The Golden Gate Bridge

Here are some local tips on visiting the Golden Gate Bridge: how to get there, where to park, driving, walking or biking across it, and the best tours of the bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge is the icon for San Francisco, and was just voted the #1 best thing to see in San Francisco (U.S. News and World Report, 2017) ... it would be pretty hard not  to see it if you're in the City!

The Golden Gate Bridge is gorgeous and the setting is breathtaking. But seeing it in person, it's even more beautiful than the photos.

View of one tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, with San Francisco beyond it, from the Marin Headlands.View from the Marin Headlands

Golden Gate Bridge Facts

How long is the Golden Gate Bridge? How high is it? When was the Golden Gate Bridge built? 

  • Built from 1933-1937
  • Named for the Golden Gate Strait
  • Tallest bridge in the U.S.
  • Longest suspension bridge in the world until 1964
  • Main span length: 4,200 ft (1,300 m)
  • Total length: 1.7 miles (2.8 km)
  • Width: 90 ft (27 m)
  • Tower height: 754 ft above water; 500 ft above roadway
  • Roadway 220 ft (67 m) above the water
  • Official color: International Orange
  • 6 lanes of traffic
  • 112,000 cars cross the bridge every day
Diagram of Golden Gate Bridge, with dimensions.Golden Gate Bridge Dimensions
(Image thanks to Roulex 45, under CC-BY-SA license.)

Building the Bridge

The construction of the Golden Gate Bridge was so difficult, it has been officially named one of the seven engineering marvels of the modern world.

Wind, currents, fog, sheer cliffs, and politics fought to prevent this bridge from taking shape, but when it was done in 1937, it was not only the most beautiful bridge, it was also the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world.

It held that title until 1964, and was the second longest suspension bridge in the world until 1981. 

Read more on the history of the Golden Gate Bridge, and why it almost went the way of its sister bridge, Galloping Gertie, up north (into the water!)


Is it ready for The Big One?

The 1989 earthquake on the northern San Andreas fault  (7.1 Richter scale) was just a tiny taste of what's coming with the Big One, as local's call it: the rerun of the 1906 San Francisco quake, an 8.0 level shaking.

Earthquakes of this magnitude have hit this section of the San Andreas fault on average every 100 years (and it's been 111 since the last one, but who's counting). Retrofitting began after the 1989 quake, and is still ongoing.

Sections have been reinforced with steel plates, and pylons have been anchored to the bedrock. Also, joints have been installed at certain points to release energy and allow for expansion. 

A new plan for a another major retrofit was approved in December, 2017, which they say will make the bridge able to withstand an 8.0 level quake. But it won't be finished until 2024. 

The good news is that engineers don't believe the bridge in its present state would fall down in the Big One, just that it could be sufficiently damaged to make it unusable for quite awhile.

The new plan is designed to make it sail through the Big One with only minor damage.


Beautiful, But Deadly

In part due to its fame and striking beauty, the Golden Gate Bridge has sadly been one of the most popular suicide spots in the world. On average, someone jumps about every two weeks.

In all, over 2500 people have jumped from the bridge; 98% have died.

The bridge is patrolled by volunteers who are trained to talk to would-be jumpers; they've saved hundreds of lives. You'll also see telephones on the bridge where people can talk to someone if they're feeling suicidal.

After years of talk and debate, the city has decided to build a metal net under the entire bridge.

It won't stop someone who's really determined, but it will give them time to rethink.  A number of the survivors have said they regretted their decision the moment they were in the air.

The net will be installed 20 feet below the roadway and will stick out about 20 feet on each side. It was scheduled to be completed in 2021, but some problems were discovered in recent testing (November, 2017) that indicated the new net could make the entire bridge unstable in high winds, so more study is required before the barrier can be installed.


The Golden Gate Bridge Color

The color was chosen sort of by accident. When the bridge was being built, the metal structure was coated with a reddish primer.

One of the architects noticed that the color went beautifully with the blue water and golden-brown hills, and came up with the current color. Plus, it stands out in the fog. Thank you, Irving F. Morrow!

