some effort.
NOTE: There is a vista point at the north parking lot, but the view pales in comparison.
(4) – Fort Baker (Moore Road Pier) – Not as easy to get to, as you will need to exit 101 and drive down to water level, but this is another great view. You will pass Fort Baker if you are biking or walking to Sausalito, so this could be a good choice for you.
Be sure to use this (map) for direction to the pier.
This is also a steep climb, but it is downhill, a 240′ (73 m) over .8 miles (1.3 km) and takes approximately 15 minutes to walk.
FUN FACTS AND TRIVIA
How long is the Golden Gate Bridge?
The bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world until 1964, measuring in at 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) from abutment to abutment.
How tall is the Golden Gate Bridge?
From the water, the highest tower of the bridge reaches 746 feet (227 meters).
Who designed it and when did it officially open?
The Golden Gate Bridge was designed by engineer Joseph Strauss and officially opened on May 27, 1937. On completion of the bridge, Joseph Strauss wrote The Mighty Task is Done, a poem dedicated to San Francisco’s newest installation.
What color is the Golden Gate Bridge painted?
Trick question! Although many people assume that our famous bridge will be gold-colored, they are surprised to see it painted some other strange shade.
Though often shrouded in a thick layer of fog, visitors can still see the bright color of International Orange paint peeping through the western skyline, beckoning visitors to its towering presence. That color was specifically chosen to stand out against the often-foggy days of San Francisco.
What are some more interesting facts about the Golden Gate Bridge’s history?
Being one of Northern California’s most prolific beacons, naturally, the Golden Gate Bridge has a long and storied history. Featured in over thirty Hollywood films, the bridge has also seen its fair share of real-life drama.
At least three babies have been born while crossing, one ostrich has escaped from a vehicle on it, one Guinness World Record has been set (largest number of people doing jumping jacks in a 24-hour period), dozens of protesters have used it as a platform, and countless other events have happened on the bridge.
Sadly, the bridge has also seen a number of jumpers since it opened to foot traffic in 1937, prompting Bay Area officials to fundraise for a safety net which will soon be installed. Renovations and maintenance continuously occur on the bridge, so you can be sure that the bridge will always be in tiptop order.
Which movies have I seen the Golden Gate Bridge in?
To name a few:
- Terminator: Genisys (2015)
- Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
- Star Trek (2009)
- X-Men: Last Stand (2006)
- The Sweetest Thing (2002)
- Princess Diaries (2001)
- Homeward Bound II – Lost in San Francisco (1996)
- The Rock (1996)
- Nine Months (1995)
- Final Analysis (1992)
- A View to Kill (1985)
- The Love Bug (1968)
- Vertigo (1958)
- Dark Passage (1947)
We offer two options. A guided walking tour as well as a self-guided version.
FREE TOURS BY FOOT
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most famous places in the world! Join us on our Golden Gate Bridge tour to discover the place that many people said was impossible to build.
We will take you through the whole history of the bridge starting from the idea that began it all to the final rivet that was put into place.
On this tour, we’ll show you some great places and tell you fun stories such as:
- Why is the “Golden” Gate Bridge painted red?
- The best photo spots of and on the Golden Gate Bridge
- A view from underneath the bridge
- The visionary who got the “impossible” bridge built
- Scientific exhibits showing how the bridge was built
- A great view of San Francisco from the bottom of the tower
and much more!
Where: We meet outside the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, right next to the Bridge Cafe. Use our Google map for directions to the tour starting point. Look for your guide with the orange shirt.
Duration: The tour lasts about 1.5 hours. The total walking is under a mile (1.6 km).
When: On a limited basis during the winter. View our Calendar
Cost: This is a name-your-own-price tour. That means the tour is free to take, and at the end of the tour, you decide how much the tour was worth to you. Our guides are happy to take cash or credit card, whatever is most convenient to you!
Save even more money in San Francisco with a discount tourist pass!
SELF-GUIDED GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE WALKING TOUR
The tour begins just outside the Golden Gate Bridge gift shop, at the large bronze statue of Joseph Strauss.
Stop 1: Joseph Strauss Statue
We’re going to start our tour at the statue honoring Joseph Strauss. For every major infrastructure project in America, there is often one person who has to push the project through with sheer force of personality. For the Golden Gate Bridge, that man was Joseph Strauss.
Joseph Strauss is credited with being the designer and chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge (even though Strauss himself wasn’t even an engineer!)
Strauss, over everybody else, was the person responsible for the bridge being built. When most people thought that it would be an impossible task, Strauss was able to convince the government, the public, and the banks that the bridge was possible.
Strauss had an ego as big as the bridge itself. But for a project as massive as this one, a huge ego can often be a useful trait rather than a drawback. When everybody believed that building this bridge would be an impossible task, somebody had to have the confidence to believe that they could achieve the impossible. And Joseph Strauss was that man.
