Regardless of the weather, this California icon never fails to produce gasps of wonder from those seeing it for the first time, whether basking under a clear blue sky or barely piercing the rippling layers of fog. For close-up views or distant perspectives from across the city, we’ve got the lowdown on where to set up your tripod, or to simply stand and stare…
For detailed inspections
For the kind of view where you can actually feel the sea spray on your face, head to Fort Point National Historic Site, a Civil War-era brick fort almost directly under the southern end of the bridge, which protected the harbour from attack during the Civil War period. You can reach the Fort via Marine Drive at Crissy Field or via Bike Route 202 through the Presidio. Free 30-minute guided tours are available.
Crissy Field itself is a former airfield located just south of the bridge in the Presidio and is one of the best places to stop and take stock if you’re doing the ever-popular San Francisco to Sausalito bike ride, an easy and exhilarating day trip (rent bikes from Blazing Saddles or Bike and Roll at Fisherman’s Wharf). All along the waterfront are fabulous views of the bridge, so grab a coffee from the Warming Hut or Beach Hut Cafe and find a quiet bench for a moment or two.
For dramatic views
On the western side of the bridge below a mile of jagged cliffs, Baker Beach offers some of the very best Golden Gate views in the city. Accessible by local MUNI bus (route 29), the beach offers picnic facilities with tables and grilles and is understandably popular (and crowded) on sunny days. Bear in mind that a nudist beach occupies the northernmost end of Baker Beach.
At the edge of the Seacliff neighbourhood, China Beach is a diminutive stretch of beach only accessible by a steep, paved driveway or a 100-step natural staircase, apparently named for the Chinese fishermen who used to fish and camp here. It offers similar views of the Marin Headlands and Golden Gate as Baker Beach just to the north, but feels more off the beaten path.
Back in the Presidio, a paved, pedestrian-friendly foot trail called Lover’s Lane winds its way from the Presidio Gate at the corner of Pacific and Presidio Avenues in Presidio Heights towards the Presidio’s Main Post; the heart of the park which marks the site of 1776 Spanish garrison. At various points and overlooks along the mile-long trail are thrilling glimpses of the bridge, which gradually fade from view as you start to near Main Post.
There are some incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Eagle’s Point trailhead of Land’s End near Lincoln Park. The popular easy-to-moderate hiking trail – which is just a short walking distance from the Legion of Honor – offers many worthwhile detours including another 100-step stairway leading down to Mile Rock Beach. Those less fit or pushed for time might prefer the paved footpath near the 17th hole of the Lincoln Park Municipal Golf Course, where there are several places to stop, rest and take in the astounding views.
For cityscape perspectives
One of our favourites, the views across San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean from the Hamon Observation Tower at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park are simply lovely, especially in the late afternoon. The museum itself requires admission, but you can hot foot it up to the observation deck for free, until 4.30pm every day.
Coit Tower is a 210 foot narrow white column on the top of Telegraph Hill in North Beach, built at the bequest of wealthy socialite Lillie Hitchcock Coit who left funds to ‘beautify’ the city of San Francisco in the 1930s. It’s one of the most popular viewpoints in all of the city and you’ll undoubtedly be sharing the moment with many others, but it’s definitely one of the finest, especially on a clear day. There’s an observation deck at the top of the tower, but the views from the car park are just as great.
For a view of Golden Gate from across the water, head to the Vista Point Overlook at the northern end of the bridge or Conzelman Road which weaves its way up through the Marin Headlands. Admittedly both locations are often crawling with tourists and it can be difficult to find a place to park, but if you come early in the morning or later at night you should be able to escape the worst of the crowds and come away with some classic shots of the bridge with the city skyline behind it.
If you want to venture further afield, check out our mini road trip from San Francisco to Point Reyes – in our opinion, one of the best short drives in northern California.
Virgin Atlantic operates daily flights to San Francisco from London Heathrow.