Tip: if you want to paint something the same color as the Golden Gate Bridge, it must be the right shade of International Orange; there are several versions, used for different purposes.

The official formula for the Golden Gate Bridge color is Cyan 0%, Magenta 69%, Yellow 100%, Black 6%. The correct hex triplet is F04A00.  

Painting the bridge: there is an urban myth that the bridge is continuously painted from one end to the other, then over again. Not so. There is a staff of 34 full-time painters that work just on the spots that need touching up. And they are currently using Sherwin Williams paint.


Visiting the Golden Gate Bridge

Over 10 million people visit the Golden Gate Bridge every year. It has to be one of the world's most beautiful sights; even for locals, the sight of it never gets old.

The complementary colors of the red-orange bridge and the brown, rocky hills, the blue water and sky, and the graceful sweep across the straight is spectacular. 


The San Francisco Side of the Bridge 

What's on the San Francisco side of the bridge?

  • The Welcome Center 
  • Roundhouse Restaurant
  • Great views!
  • Bike paths and walkways
  • Fort Point
  • The Presidio
  • Parking lots
  • Bus stops
Map of southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, Welcome Center and Toll Plaza.
Map data (c) OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA

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The Welcome Center

The current Welcome Center is relatively new and combines a gift shop with some educational displays about the bridge. Good place to pick up maps. Worth a brief visit. Open daily, 9 to 6.

If you're in the mood for souvenirs, like Golden Gate Bridge rivets, books, t-shirts or fog globes, this is the spot. 

Welcome Center and Golden Gate Bridge, late afternoon.Welcome Center

It's located just off the parking lot where the tour buses and the #28 city bus stop.

At the Welcome Center Plaza, they have some interesting displays about the history and construction of the bridge, with more exhibits just on the other side of the bridge (via the underpass).


The Roundhouse Cafe

This round building above the Welcome Center was built at the same time as the bridge, and in the same Art Deco, 1930's style.

The Roundhouse Cafe, Golden Gate BridgeRoundhouse Cafe

The Roundhouse Cafe is a good place to stop for lunch or a snack while visiting the bridge. They serve hot dogs, soup, salads and sandwiches, and the views are amazing.

I had the crab bisque in a sourdough bread bowl when I was there: very tasty, and a bit spicy.

There's also a snack bar, the Bridge Cafe, just below it, that looks like it was built at the same time, in the same style, but it was actually built in 2012 to match the other buildings. They sell mainly packaged snacks and drinks.


Getting to the Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is very easy to get to. Driving is easy because there are number of parking lots close by, and city buses make frequent stops at the Welcome Center, near the southern end of the bridge.

Plus, the Hop On Hop Off buses stop near the Welcome Center, and there are good bike paths to the bridge from Fisherman's Wharf, where you can rent bikes.


Driving to the bridge...

Unlike driving and trying to park at many of San Francisco's favorite attractions, driving to the Golden Gate Bridge is no reason for a nervous breakdown! The surprise is that it's also easy and cheap to park there.

If you are heading for the bridge on the Presidio Parkway (also Highway 101), take the last SF exit before the bridge. You'll need to be in the far right lane, and a sign warns you it is the last SF exit. From there, you can access the parking areas on either side of the bridge.

You can also approach the bridge from either the east or west sides on Lincoln Boulevard. You can drive under the bridge near the Welcome Center parking lot, and Lincoln Blvd. also goes under the Presidio Parkway. 

Map showing approach to Golden Gate Bridge, south side, and last exit.
Map data (c) OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA

Tips for Parking at the Bridge

I've scouted all the lots on both sides of the bridge, and marked them on the maps. 

Good news! It's surprisingly easy (and cheap) to park near the bridge, unlike many other San Francisco attractions. 

Map showing the nine parking lots at the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge.Map of the Nine Lots in the SF Side
Map data (c) OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA

For a complete rundown on all the lots on the map above, and advice on the best places to park, see my page on Golden Gate Bridge parking.

