Whether you need to pay a toll to cross the Golden Gate Bridge depends on which way you are going. It's free to drive across it going north, from San Francisco toward Sausalito. To get back into town going south, you'll have to pay a toll.
Once upon a time, that meant handing over cash to a human toll-taker, but since 2013, toll-taking operates on an electronic system. If you live in the area, it's easy. You can buy a pass or sign up for a system that reads an electronic pass or your vehicle's license tag and bills you.
But what if you're an out-of-towner who only plans to cross the bridge once or twice in your lifetime? This guide is written just for visitors like you, who want to know how to do it without paying a fine.
Paying the Golden Gate Bridge Toll
If you only plan to cross the Golden Gate Bridge going south once during your vacation, you can do it without penalty by making a one-time payment. To do that, go to the FasTrak website. You will need to know your vehicle license plate number and give them a credit card number for payment.
If you already crossed, you can pay afterward within 48 hours. You will need to know the date and time you crossed. If you're paying ahead of time, set the date range to include your trip dates.
If you plan to cross the bridge multiple times, you can set up a license plate account instead of paying for each crossing separately.
If you'd rather pay by cash, use this map to find a payment location.
If you live in Southern California and already have a FasTrak tag, you can use it in the San Francisco area, too.
Paying the Golden Gate Bridge Toll for a Rented Vehicle
Many major car rental companies in San Francisco offer a "toll option" when you pick up your vehicle. There's a list of them here. Some include it by default (and you have to opt out if you don't want it) but others require you to opt-in.
However, rental companies' convenience fees and per-day charges add up fast. A less expensive way to pay the toll is using the one-time payment or license plate options described above.
Oops! I Already Crossed Without Paying
Don't fret yet. You have 48 hours to pay your toll without a fine. You can pay using a credit card online or pay by telephone at 877-229-8655 (toll-free) or 415-486-8655 from outside the USA.
If you crossed and didn't pay, don't think you got away with it. Your vehicle's license tag was photographed, and an invoice will be automatically mailed to the vehicle's registered owner. If that's a rental company, you can expect them to send you a bill for the fine, along with their own hefty fee.
If You Just Want to See the Bridge but Not Cross It
By now, you may already be wondering if it's worth the trouble just to drive across a bridge, but if you don't, you'll miss some of the most beautiful views of it. Find out where to see the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
If you're coming from the city of San Francisco, which is on the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge, you can park in one of the nearby lots and walk. There's no charge for that. If you don't have a vehicle and want to get there, the Golden Gate Bridge visitor guide has all the options.