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Golden Gate Bridge: Best Views, Toll, and History of San Francisco’s Famous Bridge

June 21, 2021 /
Golden Gate bridge views

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

The magnificent Golden Gate Bridge is certainly one of the attractions, together with Alcatraz, that we associate with San Francisco.

This makes it almost obligatory to stop here if you’re planning a California road trip and for this reason, we’ll take you to discover its history, the best ways to reach it, and the most scenic observation points where to photograph it.

History of the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge HistoryConstruction of the bridge began in 1933 and continued for the next four years. This helped to mitigate unemployment in California during the Great Depression. However, the construction project, devised by engineer Joseph Strauss, faced many challenges not only because of the costs required (the total cost of construction would amount to $35 million) but also because it had to overcome the political opposition of the Southern Pacific Railroad, since the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge would have shut down the ferry service between San Francisco and Marin County.

Once the bridge was completed in 1937, it became the longest suspension bridge in the world, a record he held until 1963 when its “cousin”, the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge connected the shores of Brooklyn with those of Staten Island. It was built to withstand not only the daily passage of thousands of cars, but also all kinds of weather conditions, such as the wind that blows hard on San Francisco Bay almost daily, the waves of the ocean, and earthquakes, which have always occurred in California. To give you an idea, the central part of the bridge is designed to withstand more than 26 ft of oscillation.

We must also thank architect Irving Morrow for the cheerful color of the bridge in order to make it more visible in the fog (if you think that this praise is undeserved, just take a look at this photo). Otherwise, the Golden Gate Bridge may have been entirely gray or even gray with yellow stripes as the U.S. Navy had requested. Unfortunately, the fog is ever-present in San Francisco, and there is no way to avoid it. Here’s an article that gives an explanation about the climate of San Francisco.

How to Get to the Golden Gate Bridge and Other Useful Tips

how to get to golden gate bridgeThe Golden Gate Bridge is on U.S. Highway 101, and in the same section where we will provide directions to the bridge, we will also talk about the two best-known viewpoints, which are Vista Point to the north and the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center to the south, respectively.

Getting to the Golden Gate Bridge by car

If you plan to use your car (or rental car), I would ask you to take my advice. As we have already discussed in our article on how to travel around San Francisco, there are many factors that make it more difficult to use a car in this city compared to other cities in the United States. You will face traffic and have trouble finding parking.

These two problems also have an impact on your ability to access the vista points that we have mentioned, since the few dozen parking spaces available (some of the parking spaces require you to pay to park there) fill up very quickly, especially during the high season. However, there is a good alternative (that I speak about briefly below) so, if you are traveling by car, it will not necessarily be as difficult as it seems.

Golden Gate Bridge by car

Coming from the south (i.e. departing from San Francisco)

Just before the toll booth, you will find an exit on the right that says Last SF exit. Take the exit and you will arrive at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center parking lot. From there, you can walk to Battery Lancaster where you can learn more about the history of the bridge’s construction thanks to informational panels and models and enjoy a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge area.

To park in the parking lot I just mentioned, you must pay a fee. This parking lot tends to get quite crowded, but there is also a free and little-known parking lot that we talked about in the section on the Golden Gate Bridge in our guide on where to park in San Francisco.

Reaching Vista Point on the north side of the bridge is also quite easy. Once you cross the bridge, you will have to take the first exit on the right which says Vista Point. Parking is free and there is a 4-hour limit.

Coming from the North (i.e. going towards San Francisco)

Before you reach the Golden Gate Bridge, take exit 442 to Alexander Avenue and you will pass two scenic spots. You can reach the North Tower Golden Gate Parking and then, using the pedestrian underpass, reach Vista Point or continue on Conzelman Rd to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point and Marin Headlands, which we will discuss in more detail later in this article.

To reach the south side of the bridge, once you have passed the toll, take the first exit on the right towards Merchant Road. For this reason, you should get into the right-hand lane ahead of time and use the first toll booth on the right if possible. If you can find a parking space, you can also use the footpath to get to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center.

Golden Gate Bridge Toll Fee

Golden Gate brige toll feeYou only need to pay a toll to cross the Golden Gate Bridge if you are going south, i.e. if you are entering San Francisco, but there is no need to stop because the process is done completely electronically via a license plate recognition system.

If you are using a rental car, there are some things you should know. Most companies offer, upon payment of an additional daily fee, a car rental toll program. Ask about this service when you pick up your car.

If you are sure to pass through the Golden Gate Bridge but the company you rented the car from does not offer this kind of program, or you are not sure you want to subscribe to their program because it is not convenient, you will have to register the license plate of your car and proceed to pay the toll up to 30 days before your transit on the official website

The price for a car or motorcycle, at the moment we are writing the article, is $8.35 one way. For all other types of vehicles,  please consult the summary table of all rates.

How to get there by bus or public transportation

If you want to rely on public transportation, you need to get off at the Golden Gate Bridge Toll Plaza stop, which can be easily reached from many areas of San Francisco including Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf. You can find directions for the many lines that run on this route on the official website.

