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Golden Gate Bridge

by Cyndy Ainsworth

Since its completion in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge has come to symbolize the city of San Francisco in the same way that the Eiffel Tower symbolizes Paris. With its spectacular location, elegant Art Deco styling, and distinctive International Orange color, the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the world's most beautiful (and most photographed) bridges.

First the statistics: the bridge took more than four years to build at cost of $35 million. It's 1.7 miles long and at mid span is 220 feet above the water. The main cables are 36.5 inches in diameter and contain 80,000 miles of steel wire strands. The bridge was built to withstand winds of up to 100 miles per hour and may sway up to 27 feet at mid span. At the time it was built, its clear span of 4200 feet made it the longest suspension bridge in the world, a title it retained until the opening of New York's Verrazano-Narrows bridge in 1964.

The best way to experience the bridge is to walk across. The walk takes about an hour round trip, and you should be prepared for both wind and traffic noise. There are parking areas at both the north and south ends of the bridge. At the south end there's also a garden that pays tribute to the workers who built the bridge and a gift shop. At the vista point at the north end you get great views of the San Francisco skyline in addition to the view of the bridge.

Many tourists never venture beyond these two vista point parking lots, and that's a shame as there are unusual views just a few step away. From the south end you can wind your way through a shady eucalyptus grove down to Fort Point, an historic fort situated under the south end of the bridge. Built between 1853 and 1861 to protect San Francisco from sea attack, Fort Point was almost destroyed when the Golden Gate Bridge was being constructed, as the bridge plans called for the southern anchorage to be right on the site of the fort. Fortunately the plans were changed to move the anchorage on land and the fort was saved. There are panoramic vistas from several overlooks just off the path on the way down to Fort Point plus a superb view of the bay and of the underside of the bridge once you're down at water level.

In the afternoon when the bridge is lit from the west, you may want to head out to the western end of the city so that you are looking in at the Golden Gate. Baker Beach (off Lincoln Boulevard), China Beach (off Seacliff Avenue), and Lincoln Park (on El Camino del Mar just below the Palace of the Legion of Honor) all offer good views and free parking.

Golden Gate Bridge Details

Pedestrians may access the east sidewalk, located near the Strauss statue, from 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. seven days a week. Roller Blades, Skateboards and Roller Skates are not permitted. Bicyclists may access the sidewalks as follows: Monday-Friday 5 am to 3:30 pm - east sidewalk
Monday-Friday 3:30 pm to 9 pm - west sidewalk
Monday-Friday 9 pm to 5 am - east sidewalk
Saturday, Sunday, Holidays 5 am to 9 pm - west sidewalk
Saturday, Sunday, Holiday 9 pm to 5 am - east sidewalk

Metered parking for up to two hours is available at the south end parking lot. If the lot is full (or even if it's not), there is additional free parking if you don't mind a walk. If you drive through the parking lot, go under the highway underpass, and proceed beyond the parking area for bridge employees, there's unlimited parking along the side of the road. With the seismic retrofit project currently underway, there's an extreme parking crunch in this area, so you might not have any luck there, but it's worth a try..

Free parking is available on the north end. Fort Point is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday. Admission is free. Parking is also free, though finding a space can be difficult on busy weekends.

Visit goldengate.org for any updated changes.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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