The Golden Gate Bridge is such a spectacular structure. I scouted around for the best places to take photos of the bridge (and where to park).
Below you'll find information on how to get to the spots where you can see the best Golden Gate Bridge views, with or without a car, and get the best pictures.
This is somewhat subjective, of course; the bridge looks great from many vantage points!
Important: if you park at any of these areas, please leave nothing visible in the car. San Francisco is suffering from an epidemic of car break-ins; 30,000 in 2017 alone! The thieves target tourist areas and rental cars, so be aware.
Also, these lots are either free or pay-the-machine; any person saying they are collecting parking fees is a scammer. The ugly reality!
The Golden Gate Bridge is visible from all over the city. Just driving around, you'll see it pop up here and there, but some views really stand out.
These are some of the views you see in calendars and coffee table books.
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Fort Point is the old Civil War fort sitting right under the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge.
There's a road that runs out to the fort, Marine Drive, with two parking areas. You can also ride a bike there from Fisherman's Wharf, or hike down to it from the Welcome Center at the bridge.
The fort itself is quite interesting and worth a visit. It's a museum and you can go up on the roof for another amazing view looking right up at the bridge. Admission is free. Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm (winter hours). When it's closed, you can still walk around it, but you have to enter it to get up on the roof.
Parking: there are two parking lots at Fort Point which provide a good number of spaces. Even if it fills up, people come and go frequently, so you should be able to get a spot there. Parking is free, with no time limits.
There are several foot and bicycle paths that run along the east (bay) side of the bridge at different levels. They offer some great views and make for a pleasant stroll or ride. It's called the Battery East Trail because there are a number of old artillery batteries placed here and there along the paths.
You can get to them from the Welcome Center near the bridge (walk down, towards the bay). Also the Battery East parking lot is in the middle of a couple of the pathways. See map above.
Parking: the Battery East parking lot is convenient and large. Fees are charged between 10 am and 5 pm daily: $1.20 per hour, $7 per day.
Bike paths run out to this area from Fisherman's Wharf; it's on the way for cyclists going from Fisherman's Wharf to ride across the bridge and down into Sausalito. There are no bike rentals at the bridge, but you can rent bikes at a number of rental locations in the Fisherman's Wharf area and on Lombard Street; see bike rentals for more info and booking.
On the western side of the bridge there are some great views along the paths that run along the cliffs.
The remains of the old artillery batteries that used to protect the city are scattered along the trail that follows the edge.
You can walk over here from the Welcome Center (on the east side of the bridge). There are two underpasses for pedestrians and cyclists: one under the Toll Plaza, near the Welcome Center, and another under the very beginning of the bridge north of the Toll Plaza.
Also, some of the best parking opportunities are on this side of the bridge; there is a series of lots along Lincoln Avenue and Merchant Road as you approach the bridge from the west side.
There is a relatively new "official" viewing point, the Golden Gate Overlook, built near the parking lots on Lincoln Avenue, but the views are great all along the cliff edges.
The old batteries are interesting to explore, but be very careful, especially if you have children with you. They aren't maintained and have sudden drop-offs.
Other bridge views aren't as close up and amazing, but they show the bridge in some very pretty settings.
Even though these may not be the "best" views, they have a lot to recommend them: different angles, interesting backgrounds, grand vistas, etc.
From Crissy Field, you get a nice view of the bridge and the Marin Headlands on the northern side.
At the end of a long, park-like area you'll reach the Warming Hut, a yellow building containing a snack bar and gift shop. Just across from it, there's a long pier that juts far out in to the bay which gives you another great view of the bridge and the city.
By Car. Crissy Field has a good-sized parking lot that's free during the week. Take Mason Street (off Marina Blvd.) from the Marina. The parking lot is just past the roundabout at the end of Mason Street. On Saturdays and Sundays you have to pay to park there between 10 am and 5 pm: $1.20 per hour, $7 all day. Pay at the machines; they accept credit cards and coins, no paper money.
Tip: The parking lot is a dead end. On the map, it looks like you can continue onto Marine Blvd (that goes out to Fort Point), but you'll have to back-track along Mason to hook up with Crissy Field Ave to get there.
On Foot or Bike. You can walk here from Fisherman's Wharf (20-30 minutes). Also, you can rent a bike in Fisherman's Wharf and ride down here; it's a nice flat ride, and a popular one, with great views all along the waterfront.
Hike up to the bridge. There's a pathway from this area up to the Golden Gate Bridge and Welcome Center. It only takes about ten minutes, but most of it is a long, steep climb up a rustic stairway.
