One of the best ways to see and experience the Golden Gate Bridge is to walk across the iconic crossing of the golden gate. Walking the Golden Gate bridge has become incredibly popular and there are many tours and excursions to guide you across. There is very little need for a tour guide though and you can very simply and easily organize this trip yourself at almost zero cost. Walking across the golden gate bridge is a truly special experience as you experience one of America’s most famous landmarks along with some unbelievable views of both the City and the surrounding bay area.
We will also cover some information in the article on how to cycle across Golden Gate Bridge as this is also a very popular activity and is pretty much the same as Cyclists and Pedestrians share a walkway.
Facts and Information about the Golden Gate Bridge
Let’s Start off with a little information about the bridge. After all, the walk is quite long and you will need some snippets of information to impress whoever you are walking with.
The Bridge Span is 1280m which is pretty meaningless to most. The actual distance you need to walk to cross the bridge is just shy of 1.8miles.
Built in 1937 the bridge was built to span the golden gate an important American trade route. The lack of a bridge connecting the coastal communities of the bay was constricting the city’s development putting well behind the national average in terms of growth. However, the Gate’s Topography meant the bridge was beyond the technological and financial constraints of the time, along with the issue that the Gate needed to remain open for heavy shipping so any bridge would need to be tall to allow for clearance.
A team of ambitious young designers conceived the elegant design which was deemed impossible by the experts and much cheaper than anyone imagined. History has shown the Chief designer (Joeseph Stauss) who claimed most of the credit at the time had little to do with the actual successful design. Their Suspension design pushed the technology of the time to its limit and managed to do it in such a beautiful way.
The Trademark Orange / Red color was not an aesthetic consideration but was simply the natural color of the weatherproofing chosen. The Bridge cost a total of over $35 Million (that would be $3.5 billion in 2017). It is held together with over 1.2 Million Rivets.
While incredibly Iconic the bridge is not actually all that big, certainly not compared to other Bridges. However, 80 years ago when the bridge was opened it was indeed longer and taller than any bridge in the world which has helped build its reputation. Of course, if you are not measuring the bridge and are not a Bridge aficionado you may well not care and the bridge is still a very impressive sight. It is also a very picturesque structure set upon an incredible backdrop. Aesthetically it far surpasses the industrial ugliness of most of the modern monsters that have usurped it.
As we are from the UK a perfect case in point is the Humber Bridge. This spans a far greater distance than the golden gate and as an engineering feat beats it in every way. But aesthetically it’s not even close. The Humber is an ugly concrete monster spanning a dull muddy estuary in a dreary part of the world where it’s normally raining. This is a stark contrast to the majestic red towers spanning an iconic stretch of water between towering highlands with views of a bustling US metropolis. We have driven over the Humber bridge many times and never once got our camera out.
First, you need to decide which direction you are going to walk the bridge. You can Tackle the bridge from either side. City.South Side or Marin/North Side. You can walk one way or “there and back” or even halfway then back, from either end. So which is best?
1.8 Miles is quite a walk for some so walking out halfway and then back is perfect for a lot of people. The best views tend to come around the halfway mark so there is no massive need to go the whole way. If you want to walk the full distance but not back again you then have the issue of getting back to the start.
Pedestrians are only permitted to walk the East Side of the Bridge which is the Side facing the City. While Cycles are permitted to use both walkways. This takes any cyclists not out for a leisurely ride, out of conflict with the pedestrian traffic. Fortunately, the best views are from the east side looking back towards the City.
We tend to prefer to start from the North/Marin side. Walking it from the North Side means you can walk out halfway for great views and also then hike up to battery spencer for incredible views of the bridge itself. While you can do this from the south/city side the overall walk will be around 5 miles which is a considerable distance and really too much for most people. While Parking on the NorthSide or getting the bus is more expensive the payoff is you get to either drive or ride across the bridge which in itself is quite an experience. There are however very few amenities on the Northside.
The east side is far better equipped to handle tourists with the welcome center, shop, and restrooms. It’s probably more suited to people wanting a very short out halfway and back trip or more hardcore walkers who feel 5+ miles or walking is no problem.
Golden Gate Transit
The Golden Gate area has its own transport system which enables you to get from most places in San Francisco to any point of the Golden Gate area. the full system schedule and maps can be found here.
Fares are complicated and hard to work out, as they are based on zones and cover travel over a large area, however, from anywhere in San Francisco to the golden gate Bridge should cost $4.00 each way for an Adult. If you want to go across the bridge that will be $6.00 from anywhere in San Francisco. hence why we suggest starting your walk from the City side of the bridge.