I've also included details about parking on the Marin side of the Golden Gate, plus a map on how to find those as well.


Ride a bike to the bridge...

There are a number of excellent bike paths in the area near the bridge on the SF side; this is a popular biking spot for both locals and visitors.

Bike rentals: There are no bike rental offices near the bridge, but you can rent bikes at several places near Fisherman's Wharf and on Lombard Street en route to the bridge. From there, it's a relatively easy, and very scenic, ride to the bridge. Fun for kids, too, and mostly flat.

See my tips on where to rent the bikes, plus information on biking across the bridge and taking the ferry back. There are some good deals available for both renting bikes and taking bike tours over the bridge.


Getting to the Bridge by Bus (SF side)...

It's easy to get to the Golden Gate Bridge by bus from many points in San Francisco; here are some options:

From Fishermans's Wharf. The #28 - 19th Avenue - Muni Bus stops right next to the Welcome Center, at the SF end of the bridge. You can catch it on Van Ness Avenue, between North Point and Bay, at the western end of the Fisherman's Wharf area, a couple of blocks west of Aquatic Park.  You can also catch it in Golden Gate Park. See #28 route.

Buses in parking lot of Welcome Center, Golden Gate BridgeBus #28 at the Welcome Center (plus Hop On Hop Off bus)

From Downtown SF. The #30 Golden Gate Transit bus run daily, about every hour, from many downtown stops, including stops all along Mission Street. It also runs through the city with numerous other stops on its way to the bridge. Get off at the Toll Plaza just before the bridge (it also crosses the bridge and goes into Sausalito). See the #30 route.

From Union Square. The #76X Marin Headlands Express bus also stops at the Toll Plaza. Catch it at Post and Powell streets, at Union Square Note: weekends only. See #76X route. You can also walk down Powell Street, past Market, to Mission Street and catch the #30 there.

Bus stop at the Toll Plaza, Golden Gate BridgeBus Stop at the Toll Plaza

Hop On Hop Off Buses

All the double-decker, Hop On Hop Off buses stop at the Welcome Center parking lot right next to the bridge.  

The Hop On Hop Off buses also have a loop that takes you across the bridge, and down into the town of Sausalito. The Sausalito loop is now included in  all the City Sightseeing 1, 2 and 3-day bus passes. 

You can get off the main city loop and pick up the Sausalito loop at the same bus stop, in the parking lot of the Welcome Center for the bridge. See map above.

Double-decker tour bus heading for the Welcome Center, Golden Gate BridgeHop On Hop Off Bus Heading for the Welcome Center

The Sausalito loop buses also stop at Vista Point, one the best places to view the bridge at the northern end. 

See Hop On Hop Off bus tours for more info and booking.

Tip: if you do the Sausalito loop of the Hop On Hop Off bus tour, you can get off at the Vista Point at the north end of the bridge, cross under the bridge and walk up to a spectacular view spot in the Marin Headlands (see map of pathway below). Highly recommended! See more on views from the Marin Headlands.

Bus Stops Near the Bridge

Map of bus stops near the Golden Gate Bridge

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge...

It's free to walk or bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. The pedestrian walkway is the east sidewalk that runs along the east (bay) side of the bridge. Bikes ride on either side, according to the daily schedule.

Drivers pay a toll ($7.25) but only coming into San Francisco. More on how to pay the toll below.

Map of east and west sidewalk entrances on Golden Gate BridgeApproach to East and West Sidewalks on the Bridge

Walking the Golden Gate Bridge

This is a great way to experience the bridge. Not only can you see the towers up close, there are super views of the city, Alcatraz and the bay. And it's free!

Pedestrians are only allowed on the east sidewalk (bay side) of the bridge, but it has the best bay and city views.

Walkers share the east sidewalk with bicycles on weekdays until 3:30 pm. Weekends and holidays, it's pedestrian only.

