An iconic suspension bridge known world-wide and firmly rooted into San Francisco culture and history, the Golden Gate Bridge is a must-see for anyone visiting the Bay Area for the first time. Officially opened in 1937, this bridge is rapidly approaching its 100th birthday (currently 85 years old), making it the 10th oldest bridge in the United States. It’s also the 2nd longest suspension bridge in the U.S., at 4,200 feet (1.7 miles), only 60 feet behind the Verrazano‑Narrows bridge in New York (4,260 feet). The bridge sits at 220 feet above water-level at high tide, which is roughly equivalent to a 20-story building. It’s massive, both in length and height, making this very recognizable icon of San Francisco impossible to miss.
Before the bridge was built, the only way to cross from San Francisco to what is now Marin County, was via boat ferry. Beginning as early as 1820, ferries began taking cars across the San Francisco Bay, with regularly scheduled service beginning in the 1840s. For the next 97 years, this was the only way to cross the bay, taking approximately 20 minutes and costing $1.00 per vehicle. Nowadays, approximately 110,000 cars cross the bridge per day, which averages to around 40 million per year. It was designated a California Historical Landmark in 1987 and a San Francisco Designated Landmark in 1999.
We went to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which is one of the best spots in San Francisco to view the bridge. Managed by the National Park Service, this recreation area is the most visited place within the National Park system of the United States. On average, it sees around 15 million visitors per year. To put that into some perspective, Zion National Park. receives approximately 3.5 million visitors per year; Yosemite gets around 3.2 million; and the Grand Canyon National Park (it’s really grand). sees around 5 million. None comes even close to touching the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Established in 1972, it encompasses a massive amount of land, most of which was formerly used by the U.S. Army. With an area of 82,116 acres, it is also one of the largest urban parks in the world, encompassing 59 miles (95 km) of bay and ocean shoreline, and housing more than 3,000 animal and plant species.
To get there, you must cross the bridge coming from San Francisco, exiting at Alexander Avenue, and turn left. You will quickly find yourself on Conzelman Road, which is the main road through the recreation area, and which will take you to all the hotspots and viewpoints. We chose the Golden Gate View Point, which was a remarkable place to stop and take in the view. At this viewpoint, you not only get a great view of the bridge, but also the San Francisco Bay, skyline, and Pacific Ocean. A bit down the road is the Battery Spencer Overlook, which offers a far more close-up view of the bridge after a brief, 0.4-mile out-and-back hike. Here you will also find a “love lock” area, where people place locks on the chain-link fence to symbolize their eternal love.
Lastly… since the bridge opened in 1937, approximately 1,800 people have used it to end their life, with only 35 surviving. If you or someone you know is needing help, please reach out to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988, or you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). Both are available 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.
Overall, one simply cannot come to San Francisco and not cross or see the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge. As iconic of a Bay Area landmark as Alcatraz, the Painted Ladies, and Lombard Street, this bridge is a real feat in structural engineering. Once thought to be impossible to build, it is still the second-longest suspension bridge in all the United States, even as it approaches its retirement years. Come and see it for yourself!
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