The Best Things to Do at the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is magnificent and it still invokes excitement and awe every time we cross its expanse. And there are actually a number of activities you can do right on and around the bridge that many people never stop to do. So, don’t be those people…stop and enjoy this area in the shadow of this iconic bridge.
#1 - Walk Across the Bridge
We lived within an hour of the bridge for over 17 years before we ever got motivated enough to trek the entire span of the bridge. I know people who have lived in the area their entire lives and never walked across the bridge. So, do what we say, not what we do – walk across the bridge. It’s simply a very cool thing to do.
But, be forewarned, it’s longer than you think. The span is 1.7 miles (2,700 m) long and you will feel like it takes FOREVER before you are actually walking over water instead of land. However, if you start from the south end of the bridge and walk north, you walk over water earlier than if you start from the north end and head south.
Also, it’s a little hard to plan for the weather on the bridge because it can be completely sunny and nice to the north of the bridge or even in San Francisco itself to the south, but the bridge will be completely consumed by fog and windy. Or, it may be the exact opposite. It’s has it’s own microclimate, so plan for all weather contingencies when you go…sun, fog, drizzle, wind, cold, or hot.
However, the views from the bridge are amazing. On a clear day you can see far into the bay and view Alcatraz, Angel Island, both spans of the Bay Bridge, the Richmond-San Rafael bridge, and the entire city of San Francisco. Plus, it is quite something to stand at the bottom of one of the two towers and look straight up. You truly appreciate this feat of engineering.
#2 - Visit the Welcome Center on the South End of the Bridge
The Welcome Center on the southeast side of the bridge has some interesting exhibits and unique bridge-related trinkets. The Center is part of the larger Visitor Plaza which also includes the Round House Café and a small snack shack. The entire area looks fairly new and is very nicely maintained with manicured flower displays too. It's a nice place to start your bridge adventure. The photo at the top of this post is taken from the area near the Welcome Center.
#3 - Drive the Marin Headlands
The Marin Headlands are northwest of the bridge and are large hills that you can drive up to get spectacular views of the bridge and the city beyond. From the bridge drive Conzelman Road until you find an open parking area or an elevation that you like. Then get out and enjoy the iconic view of the bridge and city below. I’ve included a photo to prove it. Just breathtaking.
#4 - Go Hands-On at the Bay Area Discovery Museum
On the northeast side of the bridge in the Fort Baker area is the Bay Area Discovery Museum. It is a beautiful, hands-on museum for toddlers to young kids (less than about 10 years old). Their exhibits are clever and include messy art projects, unique outdoor play areas, and displays to make you build stuff. I highly, highly recommend this place to anyone who visits the area with young kiddos.
#5 - Eat on the Parade Ground in the Presidio
The Presidio is the sprawling former military area south of the bridge. I feel that it is a highly overlooked and untapped treasure by most in the heart of the bustling city. It is full of old military buildings, massive houses, and boundless green space. The area is certainly starting to earn some attention though as museums, art galleries, and unique business attractions such as a trampoline park have moved in. Plus, the area is undergoing extensive construction of new walking overpasses and roads, and renovating many former military buildings into useful spaces.
A whole post could be written on the fun things to do in the Presidio, but I will limit it to one…go to Off the Grid’s weekly Presidio Picnic. Every Sunday from 11am to 4pm over two dozen gourmet food trucks line the Main Parade Ground in the Presidio and sell their yummy wares. Bring a blanket and an empty belly to enjoy amazing international flavors such as Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Mediterranean, Mexican, Argentine, Venezuelan, and American BBQ. There is food, drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), informational exhibits, and lawn games. And it’s completely FREE to attend, aside from the meter parking, of which there are plenty of spaces. It is a fun, great way to spend the afternoon.
#6 - Toss Rocks in the Bay at the West Bluff Beach
A surprisingly easy beach to visit while at the Golden Gate Bridge is West Bluff Beach. Located on the southeast side of the bridge on the west end of the Crissy Field area, it can be reached by a short walk from the Welcome Center. I can’t even tell you the exact trail to take between the two as we typically simply meander on the Welcome Center’s main trail and head towards the beach to the east instead of Fort Point to the west. Trust me, you'll find it when you visit.
The water is usually a bit too cold to swim in, although some brave souls can be found frolicking around in the waves. But it is great for throwing rocks into San Francisco Bay or burying yourself in the sand.
Check out this website before you visit to learn if there are any traffic delays, parking issues, or events on the bridge that may hamper your visit: http://www.goldengatebridge.org
No dogs: Dogs are not allowed to walk on the bridge, so leave Fido at home.
Walking side: Walking across the bridge is only permitted on the east sidewalk of the bridge. Bikers are directed to ride on the east sidewalk or the west sidewalk depending on the time and day of the week. See the website above for the schedule and details.
Parking: I prefer to park on the south end of the bridge because it seems easier and doesn’t fill like the parking lot on the north end does. Or at least that is what I tell myself. But, in short, on popular weekends, parking around the bridge can be difficult, so have a plan and be patient.
Visit the rest of the NRA:The bridge is part of the much larger Golden Gate National Recreation Area which is managed by the National Park Service (https://www.nps.gov/goga/index.htm). You really can't go wrong visiting any of the places in this NRA.