Cyclists and pedestrians on the east sidewalk,  Golden Gate Bridge.East Sidewalk

Open to pedestrians:

Pacific Standard Time (winter): 5 am - 6:30 pm

Daylight Savings time (summer): 5 am - 9 pm

How long does it take to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge? The bridge is 1.7 miles across, so it's about a 35 minute walk each way. 

If you do the Hop On Hop Off bus tour, you can walk one way and catch the bus at the other end (Vista Point) to avoid the return walk.

The other side at Vista Point has bathrooms, but not much else (other than another great view).

When is the best time to walk across? Pros and cons...

Mornings:  less crowded, but you are looking east, into the sun (not the best from a photographer's viewpoint). And on weekdays, you'll be sharing the sidewalk with bicycles until 3:30 pm.

Late afternoon: more people are out there, but light is gorgeous (when it's not foggy) and the colors are glowing. Plus, no bicycles are allowed on the east sidewalk after 3:30 pm.

Best time (in my opinion): weekdays after 3:30 pm. Beautiful light and all the bicycles are on the west side of the bridge. Second best time?  Weekends in the afternoon; the cyclists are on the west side all day, but there are more walkers on the bridge, too.

Tip for walking the bridge: dress warmly, in layers! San Francisco is not a very warm place, especially in summer. Even when the sun is shining, it can be rather cool. And it's colder on the bridge because cool winds are usually blowing in through the gap from the chilly ocean. The bridge is very windy.

Also, the fog comes and goes suddenly and unpredictably; the fog will drop the temperature abruptly. More on San Francisco weather.


Bike the Golden Gate Bridge

This is one of the most popular ways of experiencing the Golden Gate Bridge. You can ride a bike over and back, or take the popular bike ride over the bridge and down into the seaside town of Sausalito.

Man riding a bike on the East Sidewalk, Golden Gate BridgeBiking the East Sidewalk

Almost everyone going on to Sausalito (far below) opts to ride the ferry back to San Francisco; that avoids the tough ride back uphill and puts you on a ferry ride with great views of the city and Alcatraz (rated #2 best ferry trip in the world by the Society of American Travel Writers).  

There are two ways to do it:

  • Ride over on your own 
  • Take a guided bike tour

Insider tips on biking the bridge...

I've put together some helpful information on both renting bikes and taking bike tours over the bridge. See what the trip is like, what to do in Sausalito, tips on taking the ferry, and how to get some good deals on both bike rentals and tours, at biking the Golden Gate Bridge.


The do-it-yourself bike tour

You can ride your own bike over, or rent a bike and follow the map provided. It's a pretty easy route to follow, though there are some hills to climb (see my photos, maps and description of the bike route).

If you don't want to do the ride down to Sausalito, you can just turn around and ride back across the bridge.

Guided bike tour over the bridge

There are a number of bike tours available where a guide takes you on a ride to the bridge, usually from Fisherman's Wharf, across it ,and then down into the town of Sausalito, where you have time to explore before you take the ferry back to the city.


More Tours of the Golden Gate Bridge

In addition to the above-mentioned bike tours, there are some good walking tours of the bridge, and bus tours that cross the bridge.

Walking tours of the bridge

San Francisco City Guides: this is a free tour given twice a week, year round, by a non-profit organization that does lots of SF tours. Their guides are all volunteers, but very professional and knowledgable. I've been on several of their tours and really enjoyed them. No reservations, just show up at the appointed time and place. See Golden Gate Bridge tour.

Walk across the bridge and up into the Marin Headlands: this is guided, walking tour that takes you across the bridge, then high up a hill to see what may be one of the best views of the bridge. Then head down to explore Sausalito, and take the ferry back to the city. 6 hours, $85. Hotel pickup. See Bridge and Headlands tour for more info and booking.


Golden Gate Bridge Bus Tours

Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour

The Hop On Hop Off buses cross the bridge on their Sausalito loop. They stop at both ends of the bridge: the Welcome Center parking lot and the Vista Point parking lot.

You can admire some of the best bridge views at both ends of the bridge, plus you can walk across the bridge from one end and pick up the bus at the other end if you want.

City Sightseeing includes the Sausalito loop in all their 1, 2 and 3-day bus passes, so you have the option of crossing the bridge and exploring the town of Sausalito, along with using the routes around San Francisco. See Hop On Hop Off tours for more info and booking. 

Fire Engine Tour

This is a different, but very popular tour. Ride a real fire engine over the bridge and down into Fort Baker and Sausalito, then back to the city. 75 minutes, $59. Leaves from Fisherman's Wharf, stops at Fort Point.  See fire engine tour for more info and booking.


The Marin County (Northern) Side of the Bridge 

What's on the Marin County side of the Golden Gate?

  • Vista Point viewpoint
  • 2 parking lots
  • Path up to the great views: Marin Headlands
  • Road down to Fort Baker and Sausalito
Map of area at northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, exits and parking lots.
Map data (c) OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA

Getting to the Marin County Side of the Bridge

Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge...

The bridge is open for cars 24 hours a day. After you cross the bridge, there are a number of parking options. But first, what about the toll?

The Bridge Toll

Only drivers coming into San Francisco pay the toll; it's free heading out of the city.

The toll for the golden Gate Bridge is currently $7.75 for two-axle vehicles. If you've set up a FasTrack account, it's $6.75.

It used to be free for motorcycles and carpools of 3 or more in a car during rush hour, but that ended in 2010. Carpools and motorcycles get a discount if they use FasTrack.

Unlike the Bay Bridge, there are no humans in the toll booths, and you don't need to have cash to get through the toll plaza anymore.

It's all electronic now. The sensor reads your FasTrack tag or photographs your license plate when you drive through the toll booth; you slow down but don't stop. There are various options for paying:

  1. Set up a FasTrack account. The camera reads your FasTrack tag and deducts the toll from your account, minus a small discount.
  2. Set up a License account. Camera records your license plate and deducts the toll from your accouny. No discount. 
  3. Make a one-time payment, either before or after crossing.
  4. Wait for the bill in the mail, sent to the address of the registered owner.

To set up an account, or make payments, see bridge tolls.

What about rental cars? Best plan is to discuss the rental company's policy when you rent the car. If you opt to having them pay it, you're covered. If you opt out, it's up to you to pay the toll within 48 hours of crossing the bridge. See more info on this.


Parking on the Marin Side

Parking lots: there are two parking areas at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge.

#1: the Vista Point parking area (free, but 4 hour limit), on the right just as you leave the bridge going north. This can get crowded on sunny days, so fortunately there is another...

#2: the North Tower lot (also free, no time limit), less-used,  just on the other side of the highway.

To get to the Vista Point parking area, take the first exit off the bridge, the Vista Point Exit. That takes you right into the parking lot.

To get to the North Tower lot on the other (western) side of Highway 101, take the Alexander Avenue exit (the second exit after the bridge). Coming from SF, take the first left after getting off the freeway, go under the freeway, and follow Alexander Avenue to the parking lot next to the bridge. See map above.

There's a pedestrian walkway under the bridge that connects the two parking lots. 


Getting to the Marin Side by Bus...

Two public bus lines leave from SF, cross the bridge, and stop near the Vista Point at the northern end of the bridge (7-12 minute walk from the stops), and the Hop On Hop Off buses take you directly from SF to the Vista Point parking lot.

