San Francisco, the vibrant heart of Northern California and a bustling, cosmopolitan hub of energy and culture, is also the fourth most populous city in California. Known as a centre for liberal activism, San Francisco is remembered for the Summer of Love and is a centre for the gay rights movement. It is a popular tourist destination for many reasons, not just its welcoming atmosphere but also its superb architecture, its hills and steep steps, and famous landmarks including the prison on Alcatraz Island, San Francisco City Hall and the Conservatory of Flowers.
The most famous landmark of them all, of course, is the Golden Gate Bridge. This iconic structure, with its distinctive red colouring and soaring towers, is instantly recognisable and stands as a symbol of the entire city. At about 1.7 miles, with a six lane width of 27 metres and a height of 227 metres, the bridge is vast. It stretches over the Golden Gate, the point where the city opens to the Pacific Ocean, and links San Francisco to Marin County; as one of the major arteries of the city, it is part of US Route 101 and California Route 1, with at least 120,000 vehicles crossing daily.
Pedestrians and cyclists also use the bridge, and indeed a walk along its length is one of the must-do experiences in San Francisco. Or take advantage of car hire in San Francisco and head out across the bridge to the beautiful parks beyond.
The Golden Gate Bridge has won numerous accolades for its design, being considered one of the wonders of the modern world and one of the most beautiful bridges in the world. It is a magnificent feat of engineering and still one of the longest suspension bridges in existence. Its colour, international orange, was chosen to enhance the natural surroundings and also for fog visibility, the city also being famous for the rolling fogs from the Pacific Ocean. Art Deco elements were incorporated into the bridge’s towers, walkways and streetlights.
The Golden Gate Bridge can be viewed from many spots. For a bird’s eye view from above, climb Hawk Hill; afterwards you could soak up the views from Kirby Cove, just a short hike from Hawk Hill. Fort Point gives up close views of the structure, while heading out south brings you to Battery Crosby, where superb views can be had. There’s also a nice little beach here. Of course some of the best views can be had on the bridge itself. For a different perspective, head out to Alcatraz; sunset and night tours are the best times to appreciate the incredible atmosphere.
From the infamous to the merely iconic; while the Golden Gate Bridge gets the full glory, its cousin, Oakland Bay Bridge, is sometimes forgotten about. But at over four miles, and with over 280,000 vehicles per day, Oakland Bay has an even longer span and carries over twice as many vehicles. Actually a pair of bridges, Oakland Bay Bridge – sometimes simply known as the Bay Bridge – is part of Interstate 80 and the main artery between San Francisco and Oakland. It was opened in 1936, a year before the Golden Gate Bridge.
Unlike the Golden Gate Bridge, however, there is no pedestrian access. A drive along its length is an incredible experience, but one best saved for the middle of the day to avoid commuting peak periods. Over the bridge is Treasure Island, where you can get fantastic views of the city skyline. Otherwise, on the city side, the Embarcadero waterfront also offers excellent views of this amazing structure.