San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge serves as the iconic symbol of the "City by the Bay." It is one of the most visited attractions and visitors love photographing it, walking across it, and learning about Golden Gate Bridge history. It's one of the world's most beautiful spans.
The real "Golden Gate" is the strait that the bridge spans. It was first named "Chrysopylae," meaning "golden gate," by Captain John C. Fremont in 1846.
Golden Gate Bridge Vista Points
These are the two spots most Golden Gate Bridge visitors like to go the most:
South (San Francisco Side) Vista Point: Parking spaces are almost always full, spaces are metered and if you let the meter expire, you'll pay a fine that could cost as much as a meal in a very nice restaurant. You'll find restrooms, a gift shop, cafe, and an exhibit showing the cross-section of a bridge cable.
If you find this parking lot full or if you want to spend more time than the meters will allow, try these options:
- Drive away from the metered lot and turn left out onto Lincoln. You will find a gravel lot a short distance away on your left. If you are approaching from the Presidio on Lincoln, the lot is just across from the two-story houses that were once the Presidio officer's quarters.
- Weekends and holidays ONLY, you'll find more paid parking in a nearby satellite lot on the southwest side of the bridge. From there, walk toward the bridge and through the underpass to get to the vista point.
North (Marin Side) Vista Point: Parking is free for up to four hours and there are restrooms. This lot is accessible only from northbound US 101 and if you drive across the bridge and plan to go back into San Francisco afterward, you'll pay a toll. The toll booths are all-electronic, so it isn't quite so easy as pulling out some cash. Find out how to pay in the Golden Gate Bridge Toll Guide, which is written with an out-of-town visitor in mind.
Experiencing the Golden Gate Bridge
Walk onto the Golden Gate Bridge if you can. You can't really appreciate the size and height unless you've walked on it, at least a little way. At mid-span, you stand 220 feet above the water's surface and passing ships below look like small toys. The distance from one vista point to another is 1.7 miles, a fun round trip if you're up to it, but even a short walk will be interesting.
Pedestrians are allowed only on the east (city side) sidewalk, during daylight hours. Dogs are allowed as long as they are on a leash at all times, but roller blades, skates, and skateboards are not.
Guided Tours: Many San Francisco tour operators include the Golden Gate Bridge in their tour itineraries, but most allow only a few minutes to get out at the south vista point. City Guides offers regular, free walking tours. Stroll with them and learn who named the bridge, how the structure cheated the law of concrete and steel, and what members of the Halfway to Hell Club did to join their organization.
Even if you don't take that guided tour, you may want to learn more about the Golden Gate Bridge's history and find out some of the most fascinating facts about it.
The Golden Gate Bridge is open to auto and bicycle traffic 24 hours a day and to pedestrians during daylight hours. There is a toll to drive across it, but in the southbound direction only.
Allow half an hour to visit one of the vista points, an hour or more if you take a walk on the bridge.
The Golden Gate Bridge is especially beautiful on a sunny day with no wind. In the morning, the east side will be nicely lit. Fog can make it nearly disappear.
Getting to the Golden Gate Bridge
You can see the Golden Gate Bridge from many points in San Francisco, but if you want to get a closer look, there are a lot of ways to do it.
Golden Gate Bridge by Automobile: Follow the signs from anywhere in the city, taking Lombard Street (US Hwy 101) west. To reach the south vista point, take the exit marked "Last SF Exit," just before you get to the toll booths. You can avoid busy traffic by taking Lincoln Avenue through the Presidio.
Golden Gate Bridge by Trolley: City Sightseeing's "Hop On Hop Off" double-decker buses stop here as well as other sights. Other similar-sounding services do not stop at as many places or offer as much flexibility.
Golden Gate Bridge by Bus: San Francisco Muni's #28 and 29 buses go to the south side. Consult the Muni System map to plan your trip.
Golden Gate Bridge by Bicycle: Bicycles can use the Golden Gate Bridge 24 hours a day, but which sidewalk they're allowed on varies, with the west (ocean) side being most common. You can find several bicycle rental companies around Fisherman's Wharf, and most will give you a map and instructions on how to bike across the bridge to Sausalito and return by ferry.
Golden Gate Bridge Facts: Size
The Golden Gate Bridge was the longest span in the world from its completion in 1937 until the Verrazano Narrows Bridge was built in New York in 1964. Today, it still has the ninth-longest suspension span in the world. A few Golden Gate Bridge facts to illustrate its size:
- Total length: Including approaches, 1.7 miles (8,981 feet or 2,737 meters)
- Middle span: 4,200 feet (1,966 meters).
- Width: 90 feet (27 meters)
- Clearance above the high water (average): 220 feet (67 meters)
- Total weight when built: 894,500 tons (811,500,000 kilograms)
- Total weight today: 887,000 tons (804,700,000 kilograms). Weight reduced because of new decking material
- 746 feet (227 meters) above the water
- 500 feet (152 meters) above the roadway
- Each leg is 33 x 54 feet (10 x 16 meters)
- Towers weigh 44,000 tons each (40,200,000 kilograms)
- There are about 600,000 rivets in EACH tower.