However, there are some great views along this path (photo below), so it's worth it if you don't minding being a bit winded!
From Baker Beach, you get an impressive view of the western (ocean) side of the bridge, and the Marin Headlands on the other side.
Note: the end of Baker Beach closest to the bridge is also the unofficial nude area, but most of the time you won't see any nudes there;-) Marshall Beach is where most of the nudes are; that beach is even closer to the bridge, with great views, but it's quite a climb to get down there.
Baker Beach has a free parking lot, and road parking leading in. The lot fills up on sunny weekends, so try to get there before noon.
Also, the #29 Muni Bus will take you there (drops you off at Lincoln Blvd. and it's a 5 min walk from there) . You can take the #38 Geary Bus from Union Square, and change to the #29 at 25th Avenue. See Muni Route Map.
Lands End is farther away, but the wild landscape is gorgeous, with a spectacular view of the whole entrance to San Francisco Bay.
If you go out to Lands End Point, you will be looking straight at the bridge. The Lands End Coastal Trail makes a very nice walk; about one hour from the Cliff House and the Sutro Baths to the end of the trail.
For more info and photos of the Lands End trail, and how to get there, see Lands End.
For a special treat, watch the sun set behind the Golden Gate on the Alcatraz night tour.
Some of the most spectacular views of the bridge are from the other side, in Marin County just across the bridge, and especially from the cliffs of the Marin Headlands lining the entrance to San Francisco Bay.
Good news: some of them are easy to get to without a car.
Just across the bridge:
The Marin Headlands:
This is the view from the parking lot at Vista Point, the exit just past the northern end of the bridge. You can get here by walking across the bridge, or by driving, and taking the first exit after the bridge (Vista Point exit).
There's a medium sized parking lot at Vista Point. It's free, but has a four hour limit. Closes for some holidays, like the two weeks around Christmas and New Year's. This lot tends to fill up.
This is also a stop on the Sausalito loop of the Hop On Hop Off buses. Sausalito is now included on all the City Sightseeing bus passes (1, 2 & 3-day). See Hop On Hop Off bus tours for more info and booking.
Tip: there's another lot, the North Tower lot, just on the other side of the bridge on Conzelman Road. To drive there, pass by the Vista Point exit and take the next one, the Alexander Avenue exit. After you take the exit, turn left at the first intersection and go under the freeway. Follow the road a short distance and you'll see the parking lot on your left. From there, there's a walkway that takes you under the bridge to the Vista Point lot. See map above.
This lot is also free, and has no time limit. It can fill up in summer and on beautiful, sunny days, but it's less busy than the Vista Point lot. The trail up to the best Marin Headlands view starts at this lot, also. See below.
The route to the view spots in the Headlands is along Conzelman Road. There are a series of three turnouts along the road with very limited parking.
This spot has the famous view you'll probably recognize.
Battery Spencer is a crumbling artillery battery, built in 1897, that sits on the cliffs close to the northern end of the bridge.
Driving to Battery Spencer: after you cross the Golden Gate, take the Alexander Ave exit. Turn left and go under the highway and you'll be on Conzelman Road. Follow Conzelman up the hill and very soon you'll see the first of the turnouts with small parking areas on the left side.
The first turnout on Conzelman Road is near the path to Battery Spencer. The second turnout is a short walk (less than 5 minutes) from the first one; a good choice for a fallback parking spot, since the first lot is usually full.
There are also great views from the second turnout, but it's worth walking out to the battery for that view, too.
From the first parking lot, there's a short, mostly level walk (0.14 miles, 0.23 km) to the ruins of the battery. This is one of the most spectacular views of the bridge because you are very close and looking right down on the north tower.
Another view from the second turnout near Battery Spencer:
The third turnout is a longer walk from the battery (15 minutes?). The view is decent, but not as good as the first two. There is a gravel path alongside the road down to the battery, not steep, and separated from the traffic by a guardrail.
All three turnouts have very small parking lots, holding about 8 cars each. Not surprisingly, these lots fill up fast on weekends and nice weekdays. There is more parking farther long the road at Hawk Hill, but it's quite a hike back to Battery Spencer from there.
Tip: you can also get to the Battery Spencer view point without a car. The Sausalito loop of the Hop On Hop Off bus tours stops at the Vista Point on the north end of the bridge. From there, you can cross under the bridge to the other parking lot and walk up the path to the first Conzelman Road turnout, less than ten minutes and not strenuous.
