The world's most beautiful bridge turns 75 on 27 May 2102. Much is in the works to celebrate, including a ‘necklace of mirrors’ which, in pure San Francisco fashion, even planners have 'no idea what's going to happen.' Regardless of when you go, there’s more to enjoying the Golden Gate Bridge than just going, taking a snapshot and moving on. Its beauty opens up more as you see it from different times of day, and from different views. Here are the 10 best - but whatever you do, don't leave without getting at least one view from the north side.
Here's a short video featuring several of the best views listed below plus some bonus fun facts:
Way up in the Marin Headlands on the north side of the bridge, Hawk Hill is reached by a winding road seen in many car commercials and is a mother of a ride for those on bikes. But wow. You see over the bay and San Francisco and its famed international orange art deco bridge as if from a plane. There’s a WWII battery up there to poke around, and just as nice views looking out towards the Pacific. From August to December it’s the west coast’s top spot to view raptors. En route to Hawk Hill, pull off at Battery Spencer and walk out t0 Hendrik Point where you can stand at eye-level with the bridge towers and get shots of San Francisco's skyline through cables painted international orange.
Sunrise at Battery Spencer. Photo by Anirudh Rao.
A local secret is the beach and historic battery at Kirby Cove just northwest of the bridge, which you have to hike or bike a mile down through eucalyptus and pine from the road to Hawk Hill to reach. Take a picnic and give yourself time to rest for the return and to soak up the views - with San Francisco's skyline filling the span under the bridge. There are a few highly sought-after camping spots here; reserve in advance.
Looking back at the bridge from Kirby Cove. Photo by Jeff Archer.
Under the bridge on the south side is Fort Point, a 1861 fort that saw zero Civil War action, but did see Kim Novak on a death-wish jump into the bay in vain in Vertigo. The fort’s open Friday to Sunday and well worth a visit for any bridge-spotter. Note the mini bridge engineers built over the fort, done solely to preserve the fort. The 'Hopper's Hands' plaque on the fence tributes a bridge engineer who later worked to dissuade would-be jumpers. Joggers regularly touch the plaque to mark the end of a jog (or half-way point) along the Crissy Field trails.
On top of Fort Point looking down the underside of the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo by Andy Murdock.
4. Bike Loop to Sausalito
With a little oomph in your legs, you can rent a bike and take an eight-mile loop that takes in several of the Top 10 views. Start at the WPA-era Maritime Museum in the Marina, pedal past the Palace of Fine Arts to Crissy Field, have a coffee at the waterfront Warming Hut, then up to the bridge's bike path. Detour under the bridge to see Battery Spencer in the Marin Headlands (see #8), and weave downhill on Alexander Avenue to the marina at Sausalito for a meal and a ferry ride back to San Francisco's Pier 41 at Fisherman's Wharf. Watch your step in Sausalito though. Chevy Chase tumbled into the water here in the San Francisco-postcard movie Foul Play. The whole thing can be done in two to four hours.
A bike and the Golden Gate Bridge - a perfect pair. Photo by Colin Hughes.
Of the string of batteries along the coast south of the bridge, Battery Crosby, built in 1900, is the best for bridge views. The battery, curiously named for an obscure soldier who died during the Civil War, overlooks the rugged coast and the Pacific and there are trails down to (clothing-optional) Baker Beach. It’s often empty.
If you're planning a tour of Alcatraz -- in advance, mind you -- go for the night tour to get a view from behind bars in the middle of the bay as the sun sets through the Gate. It's a great vantage point, and a place to imagine the blessing and curse it must have felt like for those serving time there. If prisons are too grisly for your taste, opt for nearby Angel Island where advance reservations aren't necessary.
Sunset view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Alcatraz. Photo by Tim Taler.
Most pedestrians go about a quarter way to the first tower and return. Traffic makes the experience of pondering Journey's lyrics about the bay (from 'Lights') quite loud, but the views of the bay and Alcatraz, and looking straight up the towers, are unreal good. Be sure to see the art deco plaques that snub senior engineer Charles Ellis, who Joseph Strauss fired for unknown reasons (one theory is that Ellis took too long with math, while drafting -- study your math, kids). While Strauss’ first bridge design was called a ‘rat cage,’ Ellis brought the art deco stylings that make it so beautiful. He was only given credit in 2007, and this year will finally get a plaque.
On the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo by Wally Gobetz.
Between the Marina and the strait on the south side, this former military barracks spot then airstrip became a public park in 2001, and rapidly found itself as the jogging spot of choice in San Francisco (and frequent scenic backdrop on Wheel of Fortune). Lined with palms, the waterfront trails link the Marina with the bridge with gorgeous views either way.
Joggers at Crissy Field near the Warming Hut. Photo by Kevin Wong.
Here's something funny. Europeans, mostly Spaniards, passed by the San Francisco Bay yearly for over 200 years before they happened to notice it existed. In fact, it was only discovered by bored hunters who happened onto the 'inland sea' of the bay, and first peered out through the Golden Gate Strait from present-day Oakland. Just north is a great place to take in the wide girth of the bay, at 90-acre Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley. This spot isn't far downhill from the vantage point photographer Richard Misrach used to photograph the bay and the bridge over the course of three years in the book Golden Gate.
Sunset at Cesar Chavez Park. Photo by Carol Leita.
Off Letterman Dr in the Presidio, George Lucas’ fun zone is (partly) open to visitors. Park, have some coffee at on-site Starbucks, and pop into the lobby library with a full-size Boba Fett and decorative bookends of Darth Vader choking an imperial soldier. From the parking lot, look over the head of the Yoda at the Yoda fountain and see the top of the bridge’s south tower.
Inspired by the majesty, you will be.
'Fear is the path to the dark side; the Golden Gate Bridge is the path to Marin County.' - Yoda. Loren Javier, this photo is by.
Also check out: 15 things you didn't know about the Golden Gate Bridge
Capture the City
Do you have a guidebook-cover quality photo of the Golden Gate Bridge? How about another iconic city view from around the world? Enter our Capture the City photo competition for a chance to win a US$500 travel voucher, PLUS the winning photo may be featured on the cover of a Lonely Planet guidebook! Good luck!