So this is what everyone comes to San Francisco to see. The bridge. 80 years old this year. She looks good. You know. For a bunch of metal painted red.
I feel that most tourists travel to see the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the most iconic landmarks of the Bay Area. However, for those who don’t know, there is more than one place to view the bridge, and my favorite place is actually one that most tourists don’t see (because the parking sucks). Please know that this is not an all-inclusive list of every place in the Bay Area for a view of the Golden Gate. I just listed a few that I think offer the best views. Feel free to add your favorite places too. Read on for more . . .
Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center
The Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center is probably where most people end up when they decide to see the bridge. I remember making countless trips here as a kid (where my complaints were silenced with a promise of dim sum in Chinatown). We had a lot of visitors when I was young, but not so much now that I’m older (probably the sarcasm drives them away). There are often busloads of tourists and bikers here, so please be careful where you walk and keep the earbuds out of your ears. Take your pictures when you can. I watched several tourists wander right in front of other people’s photo ops. Probably also why I didn’t find many photographers here.
Even though you can get a good view of the bridge from the roundabout (where Uber drops you off), I recommend walking past the visitors center and onto the trail that leads you to the pedestrian entrance of the bridge. In the springtime, the prickly bushes are in bloom and you can position your camera to frame the bridge with the flora.
There is a raised platform at the welcome center where you can also see the bridge and get great pictures, but my preference is along the trail. Just watch out for bikes.
PRO TIP: Parking blows here unless you get here early. You also have to pay, but I’ve never parked here, so I don’t know how much it is. I prefer to Uber or take the bus. Several bus lines service the Welcome Center, including those hop on-hop off tour buses. Check the Muni or Golden Gate Bus schedules for public transit information.
Golden Gate Bridge (on it)
There is a pedestrian/bike path only on one side of the bridge, and it’s free to walk or bike, in case you were worried about the $6 toll. Toll is only charged coming into San Francisco; there is no toll on the northbound lanes. It does take a while to walk across the bridge; it took me about an hour at a leisurely pace, but it isn’t very strenuous, just a slight incline. I watched an old lady with a 4-wheeled walker maker her way across, and if she can do it, so can you. Oh, and make sure you put on some sunblock if you decide to do this walk. It wasn’t particularly hot, but it was quite sunny and now I’m in the process of watching some YouTube makeup tutorials to hide the horrendous tan that makes me look like I’m wearing a weird nude-colored ski mask.
Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point (Marin County)
Marin County, at the north end of the bridge, also offers their own, albeit smaller, vista point for photo ops. I would recommend walking towards the front of the vista point, as close as you can to the wall that keeps you from tumbling down onto the fence, which keeps you from tumbling down into the bay. Right at the center of the vista point gives you more of a straight shot of the bridge, but if you lean or move yourself as much to the left of the vista point as possible, you can get the second tower in your shot as well.
I like parking here better, only because it’s free, but it’s still a small lot and fills up quickly. There is a time limit of 3 or 4 hours, but it’s been so long since I’ve actually parked here that I’ve forgotten the limit. This vista point is not as fancy as the Welcome Center at the Golden Gate Bridge on the San Francisco side, but it still has bathrooms, which I appreciate. No food though.
PRO TIP: For those of you who are trying to avoid paying toll (i.e. those coming from the Marin County side and wanting to avoid actually driving across the bridge) there is no direct 101-S access to this vista point. You have to cross the bridge, turn around, and cross the bridge again to exit for this vista point. BUT there’s a way to get around this (as long as you don’t need special accessibility). From 101-S, take the exit for Sausalito (the last exit before you actually drive across the bridge), turn left at the exit, turn right onto Conzelman Road, and immediately turn left into a small parking lot. This lot only has about 20 or so spaces, but if you go early, you’re bound to find a spot. There’s a set of stairs that lead underneath the bridge and allow you to cross into the Marin County vista point. There are no ramps or elevators, so if you can’t walk down stairs or be carried easily up or down them, pay the toll and park elsewhere to get to the vista point. Bikes are okay though.
This is my favorite place to see the bridge. My pictures obviously don’t do it justice. I would recommend you come here on a clear day, because I’ve been here on several cloudy days, and it really only gives you a view of some high-quality fog. SIDE NOTE: There are some higher outlooks in the Marin Headlands (that I don’t like going to because I don’t like driving up there) where you can look at the bridge over the fog. Check out Instagram (unfortunately, not mine) for some beautiful examples of this.
Anyways, this place is pretty easily accessible as long as you don’t need special accommodations. I’ve walked all the way from the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center on the San Francisco side to this point. From the small parking lot at the bottom of the hill, take the dirt path all the way to the left and walk up the hill until you see the entrance to Battery Spencer. It took me over an hour from the San Francisco side, but the view made it well worth it for me. It would be a cute place for a picnic if gusts of wind didn’t threaten to toss your food every which way. PRO TIP: There is parking up at Battery Spencer, but it’s VERY limited, probably less than 10 spots, and they fill up quickly. I prefer to park at the bottom of the hill and hike up, just so those who can’t walk as far can use the closer spots. See? I can be considerate, not just sarcastic.
I’m thinking a late afternoon or evening trip to this point would be best in order to highlight the red of the bridge (which is black in my pictures), or if you’re fancy and can do the Photoshop thing, you probably don’t care what time of day you show up.
Chrissy Field/Fort Point
This is my favorite spot to run in San Francisco. You definitely feel small seeing the bridge from this viewpoint. It’s not technically Chrissy Field, but that’s the landmark I use when I run because not everyone knows where Fort Point is. And if you don’t know, it’s this old defense fort that’s stood at the entrance to the bay since the Civil War. Pass Chrissy Field and run towards Fort Point, located at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge on the south side. Don’t forget to run towards the fence and high-five Hopper’s Hands.
Horseshoe Cove is on the Marin side of the Golden Gate Bridge and also offers nice views of the bridge. Map yourself over to the Bay Area Discovery Museum and then follow the signs to the waterfront. Step out onto the bird poop-covered pier for the best views.
So these are just some of my favorite spots to take in a view of the Golden Gate. You can also view the bridge well from Baker Beach, but I didn’t include it on this list because you don’t get that close view of the bridge that I prefer. Of course, for the BEST view, you can rent a helicopter and have the pilot take you over the bridge. But I don’t have that kind of money, so I opt for the free places.
Where do you prefer to view the bridge? In person? From the comfort of your own home on your laptop?