Starting at the Strauss statue, turn to the right and walk down a small flight of stairs. Follow the walking path as it curves to the left.
Stop 2: Men of Vision Plaque
Although Joseph Strauss had a vision for the Golden Gate Bridge, he could not build it alone. The first thing he needed was money. And building what many thought was an impossible bridge was going to require a lot of money!
Luckily, San Francisco was home to another visionary. His name was Amadeo “A.P.” Giannini. If you have taken our North Beach/Little Italy walking tour you would have heard about Giannini!
Giannini was willing to lend all the money that was required to build the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a huge undertaking with a massive risk involved, but he believed it was the right decision.
The plaque that you are standing in front of commemorates the meeting of Giannini and Strauss which sealed the future for the bridge.
Continue walking down the path as it curves to the left. You will see a patch of dirt just off the paved road with a great view of the bridge.
Stop 3: A Great Photo Stop!
Since we are always on the lookout for the best photography spots, we have to mention this one. This area is possibly the best place in all of San Francisco to take a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. So get out that camera and snap a memorable photo (or selfie!) to store in your photo book.
Take a few steps back to return to the paved walking path. Walk up the hill towards the bridge. As you continue on the path, you will walk underneath the bridge (and another great stop for a photo)! Continue to the other side of the bridge, and you will see a large steel beam that is the same color as the bridge. Stop in front of that.
Stop 4: Earthquake Testing and Retrofitting
As many people know, San Francisco has suffered through many major earthquakes in its history. The largest of these was the 1906 earthquake, which was estimated to be a 7.8 on the Richter scale (we don’t actually know precisely because the earthquake was so intense that it damaged the machine that was built to measure earthquakes!) Since 1906, the city has experienced numerous other strong earthquakes.
Because of the danger that earthquakes pose, we have to know to a high degree of certainty that the Golden Gate Bridge will survive a strong earthquake. As part of the design process during the creation of the bridge, scientists put models of the bridge under severe stress to figure out which parts of the bridge would cause trouble.
As you can see from this large beam that is bent in the middle, the researchers discovered one possible fault in the bridge. They fixed it before the bridge was ever built, but they kept this bent beam for visitors to see.
Walk back under the bridge, and walk up the hill towards the right. At the top of the hill, you’ll see a set of stairs with a large flagpole at the top. Walk up to the area with the flag.
Stop 5: A View of the Bridge
How Did the Golden Gate Bridge Get Its Name?
Many people think the Golden Gate Bridge was named because of the gold that was discovered in California during the famous Gold Rush. Not true!
If you go all the way back to the year 1846 and you stood in this spot, you would see a wide open area between San Francisco and Marin County to the north. In that year, Captain John C. Fremont sailed a ship through that area into San Francisco Bay. As he was sailing through, he commented that it was so beautiful that he was going to name it “Chrysopylae,” which, translated into English, means “Golden Gate.” This area kept that name for over 80 years, and when the bridge was built across it, they kept the Golden Gate name.
What to See from This Spot
If you’re looking at the bridge, the first thing you will see behind it is a vast open expanse of land called the Marin Headlands. This open space was one of the biggest victories that conservation groups have ever achieved in the United States. Many developers wanted to build houses and businesses on this land, but the local citizens banded together to protect this amazing land.
Looking out at the bay, you’ll also see two important islands. The first is Alcatraz Island, the famous prison that has turned into a tourist attraction (for information on visiting Alcatraz, check out our post on how to get to Alcatraz.
To the left of Alcatraz, you’ll also see Angel Island. This island has been called the “Ellis Island of the West.” When immigrants from Asia sailed into the United States in large numbers hoping to start a new life, their first stop was always on Angel Island. From there, they were able to begin their lives in America.
While looking at the bridge, turn left. You will see a concrete wall with bushes in front of it. There is a walking path through the wall. Walk through that path until you are right next to the road. From here, you can begin your walk over the bridge. You can walk as far as you like, but we’d recommend stopping at the second concrete pillar on the bridge.
Stop 6: The Anchorage
The Construction of the Bridge
From this point, you can look all the way up to the top of the tower, and all the way down to the water. From top to bottom, the bridge is 746 feet (227 meters) tall. When the bridge was built, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, with a distance between towers of just under three-quarters of a mile (1.3 km). And as a testament to the bridge’s incredible engineering, it stayed the longest suspension bridge for nearly 30 years.
Looking up the South Tower, you can just begin to imagine what it must have been like for the workers to be over 700 feet above the water, working in some of the windiest conditions anywhere. (The idea gives us sweaty palms just thinking about it!) But their work created the amazing bridge that we can enjoy today.
The Bridge Cables
The Golden Gate Bridge has two types of cables. The first, and most prominent, are the main cables. These cables are 36.5 inches (93 cm) in diameter and are made of over 27,000 individual steel cables. These cables are the structures that bear the weight of the entire bridge.