Walking and Biking Across the Golden Gate

biking across golden gate bridgeBoth pedestrians and bicycles can use a common access ramp. In addition to using common sense, there are some rules that should be kept in mind. Pedestrians must only use the walkway facing east (i.e. the side facing San Francisco) and pets are not allowed on the bridge unless they are service animals.

If you have an electric bike, you can use it to cross the bridge after turning it off and using only the strength of your legs! In addition, on weekends, due to the high number of accesses, cyclists can only access the west side (i.e. the side of the bridge that faces the ocean).

Best Way to Visit Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate San FranciscoAfter providing this quick overview of the main directions you may be wondering what is the best way to visit the Golden Gate Bridge. Giving an unambiguous answer is always complicated, especially when there are many factors to take into account, so I will start from my personal experience.

From my point of view, riding a bicycle is the most convenient way to visit both the bridge and the attractions of the area. This is because it allows you to reach practically all the main points of interest without having the worry of traffic and having to look for parking.

On the other hand, the two aspects to take into account are certainly the energy it takes to ride a bike (at least you don’t rent an electric bike!) and the variable weather because it is certainly not pleasant to ride in the rain or very strong gusts of wind.

However, if the weather is good, the bike is really the best way. There are also bike tours that allow you to cross the bridge and then reach Sausalito, a pleasant coastal destination nicknamed the “Portofino of America”.

If you are interested in renting a bike (electric or not) or taking a guided bike tour, read our guide dedicated to the subject:

Our tips for renting a bike in San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge Views: Where to Take Pictures


Here are some scenic places where you can take beautiful pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Crissy Field

Golden Gate Bridge Views:Crissy Field is a huge park located along the bay beach and if you are coming from San Francisco, it is probably the first point from which you will start to admire the Golden Gate Bridge more closely. If you’re using your bike, it’s the perfect place to catch your breath for the uphill ride that will be waiting for you later on, or to get something to drink on the way back, since there are plenty of picnic areas.

Fort Point

One of the most popular views of the Golden Gate Bridge is from Fort Point under the bridge on the south side. Built between 1853 and 1861, to signify the great strategic importance of the bay, today it is managed by the National Park Service and the entrance is free. It is definitely worth visiting it because once you get to the top, you can enjoy a very special view of both the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge that will literally be above you.

Operating hours vary greatly depending on the time of year you visit. Take a look at the official website to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Although it has a parking lot, it is not very spacious, so as we already said before, it is better to use a bike or public transportation.

Moore Rd Pier

best place to view golden gate bridgeThis is an observation point recommended especially for those who have crossed the bridge by bike and perhaps want to continue towards Sausalito. Once you have crossed the bridge and arrived at the North Tower Golden Gate Parking, take Conzelman Rd which descends towards the bay. After passing under the bridge and having finished the descent you will find on your right the Moore Rd Pier, go and take a souvenir photo as a testimony of your feat!

Battery Spencer

best place to gaze golden gate bridgePersonally, this is the view of the Golden Gate that I enjoyed the most even though the day was not the best. You will be on one of the highest points from which you can admire the bridge and the bay as a whole.

If you are using your car and have found a place at Vista Point or North Tower Golden Gate Parking, it is best to walk along the short uphill stretch of Conzelman Rd that will take you to a tiny car park from where a dirt track starts and leads you to Battery Spencer.

If you want to use public transportation, you can use the 76X-Marin Headlands Express line, which runs from Post Street to Union Square and also stops at the Golden Gate Bridge Toll Plaza, but only on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays.

Marin Headlands Viewpoint/Hawk Hill

best place to take pictures of golden gate bridgeContinue past Battery Spencer for a little more than one mile along Conzelman Rd and you will arrive at Marin Headlands vista point. After walking a few yards, you can climb Hawk Hill, where you can admire the Golden Gate Bridge from a very fascinating point of view.

Baker Beach

best view point for golden gate bridge
Baker Beach

This is a very famous beach in San Francisco, where locals love to go to watch the sunset or to enjoy looking at the Golden Gate  Bridge from afar (fog permitting). It can be reached by public transportation. We have already given all the details to get to the beach in the dedicated paragraph in our article about the San Francisco Presidium.

Excursions

If you are not just passing through but plan to stay in the area for several days, the Golden Gate Bridge should not only be considered as a destination, but also as a means to reach some of the most stellar attractions around San Francisco. In addition to Sausalito, there is, for example, Muir Woods, where there are spectacular giant redwoods, or the endless vineyards of Napa and Sonoma.

Where to Stay Near Golden Gate Bridge

Since the bridge is adjacent to San Francisco Presidio Park, there are not many accommodations available in the immediate vicinity. However, you will find many in Fisherman’s Wharf, the closest area to the Golden Gate Bridge. For more advice on this, please take a look at our article about the best areas to look for accommodations in the city.

Tips on where to stay in San Francisco


Our Tip:
Looking for accommodations for your trip from California to other parts of the Southwest? Read our guide that contains reviews of hotels and strategic tips for finding accommodations near major attractions: Where to Stay: Our Tips for the SouthWest Area

Filippo Nardelli

I have a degree in History of North America and have always been fascinated by the United States.

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