  1. Golden Gate Transit bus #30: runs daily about every hour. You can catch it on the SF side at the toll plaza (above the Welcome Center area) and get off at the Alexander Road exit stop, then it's a 7 minute walk back to Vista Point. This bus goes all the way to Sausalito. You can also catch it all along Mission Street downtown, plus many other stops in the city. Coming back to SF it's not as convenient; the southbound bus stop is about a 12 min. walk down Alexander Ave towards Sausalito from Vista Point. See #30 route.
  2. Hop On Hop Off buses: run daily, usually every 30 or 60 minutes, depending on the season. The Sausalito loop starts at the Welcome Center parking lot in SF and stops at the Vista Point lot, before going on to Sausalito. The Sausalito loop is now included in the 1, 2 and 3-day City Sightseeing bus passes. See Hop On Hop Off for more info and booking.
  3. Marin Headlands Express bus #76X: weekends only, runs hourly. You can catch this at the toll plaza in SF (plus many stops in SF - see 76X route). This bus also stops at the Battery Spencer viewpoint in the Headlands and goes all the way out to the Point Bonita Lighthouse. Get off at the Alexander Ave/Conzelman Road stop for Vista Point.  
Map of bus stops and parking lots at northern end of Golden Gate Bridge.Bus stops and parking lots, Marin side of bridge.
Map data (c) OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA

Getting to the Marin side by bike...

See above for information on biking across the bridge.


The Marin Headlands

The imposing hills that line the approach to San Francisco Bay on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge are the location of some of the absolute best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

A narrow road winds along the bluffs, with periodic areas to pull off and park: perfect opportunities to admire the incredible scenery.

If you're lucky, you may see some wildlife on the way: coyotes, hawks and more.

Getting up to the Headlands. You can actually make it up to the headlands on foot from the two parking lots on the Marin side of the bridge. If you are able to walk up, it's so worth the effort! The view from Battery Spencer is one of the postcard views of the bridge.

The path up to the Headlands: it's surprisingly easy to walk up there.

Don't feel daunted by the steep bluffs near the bridge; it's a moderately easy climb up a dirt and gravel path to Conzelman Road, then a brief walk up to the first view spot of the Headlands.

The path to the top leaves from the North Tower parking lot on the west side of the bridge, across from Vista Point. It takes about 10 minutes at a leisurely pace to get to the top. The small parking lot at the Battery Spencer view point on top is usually full, so even if you're driving, the lower lot is a good back up choice.

Path from North Tower parking lot at Golden Gate Bridge, up to Conzelman Road.Path up to Conzelman Road and the Battery Spencer viewpoint

Arriving by city bus or Hop On Hop Off bus? From the Vista Point stop, walk under the bridge to the North Tower parking lot and from there to the viewpoint above.

Biking across the bridge? You can park your bike in the bike racks (somewhat limited) at the Vista Point parking lot and walk up to the Battery Spencer viewpoint.


Where are the best places to take photos of the Golden Gate Bridge?

I went out and tracked down the best view points for the bridge and put together information on where they are and how to get there.

Map of locations of the best views of the Golden Gate bridge on both sides of the bridge.
Map data (c) OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA

To find all of those places, with info on where they are,  where to park, and how to get there by bus, plus photos of the views, see my page on the best Golden Gate Bridge views.


What to See Near the Bridge

Fort Point

Fort Point sits right under the Golden Gate Bridge, built in 1861 to guard the approach to the bay. This Civil War era fort is now a free museum, and an interesting one to visit. Guided tours available, but you can also explore it on your own (when it's open).

This structure was considered historically important when the bridge was being designed so the engineers had to build the bridge around it.

Wander through the rooms and climb the winding stairways to the top. Check out the amazing view from the roof, right under the bridge.

Winter: open Fri, Sat, & Sun, 10 - 5. Summer season: open daily, 10 - 5. For more info, see Fort Point.

Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge, towers behind wisps of fog.Fort Point

There are some great surfing waves that come rolling in right under the bridge near Fort Point. You'll often see surfers out there; pretty daring with the rocks and currents!


More on the Golden Gate Bridge...

Where are the best places to view the bridge and get the best photos?

See Golden Gate Bridge views for how to find all the best spots.


Biking across the bridge is one of  the coolest things to do in SF.

Read my tips on renting bikes,  doing the ride, taking the ferry back, and what to do in Sausalito, at bike the bridge.


Read about the struggle to build a suspension bridge across the deep and windy channel, at Golden Gate Bridge history.


Wondering where to park at the bridge?

Read my tips on finding free and easy parking, at Golden Gate Bridge parking.


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