If you want to see the Golden Gate Bridge the way locals see it, you’ve got three good options.
And SQUEEZING across in the Bridge’s jammed pedestrian lanes is definitely not one of them.
Unless you enjoy walking. Very. Very. Oh. So. Slow. Ly.
Option #1: Take The Low Road
Meet me…living in San Francisco’s Marina District in the early 80’s. It was here that I discovered “the low road” for sightseeing the Golden Gate Bridge (cocktail in hand – watching the sun setting outside the Gate).
To get an incredible, not to mention uncrowded, view of the bridge, you’ve gotta head to Chrissy Field, part of Golden Gate National Park. It sits right on the edge of the bay, tucked just inside the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB) and began life in 1921 as a military airfield. That’s a couple decades BEFORE the US Air Force was created in 1947!
You can start walking, or biking, along the Golden Gate Promenade at the edge of the bay, and go all the way out to old Fort Point, directly under the GGB. The Fort was one of 30 forts built for the U.S. coastal defense system from 1817 to 1867 – and the only one on the West Coast. There’s a free tour and you can find out more, and the days it’s open, here.
Just east of Fort Point, there’s an area known as West Bluff where you’ll find the Warming Hut Bookstore and Cafe housed in a 1909 building (and originally used as a U.S. Engineer Storehouse.)
Go Cindi Style: Plan to stop for a warm beverage because – even on sunny days – the wind off the Bay whips sand through the air and burrows down to your bones. In San Francisco-speak it’s called a wet-cold. You’ll believe it when you feel it!
The Warming Hut is also a park information center and you can learn about the restoration of all the beach, dunes and tidal wetlands along Chrissy Field.
There are paths from the West Bluff to Fort Point with access to the Bridge. It’s so worth it to walk up to the Bridge and catch the views. You’ll find them in every direction from the Golden Gate – and they’re incredible. To get there, find the trailhead next to some stairs on the right of the fort and follow the path up to the Golden Gate Bridge Plaza area.
Option # 2: A Back Door View
Things look a little different outside the Gate. See for yourself by heading over to Baker Beach on the Presidio’s western shoreline.
BONUS: You also get a view of the Marin headlands from here. If there’s no fog, just kick off your shoes and join the sunbathers and picnickers on the beach like a local.
But yeah – the fog… there are ALOT of foggy days in San Francisco.
Still, on the rare warm fogless days the beach can get crowded and, like the rest of San Francisco, parking will be tough. Best tip for visitors without cars is to take a ride-share car or the #29 bus out there.
Go Cindi Style: Use a Sand Ladder to get down to the beach…NOT the infamous Baker Beach Sand Ladder, but another sand ladder that’s located at the base of 25th Avenue off of Seacliff Drive. These stairs are shorter than the Sand Ladder you can access off of Lincoln inside the Presidio. And the added benefit is they drop you onto Baker Beach south of the nude beach.
Yes – it’s freezing cold. And they’re naked. Sigh.
If you’re feeling adventurous and like to hike, there’s a 2.7-mile portion of the 1200 mile California Coastal Trail that runs through the Presidio. Access it at the 25th Avenue Gate and hike along the bluffs to the Golden Gate Bridge. The views? Killer.
Option #3: The Luxury View
You’ll have to travel across the bridge to access this last viewing spot, but I promise it will be worth it! Not many tourists enjoy the view from just inside the Golden Gate on the Marin side of the bay. Or more precisely – from Cavallo Point – the Lodge at the Golden Gate.
This luxury hotel sits on the edge of the 10-acre parade grounds of Fort Baker, another U.S. Army post turned over to the Golden Gate National Park service in 2002. Some guest rooms are in restored officers residences and there are also rooms in newer buildings. I personally enjoy hitting up Farley Bar for a slow cocktail. Can’t think of a better way to end a day of Bridge viewing.
If you have someone in your group under 10 years old, you’ve got to head over to the Bay Area Discovery Museum at Fort Baker. You’ll get more incredible Bridge views, and the museum is just so much fun! (Just don’t let the kids know how educational the Discover Museum is or you’ll wreck the whole thing.)
Without a doubt, there are fabulous views of the Bridge from the Marin Headlands, where you can look back and down onto the bridge – and San Francisco – from the Pacific…you and a gazillion of your closest friends in their cars and jammed tour buses.
It’s a killer view – no doubt – but with three other phenomenal options – why stress?
There are so many nooks and crannies that let you see the Golden Gate Bridge without having to be wrapped into a human ace bandage of other travelers (Hello pedestrian lane on the GGB – I’m talking to you.) Have you been there? Did I miss anything? Tell me, please, in the comments below!