Golden Gate Bridge Facts: Construction
One of the most interesting Golden Gate Bridge facts is that only eleven workers died during construction, a new safety record for the time. In the 1930s, bridge builders expected 1 fatality per $1 million in construction costs, and builders expected 35 people to die while building the Golden Gate Bridge.
One of the bridge's safety innovations was a net suspended under the floor. This net saved the lives of 19 men during construction, and they are often called the members of the "Half Way to Hell Club."
- Steel Facts:
- Made in New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania and shipped through the Panama Canal
- Total weight of steel: 83,000 tons (75,293,000 kilograms)
- Cable Facts:
- Two main cables pass over the tops of the main towers and are secured in concrete anchorages at each end. Each cable is made of 27,572 strands of wire. There are 80,000 miles (129,000 kilometers) of wire in the two main cables, and it took more than six months to spin them
- Cable diameter (including wrapping): 36 3/8 inches (0.92 meters)
- Cable length: 7,260 feet (2,332 meters)
- 128 lights are installed on the bridge roadway. They are 250-watt high-pressure sodium lamps installed in 1972
- The 24 tower sidewalk lights are 35-watt low-pressure sodium lamps
- 12 light illuminate each tower, 400 watts each, and an airway beacon tops each tower
Golden Gate Bridge Facts: Traffic
- Average crossings: About 41 million per year, counting both north and southbound crossings, compared to 33 million crossing the first year it was open. Currently, the bridge carries about 112,000 vehicles per day.
- Fewest crossings: January 1982, when a storm closed US Hwy 101 north of the bridge. On January 6, only 3,921 southbound vehicles passed the toll gates
- Most crossings: October 27, 1989, a few days after the Loma Prieta earthquake, when the Bay Bridge was closed. 162,414 vehicles (counting those going both directions) crossed the bridge that day
- Total crossings: As of July 2019, 2.1 billion vehicles have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge (northbound and southbound) since the bridge opened for traffic on May 28, 1937.
- Closures: The bridge has been closed three times for weather, for gusting winds more than 70 mph. It closed briefly for visits by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and French President Charles DeGaulle. It was also closed on its fiftieth birthday. The bridge was closed in the early morning for four hours in January 2015 to install a moveable median.
Golden Gate Bridge Facts: Important Dates
- May 25, 1923: The California state legislature passes a law creating the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District
- August 27, 1930: Joseph B. Strauss submits final plans
- November 4, 1930: $35 million bond issue approved by the six counties in the District, by a vote of 145,667 to 46.954
- January 5, 1933: Construction begins
- May 27, 1937: Bridge opens to pedestrians
- May 28, 1937: Bridge open to automobiles. The toll was 50 cents one way, $1 round trip and 5 cents surcharge if there were more than 3 passengers
- February 22, 1985: The one-billionth car crosses the bridge. The toll is $2 southbound on Friday and Saturday, $1 other days. No northbound toll
- May 28, 1987: Bridge closed to vehicles for its fiftieth birthday. An estimated 300,000 pedestrians jammed the bridge
- September 2, 2008: Toll increased to $6 southbound. No northbound toll.
- April 2013: Human toll takers were replaced with an electronic system. This guide has all the details about the new way to pay Golden Gate Bridge tolls.
Golden Gate Bridge Facts: Paint
- The Golden Gate Bridge's paint color is orange vermillion, also called International Orange. Architect Irving Morrow selected the color because it blends with the bridge's setting and makes the bridge visible in the fog
- The bridge was fully painted when it was first built and then touched up for the next 27 years. In 1965, the original paint was removed because of corrosion and replaced with an inorganic zinc silicate primer and an acrylic emulsion topcoat, a project that took 30 years. Today, painters touch up the paint continuously
- 38 painters work on the bridge, along with 17 ironworkers who replace corroding steel and rivets
The Golden Gate Bridge, symbol of San Francisco, engineering marvel, subject of many photographs, the result of one man's vision and persistence, spans the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. Learn a little about Golden Gate Bridge history.
Golden Gate Bridge History
For many years before the Golden Gate Bridge was built, the only way to get across San Francisco Bay was by ferry, and by the early twentieth century, the Bay was clogged with them. In the 1920s, engineer and bridge builder, Joseph Strauss became convinced that a bridge should be constructed across the Golden Gate.
Many groups opposed him, each for their own selfish reasons: the military, loggers, the railroads. The engineering challenge was also enormous—the Golden Gate Bridge area often has winds of up to 60 miles per hour, and strong ocean currents sweep through a rugged canyon below the surface. If all that wasn't enough, it was the middle of an economic collapse, funds were scarce, and the San Francisco Bay Bridge was already under construction. In spite of everything, Strauss persisted, and Golden Gate Bridge history began when San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approved $35 million in bonds to construct the Golden Gate Bridge.
Building the Golden Gate Bridge
The now-familiar art deco design and International Orange color were chosen, and construction began in 1933. The Golden Gate Bridge project was completed in 1937, a prominent date in San Francisco history. Strauss was a pioneer in building safety, making history with innovations including hard hats and daily sobriety tests. The Bay Bridge (which was being built at the same time) lost 24 lives while the Golden Gate Bridge lost only 11, an outstanding accomplishment in an era when one man was killed on most construction projects for every million spent.