The smaller cables, hanging in sets of four every 50 feet along the roadway, are what transfers the weight of the road to the main cables.
Painting the Bridge
There is a common myth that the bridge gets painted from one end to the other, and by the time the painters finish the bridge, it’s time to go back to the beginning and start painting all over again. Although this is not exactly true, it does have some bit of truth.
The bridge does get painted constantly. There is a team of painters who is on the bridge all year long. But they do not go from one end to the other. They go wherever they are needed to paint the spots that need the most work. This is a constant process since the bridge gets exposed to salt air that corrodes the bridge on a daily basis.
From here, you can walk as long as you want. But we recommend stopping at the first tower of the bridge. There is a small alcove as you walk around to the right of the tower, and you can pause there and look out at the scenery. It is a bit quieter here without all the automobile noise!
Stop 7: The South Tower
From here, you can see a large amount of downtown San Francisco! Here are some of our favorite sites:
1. Coit Tower
Coit Tower is an art deco-style tower that was created in 1933 in honor of one of our favorite San Francisco ladies: Lillie Hitchcock Coit. You can learn more about Lillie Coit on our North Beach/Little Italy walking tour. But she was a fascinating lady who lived in San Francisco in the late 1800s. When she died, she left her large fortune to the City of San Francisco for them to create beautiful additions to the city. San Francisco used a large portion of her fortune to build Coit Tower (with some money left over to create a statue in North Beach that honors the city’s volunteer firefighters). If you want a fantastic view of downtown SF, you can’t beat Coit Tower. Read our full post on the tower.
2. Transamerica Pyramid
The 853-foot (260-meter) Transamerica building is currently the tallest building in San Francisco (though that title is about to change). It was created to be the headquarters of the Transamerica company. When it was first designed by William Pereira, it was a very unpopular design. But over the years, it has come to be not just accepted but celebrated as the most famous building in this extremely famous skyline. If you want to learn more about this building and its Italian heritage, you can join our North Beach/Little Italy walking tour!
3. Salesforce Tower
This building, currently under construction, will soon take over the title of the tallest building in San Francisco. In fact, it will be taller than the Transamerica building by over 200 feet (63 meters)! This will also be the second tallest building in the entire western United States.
Salesforce is one of the largest companies in San Francisco, and they are building this incredible tower to be the flagship building of the company. This building will be connected to the San Francisco Transbay Terminal, a massive new public transportation complex that will connect the subway, buses, and new California high-speed rail.
4. Palace of Fine Arts
This Beaux-Arts masterpiece was created for the 1915 World’s Fair, held in San Francisco. The city hosted the World’s Fair to show off how much San Francisco had advanced since the massive destruction of the 1906 earthquake and fire. One of the largest natural disasters in history, the 1906 earthquake destroyed about 80% of the city. San Francisco wanted to show off to the entire world how much the city had rebuilt and modernized.
The Palace of Fine Arts was designed to only last a short time–for as long as the year-long fair was running. But the people of the city loved the building so much that the city decided to rebuild it in a more permanent way. Since it was rebuilt, it has remained standing and has become one of the most popular sights in San Francisco.
Things to Do Near the Golden Gate Bridge
There are plenty of interesting activities near the Golden Gate Bridge.
1. If you are any kind of science fiction/fantasy fan, you can’t miss out on seeing Yoda and Darth Vader! Although this is a bit of a hike from the welcome center to the bridge, George Lucas’ Lucasfilm Studios has a location at the Presidio, the old military base at the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. Standing guard outside the main studio entrance is a “life-sized” bronze statue of Yoda. Inside the main entrance is a full-size statue of Darth Vader! This is a perfect trip for fans of the Star Wars movies. Follow our map to get there!
2. For some fantastic underside views (and pictures!) of the Golden Gate Bridge, take a walk down the hill to Fort Point. There are some great bay views as well. This is a fun place to walk around and experience while gazing at one of the world’s most famous bridges! We put together a walking map to make your trip easier.
3. The Walt Disney Family Museum is a fun and exciting trip for people of all ages. No matter how old the visitor is, there are fun artifacts from their favorite Disney movie in the museum. In fact, did you know that Walt Disney was only able to make Snow White because a famous San Francisco banker provided the seed funding for the movie? (Take our North Beach/Little Italy tour to hear the full story!) And visit this map to get directions to the museum!
4. For the really adventurous soul, head on over to the House of Air trampoline park! The park has 42 TRAMPOLINES to thrill and excite. You can take a look at a video of the place to see what they have to offer. But remember: if you are going to visit this amazing place, be sure to make a reservation as far in advance as you can. The place sells out very quickly.
So have fun, and enjoy your visit to the Golden Gate Bridge!
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