seven tips for visiting The Golden Gate Bridge
My mother was always terrified to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge when I was growing up. I can still hear her screaming to my dad as we approached the last exit on 19th Ave. before the bridge entrance, worried he would miss the turn-off and we would end up on the bridge. So it’s no surprise that my first up-close and personal experience with the Golden Gate Bridge was going under it via ferry, from San Francisco to Sausalito.
Seeing the bridge by boat is unique (and highly recommended). You view the bridge from below while feeling awestruck at the gorgeous blue sparkling bay, picturesque San Francisco skyline, and surrounding San Francisco landmarks, including Alcatraz.
Walk into any gift shop on Pier 39 or Fisherman’s Wharf, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a souvenir that doesn’t feature an image of the Golden Gate Bridge. As one of the most recognizable bridges in the world (and undisputedly the most famous bridge in the Bay Area), the Golden Gate Bridge should definitely be on everyone’s bucket list when visiting The Golden City.
If you’re planning on visiting the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time, you may have a mile of questions running through your head. Can you walk across the Golden Gate Bridge? Can you park near the Golden Gate Bridge? Does the Golden Gate Bridge have an entrance fee? What is the best way to see the Golden Gate Bridge? When is the best time to visit The Golden Gate Bridge?
The short answer: yes, yes, no, by foot, and fall. We promise to get into more details in this travel guide.
Here are seven tips you need to know before visiting the Golden Gate Bridge!
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Know That The Golden Gate Bridge Is Free To Visit (But There Is A Toll)
The Golden Gate Bridge is free for pedestrians and cyclists, while cars will pay a one-time toll each time they cross the bridge heading in the southbound direction (into San Francisco).
Gone are the days of the cash toll plaza, as everything is now processed electronically. If you live in the Bay Area and travel the East Bay or Marin often, you may already have FasTrak. If not, no worries – when you whizz past the toll booth, a picture of your license plate is taken, and you will receive an invoice in the mail.
Travel Tip: Don’t ignore the invoice when it arrives– the fees continue to stack up when unpaid and the state will refuse to re-register your vehicle if you have any outstanding unpaid fees. The toll invoice for most will be $9.75. This includes cars with two axles and all motorcycles.
If you are driving a rental car, I’d recommend checking in with the rental company to see how they handle toll payments!
Know That The Best Way To See The Golden Gate Bridge Is By Foot
While the fastest way to see the Golden Gate Bridge is by car, the best way to see the Golden Gate Bridge is by foot, whether that means walking, jogging, running, or bicycling (no rollerblading or scooters allowed). Unless you’re a car passenger, you won’t be able to take in the views since you’ll need to keep your eyes on the road.
From the top of the bridge, you’ll see comprehensive scenic views of everything from Alcatraz, Angel Island, Marin Headlands, the San Francisco coastline, and the skyline – the photo possibilities are endless!
And if you’re looking to see the Golden Gate Bridge from afar, there are plenty of nearby areas to choose from. My favorite view on the southwest side of the bridge is Baker Beach showcasing the steel architecture approximately a mile away, featuring magnificent views of its splendor, the coast, and hills. It’s the perfect place to lay out and hope the sun will emerge or to plan a picnic with the perfect San Francisco setting in the background. Crissy Field is a former military airfield offering stunning views of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge less than two miles away. Other locations to see fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge include Pier 39, Angel Island, and Alcatraz. And, of course, the one I mentioned at the beginning of this guide: taking a cruise to see the Golden Gate Bridge from below (check cruise availability and prices here).
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Know That You Can Walk Across The Golden Gate Bridge
Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge is quite popular too. The bridge is close to 3.5 miles round trip. So, if you plan on taking lots of social media snapshots and walking unhurriedly, you’ll be strolling for 2 hours minimum.
If you are training for a marathon and plan to walk fast or even jog it, it’s possible to complete it in less time. But I’d recommend allotting at least 3 hours, so you have plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful scenery where fog is always possible.
The Golden Gate Bridge is a top tourist attraction and can get quite congested. I have gone across the bridge at all hours of the day (and night) by foot and car, and there always seem to be endless people.
For walking with the least crowds, I recommend heading out early (the earlier in the morning you can visit, the better). Pedestrians can generally walk on the bridge’s east sidewalk from 5a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (during Pacific Daylight Time, this stretch closes at 8 p.m.).
Travel Tip: There are bathrooms near the Golden Gate Bridge! Bathrooms are located at the Welcome Center (near the beginning of the bridge on the San Francisco side) as well as the Vista Point located on the Marin side of the bridge.
Know That You Should Try To Avoid Parking Near The Golden Gate Bridge
Know that while you can park to walk to the bridge, if you can take public transportation or a rideshare, you should by all means!
If you don’t live far or are staying relatively close in San Francisco, utilizing companies like Uber or Lyft could be a great option – that way you can skip the parking hassle and let your driver navigate!
Travel Tip: If you are taking your vehicle to get to the bridge, it doesn’t matter where you are parking – don’t leave anything inside. Clear your car out before you head out, and don’t stuff things in the glove compartment or under seats as thieves are smart and can use equipment to detect wireless and Bluetooth activity. Car break-ins and smash-and-grabs have been out-of-control in the past few years, so the only way to avert them is to leave nothing of value inside. If you have an alarm or dash cam, make sure it is on, although this probably still won’t prevent a theft from occurring.