If you have a muni pass you can use limited Muni Services to get to the south side of the bridge. Unfortunately, there are no Trams or Cable cars that operate out to the Bridge however the Bus does run to the Golden Gate Welcome area. The bus you need is Number 28 from Fort Mason, Van Ness Ave, near Fishermans Wharf / Aquatic Park. Bus fares are $2.75 each way.
See our guide to Public transport in San Franciso here.
There is a weekend and holiday service running every 60 – 90 mins to the Marin highlands if you really want to walk halfway. Or you wish to explore the highlands without a car.
If you are planning to cycle the bridge then the 3.6 miles is really not very much at all so most people will cycle from either where they are staying or where they rent the cycles from. All good Cycle rental shops will give a good guide as to how to reach the bridge and what route to take. However, It’s important to note San Francisco has some REALLY steep hills. Any route you plan should avoid these at all costs. Not only will these hills be a REAL killer to get up, but the descents are so severe they are really dangerous, especially with the cable car tracks and uneven surfaces. We advise getting to the bay Coast as soon as possible and following it around till you get to the bridge to avoid any hills. (I am a very competent, competitive cyclist But San Francisco’s hills can be extremely severe even for me! I would not even attempt on a rental bike)
There is parking on either side of the bridge but it’s fairly limited and expensive. Crossing the Bridge also incurs a toll of $8.50 per car. This is an electronic Toll and if you are in a Rental car there will normally be an Added fee for using the “automatic” toll System.
South Side – By Parking on the South Side you can avoid paying the Toll which saves quite a bit of money, but you will then need to pay for parking. There are two lots a small metered ($5 for 3 hours max) lot on the South East side and a larger lot on the Southwest priced at $7 a day.
North Side – To access the car park from San Francisco you will need to pay the toll (collected electronically) and then take the first exit to the main parking lot. This has a good amount of parking and is actually free for 4 hours (but you have to pay the Toll) This is plenty of time to explore the Highland and walk the entire bridge and back with loads of stops to view and take photos.
Of course, you could just walk to the bridge, however, it’s a fair old trek. Starting in Fishermans Wharf it’s around the 3.5-4 mile mark each way depending on the route. And that’s before you start the bridge. This would limit the option to only very fit walkers who are willing to commit to a good amount of time. That said if you follow the bayfront it’s a beautiful walk through multiple parks and well worth the time. Really with a distance of 1.8 miles each way on the bridge itself (plus the walk up to battery spencer, 1.6 miles) It is really only for hardcore walkers.
Experienced Runners may find this sort of distance far more manageable and it is indeed very popular with local runners. And an Epic Half marathon distance run can be completed from the city out across the bridge and back. You should know instantly if that is something that appeals to you or not.
Walking Across – what to expect
The trails leading up to the Bridge walkways are clearly signposted and marked for either cyclists or pedestrians. Simply follow the signs and most days the crowds. Starting from the South the initial coastal path out from the car park offers staggering views of the bridge stretching out across the bay. After following the paths you will eventually get to the gateways that mark the start of the bridge proper.
The paths are separated from the traffic and have high barriers on the Dropside so you can’t accidentally fall. The walkways are partially separated into two lanes by the use of paint. the right-hand lane for cyclists and the left-hand lane for pedestrians. While this works well there are often wayward pedestrians and cyclists so care should be taken by all.
Now on the Bridge properly you will find every few hundred meters there are pullouts from the main walkway allowing you to get out of the way and take in the phenomenal views. We strongly recommend these for anyone wanting to take photos as people are not always the most courteous and may bump into you as they pass. Not aggressively but enough to ruin a photo. The walkway is quite narrow and isn’t really designed for the number of people who walk it nowadays, designed in the 1930s as a transport link they must have had no idea the potential as a tourist destination!
The Outside fence is not particularly high. High enough that it’s impossible to have an accidental fall. But it’s not so high it provides much protection to the exposure that the bridge creates. You have the feeling of being very small, very high up with very little protection. Most people will feel little more than a rush of excitement. It’s not so exposed to be terrifying, but it certainly is a pretty exhilarating walk. Anyone with a known fear of heights, exposure or vertigo should maybe give this a miss. However, the nature of the bridge means you could give it a try. It gets worse as you go along so if after a few hundred meters it starts to feel too much you can simply turn tail and head back.
As you approach halfway the views out to the City are breathtaking. The Whole bay is visible and you take in the sights of the area. The City Skyline, Alcatraz, The Marin Highlands, and the North Shore of the bay. It is probably the best view in the City.
