One of America's most iconic structures, the Golden Gate Bridge spans the largest break in California's Central Coast range where the San Francisco Bay meets the Pacific Ocean. While the construction of the bridge is a feat of modern engineering, it didn't affect the climate, as this break is also the reason why the bridge is so often shrouded in fog.
Built in the 1930s, a new color dubbed International Orange was fabricated specifically to paint the 1.7-mile suspension bridge. The orange-vermilion color mimics the red lead primer that was applied to steel as it left the foundries. Consulting architect Irving Morrow chose the color for practical and aesthetic reasons: it enhances the bridge's visibility for ships that navigate the strait's notorious fog, and it complements the seasonal colors of the natural surroundings while standing in distinct contrast to the blues of the bay and the sky.
At 4,200-feet long, the Golden Gate Bridge's main span was the world's longest for almost 30 years. The towers that suspend the 15,300 feet of main cable rise 746 feet above sea level and are held together by 1.2 million steel rivets. Morrow is also responsible for the bridge's Art Deco flair, from the chevrons that decorate the towers and concrete pylons to the lighting scheme, which includes orb-like lights that dot the pedestrian walkways and others that illuminate both the street and the sky.
While there are plenty of ways to enjoy the bridge from near and far, the finer elements are best appreciated on foot, and you can start a walk at the Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion on the edge of the Presidio of San Francisco. The pavilion offers information and exhibits about the bridge, a gift shop, a cafe and public restrooms, and access to walking and biking trails.
Work your way down to Marine Drive on the east side of the bridge to take a closer look at Fort Point, which is situated below the latticed struts of the south viaduct and open for exploration Friday through Sunday. The Civil War-era military fortification may never have seen combat, but with brick and granite walls that vary in thickness from 5 to 7 feet, it was built to withstand the worst. The fort is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
If you are looking for a quicker tour, driving is a great way to cross from the San Francisco Peninsula into Marin County. If the weather is clear when you reach the Marin Headlands, you will get an iconic view of the bridge with the city as its backdrop. Remember that a toll is assessed on southbound vehicles only.
Tip: While metered parking is available at the Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion ($0.25 per 15 minutes), limited free parking is a short walk away along Marine Drive near the Warming Hut Café & Bookstore. You may also find free parking in the westernmost portion of Crissy Field, at Fort Point, and in a few small parking lots on Lincoln Boulevard.