With towers soaring 746 feet into the sky, its span arcing across the mouth of San Francisco Bay, and all of it painted bright red-orange, the Golden Gate Bridge is, quite simply, amazing.
How to Visit the Golden Gate Bridge
It’s pretty easy (and free) to walk across the bridge itself or to explore the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, which offers a colorful look at the bridge’s history, as well as the original 12-foot stainless-steel “test tower” used in 1933. It’s open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Parking is very limited at the bridge, so public transportation is your best bet.
You can easily make a day of vising the bridge, as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area takes up the real estate on either end of the bridge. There are beautiful trails for hiking, places for dogs to play, and spots perfect for a lunchtime picnic.
Golden Gate Bridge’s Purpose
The structure, declared one of the Wonders of the Modern World, serves as a link between San Francisco and Marin County, with U.S. Route 101 and California Highway 1 using the bridge to get across the strait. It’s also popular for walkers and cyclists and serves as part of U.S. Bicycle Route 95.
How Did the Golden Gate Bridge Get Its Name?
Why is a bridge called “Golden Gate” in fact orange? It’s generally accepted that the mouth of San Francisco Bay—the narrow strait that the bridge spans, was named Chrysopylae (Greek for “Golden Gate”) by early explorer John C. Fremont. (Captain Fremont thought the strait looked like a strait in Istanbul named Chrysoceras, or “Golden Horn.”) So, it makes sense that the bridge is named after the expanse of water that it crosses. But what about that crimson color? Call it an unexpected surprise. When the steel for the bridge was first installed in place, it was only covered with red primer. A consulting engineer liked it, suggested the color be kept, and helped develop the bridge’s final paint color.
Technically, that color is “International Orange,” but whatever it is, it’s an eye-grabber, whether you’re driving, walking, or pedaling across the 1.7-mile span.
Get Your Golden Gate Bridge Gifts
There’s a nice gift shop and a café at the south (city) end, and paths let you wind down to historic Fort Point, completed in 1861 as a military outpost to protect the gate before there was a bridge. Look up for a remarkable view of the bridge’s underbelly, a spectacular network of massive girders, enormous columns, and impressive cables.
Before You Go: Golden Gate Bridge Weather
Note that it can be a bit nippy and windy on the span, especially when the fog slips in (especially common in summer), so dress in layers, and bring a hat or flip up a hood to keep your head warm.
If you’re planning a visit to San Francisco, you might be surprised to learn that summer isn’t your best bet in terms of weather. The most pleasant time is from September to November, when fall provides some of the warmest temperatures in the area.
Golden Gate Bridge Tours
Bike rental companies abound (two favorites are Blazing Saddles and San Francisco Bicycle Rentals); most bikes come equipped with detailed route maps showing you where to ride from San Francisco across the bridge to idyllic towns, such as Sausalito and Tiburon, in neighboring Marin County. (For extra fun, catch a local ferry to get back to the city.)
For a free option, twice-weekly (Thursdays and Sundays) walking Bridge tours are offered by San Francisco City Guides, a non-profit organization associated with the San Francisco Public Library.
You can also see a unique view of the bridge by taking a cruise that goes along Alcatraz and Angel Island State Park, past Sausalito and then under the bridge.