I grew up living in the San Francisco Bay Area but I rarely traveled up to the city itself. This was mostly because of a bad driving experience in my teens. I found it unnerving to maneuver through the tightly packed streets with practically nowhere to easily park.
So it was a little unsettling when my wife and I decided to visit the Golden Gate Bridge in September, 2014. It was even more nerve-wracking knowing that I would have to rely on my wife as navigator. Understand that she is a rookie in training at navigation even with an electronic mapping system on our phone.
OK, my wife took some artistic license on this photo. It isn’t really THAT dirty.
My suggestion for those that are not used to driving in SF is to do some homework. Check the routes and roadwork being done. Also check your route carefully. The signs can be tricky at best and a LOT of them coming at you at once. And, yes, we did get lost in the city at least once because the signage was not clear.
By now you may have guessed that we approached the bridge from the south and through the city. There are several places to view the bridge but one must experience the drive itself. Just be VERY careful to watch the road while driving. There are a lot of accidents from sightseers not paying attention.
As you drive – even while paying close attention – you cannot help but see much of what you came to see. We did not stop on the city side of the bridge so we have no pictures from that side. If you choose to get views from the city then plan your parking place carefully.
A nice side benefit is that there is no toll in the northbound direction. If you approach using the southbound lanes you will be charged a toll of about $7.25 or more depending on what you are driving (2 axles – $7.25, more axles = more money) or when you actually go since they increase these fees with regularity. You will not see any toll booths as in the past. The bridge is now a 100% electronic toll system. This means they charge you based upon your license plate. If you have a rental vehicle check with the company for details.
From the northbound route look for the Vista Point exit sign. Vista Point is the place to stop for your view. Be aware that parking in this spot is limited and crowded but free (which may explain why it is crowded). There are also tour buses that frequent this place. It would not be unusual to circle around for a while to get a space.
If you have never been to San Francisco then be aware that the weather will rarely cooperate. It is typically foggy and cool at best. Angel Island State Park is in the upper left corner.
Once you are finally parked you get the luxury of being able to go walk out onto the bridge. You can actually walk across it if you want. Just remember it’s a long bridge. Also be aware that there is a chain link fence for part of the length of the bridge. This stops as you get farther out on the bridge. You have to go a ways out. The bridge is over 1.5 miles long. Remember you have to walk back as well.
Before you head out over the bridge remember to read all the signs. This is California you know. If you can understand them all then you win a cookie and may not get stopped for something silly like wearing sunglasses before 10:00am (not a real rule but not too far off).
Either way you look at it, this is a marvel of engineering and beauty together.
As you leave Vista Point you get to go through a tunnel now named after Robin Williams the comedian. Be sure to honk your horn all the way through the tunnel. This will let people know that you are a tourist. Note the rainbow arch above the entrance.
If you really want to see the bridge thoroughly then you will want to visit it from the other side of the freeway as well. There are many more options than just a parking lot. There are roads that will take you into the Golden Gate National Recreational area. This consists of lands northeast and northwest of the bridge. There are several drives and nice views along the way.
There is also a newly opened Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center that has opened after our trip. It is on the southeast side of the bridge. I would recommend visiting here for a complete visit. The website below has more information about everything relating to the bridge.
No matter the travel issues the bridge is an icon well worth visiting. It is an awesome sight to see against the neighboring landscape. I can only imagine what it was like before the bridge was built to stand on one side and look over to the other side.
For more information here is the website: