Opened in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge is quite possibly San Francisco's most famous landmark. The massive 1.7-mile structure crosses the mouth of San Francisco Bay, connecting the city to Marin County to the north. The bridge not only provides a vital link in the area's highway system, but it also is a major tourist destination - each year thousands of people make the trip to visit the bridge and admire it's enormous art deco-styled structure.
Despite several previous trips to San Francisco, I had not actually been to the Golden Gate Bridge until my Labor Day 2003 trip. I'm surprised it took my fourth trip to the city for me to finally visit the bridge, as large suspension bridges have always fascinated me. Despite multiple trips to the Tacoma Narrows, Fred Hartman, and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridges, I had somehow never managed to make it to the Golden Gate. So, my first trip was somewhat of a pilgrimage, but it will definitely not be my last.
Getting to the bridge without a rental car takes a little time, but is not that difficult, as the Muni nos. 28 and 29 bus routes go directly to the southern end of the bridge and the visitor's center. The bridge is also reachable via Golden Gate Transit buses, which cross the bridge into Marin County.
The bridge can be driven across if you have a car, but you may also walk across the bridge on the east sidewalk. Bicyclists may also cross the bridge on the sidewalks, using the east sidewalk at night and during the day, and the west sidewalk during evening rush hours. Information on biking across the bridge is available on the Golden Gate Bridge website.
My travel companion and I chose to walk about halfway across the bridge. I actually wanted to continue the rest of the way to the northern end of the bridge and back, but his feet were sore from walking, and it was rather cold on the day we visited. Walking out onto the bridge is quite an experience, especially for those of us with a fear of heights. The bridge is approximately 220 feet above the water, and is so massive that it makes the ships passing below look like toys. Fortunately the sidewalk is wide, and, if you choose to walk close to the roadway, the vertigo I experienced looking over the guardrail to the bay below was nonexistent.
When visiting the bridge, be sure to take a jacket, even if the weather downtown is warm. On the day we visited, downtown San Francisco was sunny and mild, but the area around the bridge was shrouded in fog, with a stiff wind and air temperature of about 55° F. These weather conditions are not atypical, and tourists who were there in t-shirts and shorts were truly suffering.
For more information on the bridge's history and planning your visit to this San Francisco icon, see the Golden Gate Bridge website.