Cycling Across Golden Gate Bridge – What to Expect
Cycling is much the same experience. For the most part, cyclists share the same paths. only separated by painted lines. Obviously, the trip takes a lot less time. during busy times it’s important to take extra care as the narrow paths can be chock full of pedestrians who are often not always walking where they should. It’s not the place to practice your finishing sprint or perform intervals. The exposed nature can also make it pretty challenging with either strong headwinds or pretty gusty side winds. Still, it’s only 1.8 miles and pretty flat.
You are required to use different sides of the bridge at different times so check our best time section below for when you need to use which walkway.
Blazing Saddles have multiple outlets all over San Francisco if you are looking for rentals and a full day’s hire is included in the San Francisco Go Card, which you can read about in our San Francisco Go Card Review.
On the north side of the bridge are the Marin Highlands. These hills allow expansive panoramic views of both the bay and the bridge. A lot of people combine a walk or drive up to the vista points with a walk across the bridge. One of the best Vista points is Battery Spencer and this is just a short hike, around 1.6 miles round trip, from the north side of the bridge. From here you will get the iconic shots of the golden gate bridge with San Francisco in the background. The views are well worth the hike up. It’s a long walk from the South Side but much shorter if you just park on the north side and walk halfway across the bridge and back then up to battery spencer.
There is little to be concerned about for adults as far as safety goes. The Walking paths are separated from motorized traffic by a fence and the drop-side has a large high barrier separating you from any fall. Unless you choose to climb any of these you can’t hurt yourself. The same can be said for children but obviously, parents should be aware Children are not always as sensible as adults and it’s their responsibility to keep an eye on them. But they would have to go out of their way to scale the drop-side barrier.
If there are high winds you may wish to give the walk a miss. We doubt you could ever be blown from the bridge but the exposure out there would make for a fairly unpleasant journey anyway. Another danger could be exposure on a cold day as the deck is highly exposed but you are more likely to get cold and miserable and turn back than be in any real danger.
In fact, the only real risk is from the conflict between cyclists and Walker. Normally caused by one or the other, normally both, not paying attention. Most cycle traffic is fairly slow and should be aware of wayward walkers and walkers should always pay attention to the potential of cyclists. The paths are wide and with a little care and attention from both parties, there should be no issues. But not everyone pays attention so it pays to be extra vigilant as you can normally mitigate a collision even if the other party is not as attentive.
Unfortunately, the Bridge is not open to pedestrians 24 hours a day. The main reason for this is fairly gruesome as the bridge has been used in the past as a suicide location. So to protect people as best as possible the bridge is closed during the small hours of the night. Opening hours vary depending on the time of year.
Pacific Standard Time: 5 am to 6:30 pm
Daylight Savings Time: 5 am to 9 pm
This means only at certain times of the year is it possible to walk the bridge in the hours of darkness. So for most of the year, there is little difference in when to walk it. During busy times it will be a lot quieter to make the crossing in the early morning. Very early and you are likely to have the bridge to yourselves. However, in the late spring-early summer the bridge is liable to be shrouded in the infamous Bay Fog. While this can lead to some staggering views of the bridge, especially from the Marin Highlands. It can also more likely obscure any views whatsoever from anywhere. This for most would spoil the entire purpose of the trip, so in fog season we would wait till well into the afternoon before venturing out. It may be busier but at least there will be something to see! After 3:30 on weekdays Cyclists are not allowed on the east walkway which does help with crowding.
Weather is also a consideration early morning in the winter out on the bridge can be very cold. The wind can be very cutting as there is next to no cover anywhere on the bridge. For more information on weather and fog in San Francisco read our guide.
Cyclists have 24-hour access to cross the bridge but the timings for this are pretty complicated and liable to change. We advise checking goldengatebridge.org for up-to-date opening times. At certain times of the day, you need to buzz for security to open the gate so they can follow you on CCTV as you cross the bridge. We don’t particularly advise you to do this unless it is for transport purposes, which isn’t the purpose of this article. During normal opening hours, the gates are open. But you will be required to use certain walkways.
As mentioned in the beginning, there are many tour operators willing to charge you for a guided tour. The main benefit to these is they will normally provide transportation to the start so if this is worth the money to you then feel free to go ahead, most operators are reputable and offer great insights into the bridge. We are just the type of people who prefer to DIY things.
Have Your Say
Have you walked the Bridge before? Let us know your experience by leaving a comment below. Maybe you cycled it? Again we would love to hear about it? Are you planning to include it on your next trip? If so let us know if you have any questions or if you have anything at all to say we love reading your comments.