On weekends, you can take the Marin Headlands Express 76X. You can catch it at several places in downtown SF and on Union Square (Post and Powell), as well as the toll plaza near the southern end of the bridge, near the Roundhouse Cafe. It stops near the path to Battery Spencer (Kirby Cove Rd stop). See the 76X route and schedule.
Also, you can walk across the bridge, then walk up to the Headlands, about an hour and ten minute walk.
There's a small bike rack and some permanent bathrooms near the Battery Spencer lot. This road is popular with cyclists, but it's very steep and winding, with lots of car traffic. I don't recommend biking up here unless you are very fit and very experienced.
The battery itself is kind of interesting to explore, but it's not maintained, so be careful walking around. It was shut down during WW2 and the last guns were removed in 1943.
In its heyday, Battery Spencer had three 12-inch guns protecting the entrance to the bay.
More parking ideas. If you can't find parking in the first three turnouts on Conzelman Road, there are some alternatives. You might get a spot in the Vista Point lot, but if not, there's a possibility that you can get a place in the lot right by the bridge, on the west side.
The North Tower parking lot is accessed by taking the Alexander Road exit (next one after the Vista Point exit) and heading left under the highway (see map above).
From there, you can walk up a dirt path to Conzelman Road and on to the Battery Spencer lot. Not a difficult walk and it only takes about 10 minutes.
From the North Tower lot, you can also check out the view from Vista Point, just on the other side of the road. There's a walkway that connects the two lots that goes under the bridge.
Hawk Hill is a bit farther along Conzelman Road, but it's worth a visit. Not only can you see the bridge, city and bay, you have a 360 degree view of the whole area. The entrance channel to the bay and Rodeo Beach lie below you, and you can see Mount Tamalpais and the hills of Marin County stretching away. Looking east, Mount Diablo is visible on a clear day, 30 miles away.
The parking lots there hold more cars and the view from the lot is amazing. But it's even better if you climb up Hawk Hill itself. Not a bad climb, maybe 5 minutes to get up there.
The Marin Headlands 76X bus doesn't come this way, so this spot's not easy to get to without a car.
Not surprisingly, this is a great place to watch for hawks and other raptors; often you'll find serious hawk enthusiasts up there with their scopes.
P.S. There are a couple of port-a-potties near the parking lot.
Fort Baker is just below the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. There's a nice view from here as well, plus pretty easy, and free, parking. It's similar to the Vista Point view, just a little farther away and at a different angle.
Besides the view, Fort Baker (not an army fort anymore) houses the popular Bay Area Discovery Museum (bayareadiscoverymuseum.org, fun for kids ages 6 mos. to 8 yrs), an upscale hotel and restaurant, a nautical bar at the Yacht Club, and a Coast Guard Station.
Take the Alexander Avenue exit off Hwy 101 to get to Fort Baker. Or rent a bike in SF and ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito; Fort Baker is on the bike route to Sausalito.
Point Bonita is the rocky spit of land that juts into the entrance to San Francisco Bay. There is an old lighthouse at Point Bonita that is fun to visit and from that vantage point, you get a sweeping view of the entry to the bay, the bridge and the Headlands.
The lighthouse and tunnel access to the point is only open Saturday, Sunday and Monday, from 12:30 to 3:30 pm. The trail out there is about 1/2 a mile and is very steep in places, but there's a neat suspension foot bridge to get to the lighthouse.
The bridge is fairly far away from the lighthouse, but it gives an impressive vista of the area.
One of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge is from a boat on one of the bay cruises, especially the ones that take you right under the bridge.
At the Fisherman's Wharf marina on Jefferson Street, you can pick up one of the fishing boats that take visitors out around the bay and under the bridge. Or take one of the ferries that leave from the wharf from Piers 39 and 41 for an hour on the bay and a trip under the bridge. See my page on all the bay cruises for more info.
Save money on bay cruises. To get a good deal, usually half-price, on one of the ferry rides, check with Goldstar.com. It's free to sign up, then you can see what they have available. They usually do have half-price tickets for the one-hour bay cruise. See Goldstar bay cruises.
If Goldstar doesn't have tickets for the date you want, you can book bay cruises at the wharf, at Piers 39 and 41. You don't need reservations. There are lots of sailings, usually every hour, or half-hour in high season, and the boats don't fill up. Or book them online and save $4 at bay cruises.
There are so many pretty views in the city, it's hard to choose just a few. Here are some of my favorite spots for oohing and aahing: