With a span of 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers), it takes on average 35 minutes to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. That’s the perfect length of time for a morning or afternoon activity in San Francisco, and a neat way of getting your recommended daily cardio in one go.
Whether by virtue of its scale, engineering ingenuity or associated health benefits, the Golden Gate Bridge is among the city’s most popular attractions: 10,000,000 people visit it every year. Every day, thousands cram onto the bridge, meaning crowds are a fact of life at all hours – though they’re especially bad at sunset on a clear day.
These tips can’t dispel the crowds (or the fog) at the world’s most famous bridge – though certain times are better to visit than others – but they will ensure a safe, fulfilling trip.
While parking is available next to the bridge, it isn’t recommended. There are only a few dozen spaces near the walkers’ entrance, and the rest of the limited supply is on the other side of the highway. The time you spend struggling for a parking space or hiking over from one of the distant satellite lots would be better spent using Golden Gate Transit. The city’s bus system drops riders off at the entrance to the bridge, and only costs $2.50 for a hop-on/hop-off ticket. Some tour companies offer practically the same service – at a premium. What’s more, all the parking lots are metered; using public transit means you needn’t worry about how much time is left before you get a ticket.
Most of the time, pedestrians and cyclists are expected to share the bridge’s eastern sidewalk. (During peak weekday hours and at the weekend, cyclists should use the western sidewalk.) It feels spacious if nobody is around, but becomes narrower and narrower as people crowd the bridge. Surprise gusts of wind that throw cyclists and pedestrians off balance further complicate the issue.
Collisions happen. Not all the time, of course, but often enough that authorities have considered implementing a 10mph (16kph) speed limit. The best thing you can do is stay alert to cyclists, even when getting in position for that all-important mid-crossing photo.
The trick to being a good neighbor while walking the bridge is to avoid clogging up the sidewalk. It may look wide, but you’ve got to remember that it’s potentially accommodating four lanes of traffic at a given moment. If everyone keeps up a steady pace and sticks to the right, things will keep moving along nicely; however, you can still stop whenever you want, to have a rest or take in a view of the Bay, by stepping out of the flow of traffic.
It might sound silly, but, if someone wants to pass, just let them. People use the bridge in all kinds of ways – they might be pushing their children across in strollers or getting in their evening run – and no one benefits from the way being blocked. Just think, Karl (the infamous San Francisco fog) might just see your good deed and clear out in time for your perfect selfie.
Picture-taking is easily the most frequent cause of sidewalk clog. Most of the time, families are the worst culprits: one member of the clan will take a picture of the rest, and then someone will tag out so that the photographer can get in on the action ad infinitum. Just be proactive and offer to take the perfect group portrait – with Alcatraz in the background, obviously.
Speaking of picture-taking, be super wary with selfie sticks, whether they’re your own or belong to strangers/new friends on the bridge. Again, the sidewalk is deceptively narrow, and the last thing anyone needs is a selfie stick swinging wildly around – least of all one wielded by a cyclist. In the end, it all comes down to you being the Instagrammer you want to see in the world.
There are a few times when fewer people are likely to be on the bridge. Plan your trip for mid-morning on a weekday to ensure the locals who commute across the bridge will be busy at work. Braving cooler temperatures will reward you with even more personal space. The city is famous for its frigid summer temperatures – as Mark Twain said, “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco” – so this crowd-thinning combo can be found at almost any time of the year. (Just don’t go when it’s raining: there will be no one there, but the walk will be miserable.)
If all you do is walk, it will take about 35 minutes to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Accounting for stops to enjoy the views (and take selfies), the time it takes you to complete a one-way trip can easily climb to an hour or more. If a two-hour return trip, without ready access to bathrooms or snacks or places to sit down, doesn’t sound ideal, it’s probably prudent to consider a get-out plan.
Turning around part of the way across is a tried-and-tested method, and might be easiest if you decide to drive and happen to score a spot in one of the lots. Hop-on/hop-off bus ticket holders can cross into the lookout area on the Marin side of the bridge and take public transit back. You can also turn your bridge crossing into an adventure by following the coast down to Sausalito. This seaside hamlet has boutique shopping and a variety of restaurants, as well as a ferry that sails directly to the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero.
Life is short, and walking the Golden Gate Bridge is something everyone should do at least once. Feeling the briny air in your hair while gliding hundreds of feet above the churning ocean is exhilarating. Even ‘bad’ weather has its charms up there: a howling wind blocks out the incessant traffic; a visit from Karl cloaks the endeavor in a mystery that approaches pure fantasy. The walk itself can be stressful if you let the questionable choices of your fellow crossers get to you, but just remember you’re there to have a good time, and everything else will work itself out.