If rideshare or public transport is not an option, here are some places to park near the Golden Gate Bridge:
- Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center: The Welcome Center is not a must-see in my opinion but still worth a visit if you like learning about a landmark’s history or want to purchase commemorative merchandise. The center, located on the side going into San Francisco from the south, offers very limited parking with a 3-hour maximum time allotment. It’s often everyone’s go-to for parking since its one of the closest parking areas in proximity to the bridge. The big advantage is if you are lucky enough to snag a spot, it’s a short walk to the bridge. However, be aware the lot is often closed various times throughout the year so check before you go.
- Vista Point Parking Lot: There are less places to park on the north side of the bridge than the south, but one option on the Marin side is this spot in Sausalito. It can get crowded due to less parking in the area and also being the first parking lot you approach when crossing the bridge from San Francisco. From this spot, you can walk to the east sidewalk of the bridge. There is a 4-hour limit, parking is free during that time.
- East Beach Crissy Field Parking Lot: Free on weekdays with a 3-hour limit, paid parking on the weekends with an all-day option. 15-minute walk but with a somewhat precarious pathway. Elderly visitors or those with physical limitations may want to choose a different parking site due to the steep terrain to get to the bridge. The Waming Hut is also located walking distance from here on the beach trail leading to the bridge and offers patrons a place to grab a snack, coffee and small souvenir selections. This could also be a good resting point if you need to stop before making the trek from this location.
- Battery East Parking Lot: This parking lot provides endless panoramic views of the bay and the bridge. There’s a great trail for walking and a short route through a tunnel leading you to your destination. Usually less crowded than other parking lots. There is a fee to park, coins or credit cards accepted.
Golden Gate Bridge Parking Resources:
Know The Best Time To Visit The Golden Gate Bridge
The best time to visit the Golden Gate Bridge is…debatable. I hesitate to advise that there is a best season to visit the Golden Gate Bridge, as the city by the bay’s weather can often be unpredictable. The summer months can see the most fog; however, fog can exist erratically year-round, just as much as it’s possible to have a 90-degree day in mid-November.
With that said, my personal favorite time to visit is September and October, once most of the hotter weather has passed and before the rainy season begins (California tends to be primarily dry until November), but this is always subject to change.
It will be cold nearly any month you go during early morning (5 a.m. to 11 a.m. and evening hours after 6p.m. – typically being so close to the water. Wind is also something to remember, as it can be blustery, especially during the colder months. Another weather element you may not have thought about is the presence of fog, and what is often referred to as Karl The Fog (yes, you can follow Karl on Twitter). There can be little to no visibility on days when fog is present, so visiting the bridge during a day with heavy mist would significantly impact your ability to see scenic views. My recommendation for the least chance of fog is to reach the bridge around noon when the mist will mostly dissipate, and enjoy it through about 4p.m. when the fog begins to roll back in during late afternoon and before nightfall.
I think photos closer to sunset make for the most photogenic, but you have to plan accordingly to ensure you give yourself plenty of time to get across both ways (the walkway closes when it gets dark).
Know That You Should Dress In Layers For The Elements
You should dress in layers when visiting the Golden Gate Bridge as the weather in San Francisco can change by the hour. It will almost always start off cold, and as the fog burns off, the sun will peek out of the clouds, and you can feel warm in a matter of minutes. The best way to avoid being caught off guard is to dress in layers to quickly adapt to the weather changes without feeling uncomfortably cold or hot (here’s our full SF packing list). Since I always run warm, that would mean wearing long leggings, a tank top, a cardigan I could wrap around my waist, and a pair of Converse due to the amount of walking. In a mini backpack purse, I would slip in a small wallet, a pair of sandals for later on in the day, and lip balm. Since it can be very windy on the bridge and in the surrounding walking areas, I would wear my hair up to keep it out of my eyes and have a pair of sunglasses on me.
Know That The Golden Gate Bridge Is Worth Visiting
The Golden Gate Bridge is worth visiting for someone who is new to exploring San Francisco! It’s almost always a guarantee when an out-of-towner is visiting me in San Jose, I orchestrate a trip to San Francisco; there are so many activities that can make up an entire day when you use the Golden Gate Bridge as your starting point.
Seeing the bridge up close and personal is a glorious experience, knowing it was finished during the Great Depression in 1937, symbolizing a milestone of progress for the United States. At the time of completion, the Golden Gate Bridge stood as one of the tallest suspension bridges in the world, creating a new standard for suspension bridge design, with no other bridge surpassing its height until the Verrazano bridge was constructed in New York in 1964.
It’s difficult not to have a surreal moment when on the bridge, as you’ll feel tiny under such a magnificent steel structure as a light mist touches your skin, the wind breezes through your hair, you hear the sound of ships passing below with an occasional fog horn, and you watch as cars zoom by in both directions, all while viewing a gorgeous panoramic view of where the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean meet.
Have you ever visited the Golden Gate Bridge? What tips would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below! As always, I love hearing from you!