Get the scoop on finding the best Golden Gate Bridge viewpoints. This local’s guide to Golden Gate Bridge views will tell you where to go, how to get there and the best time of day for seeing the bridge.
One of my Instagram buddies who is not from the US recently asked me about the Golden Gate Bridge and why it’s such “a thing”. All coastal cities have bridges so why is San Francisco’s bridge so iconic? I think that there are several reasons why the bridge has become synonymous with San Francisco.
First is that the bridge is perched at the tip of the bay, acting as a gateway to the Pacific Ocean and connecting San Francisco with the rest of northern California. Second is that the reddish-orange color and graceful design of the bridge stand in striking visual contrast to the green open spaces and national park land located on either side of it. The third reason is simply that the bridge is so visible from everywhere in San Francisco. It looms across the bay and muscles itself into view from all angles around the city.
It’s for that third reason that I believe so many people flock to see the bridge and why it’s “a thing”. Both visitors and residents of SF want to experience the Golden Gate bridge park and see for themselves how it guards the city.
So this guide to the best Golden Gate Bridge viewpoints is intended to help you find those iconic bridge experiences.
Finding the Best Golden Gate Bridge Viewpoints
This guide is broken into four geographical sections, each offering its own unique views of the bridge. You can view the bridge from the San Francisco side, the Marin Headlands, by water or by foot. Each section will give you a bit of history on that location, how to find it, the best time of day for viewing and the best place to photograph the Golden Gate bridge. There is also a section on the bottom for how to see the bridge if you don’t have a car.
Scroll down for all the detail and eye candy, but in a nutshell, here are the top stops:
The Best Golden Gate Bridge Views
1. Crissy Field & Torpedo Wharf
2. Fort Point
3. Golden Gate Welcome Center (south side)
4. West Side Batteries
5. Baker Beach
6. Land’s End
7. Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point (north side)
8. Fort Baker
9. Battery Spencer
10. Hawk Hill
11. Alcatraz Island
12. Angel Island
13. From the San Francisco Bay on a Boat Tour
14. Riding or Walking on the Bridge
Some History of the Golden Gate Bridge Park
Construction was started on the bridge in 1933 and was completed four years later. The bridge was built to support a growing population that had spread from San Francisco into the larger bay area. At the time that it was built, it was the longest suspension span in the world and even today, it’s 4,200 foot (1,300/m) length keeps it in the top ten.
My father-in-law was in engineering school during the construction of the bridge and he and his fellow engineers-in-training actually made a class outing to the bridge where they walked up the struts to the top of the tower. He was made of firmer stuff than I, because the mere idea of tight-rope walking up to a 746 foot tower makes me want to crap myself.
That iconic reddish-orange color was chosen specifically to blend with the land on either side of the bridge and also to act as a bright contrast through the fog. Foggy days occur frequently on the bridge, especially in the summer.
Read More: If you are into photography, check out this guide to the best photography spots in San Francisco (in addition to the bridge).
Golden Gate Bridge Views from the San Francisco Side
Crissy Field & Torpedo Wharf
Large chunks of land on both sides of the bridge were once a series of civil war gun batteries, army bases, WWII gun emplacements and cold war bunkers. Crissy field specifically, was an airfield serving the Pacific Air Coast Defense Station during both world wars. It’s now been reverted back to a natural dune and tidal marsh habitat with a dog-friendly beach.
Nearby Torpedo Wharf juts out into the bay and offers unobstructed Golden Gate Bridge views and well as great shots of the city skyline.
Tips for visiting: There is parking along Crissy Field and in a small lot just north of the wharf. You can park once and do Crissy Field, Torpedo Wharf and Fort Point all in one go.
Other interesting stuff nearby: Have a cup of coffee or a snack a the Warming Hut Bookstore & Cafe.
Best time for viewing the bridge: Visit Crissy field at sunrise, if you can swing it. You’ll be able to see dawn rise over the San Francisco skyline and then get ethereal views of the Golden Gate Bridge as the morning light spotlights the brick at Fort Point.
Fort Point was constructed in 1853 and pre-dates the civil war. They designed it to sit at the level of the bay, the better to shoot enemy ships at the water line. The fort’s sea level location makes it a perfect spot to get views under the Golden Gate Bridge. The site has a rusty, forlorn air that makes it an interesting visual counter-balance to the busy bridge above.
Tips for visiting: The exterior of the fort can be visited anytime and the interior is open Friday-Sunday 10am-5pm.
Other interesting stuff nearby: You can wander the trails up from Fort Point to the bridge Welcome Center. There are more historical batteries sprinked throughout the hill.
Best time for viewing the bridge: Like Crissy field, sunrise is best for light. But midday is better for getting into the fort.
Golden Gate Bridge Park Welcome Center
The Welcome Center sits at the south edge of the bridge. It may not be the very best place to view the Golden Gate Bridge, but it’s certainly the most popular. This is a standard stop for tour buses and people who only have a short time for viewing the Golden Gate Bridge. They have a small cafe, a store with souvenir’s and bathrooms.
This lookout is good for getting a straight on view of the bridge, which you can do from the main vista point.
Tips for visiting: There is a decent amount of parking on the north and south sides of the bridge.
Best time for viewing the bridge: It gets very crowded on weekends and holidays so go early or be prepared to scrum with other visitors for that iconic selfie shot.
Nerd alert! Not far from the Welcome Center is the Lucas Arts building where you can see a statue of Yoda and original costumes from the Star Wars movies. Click to find out more about this and other unusual stuff that you can do in San Francisco.
West Side Batteries
Battery Godfrey and a handful of other gun emplacements were installed in the late 1800’s and were part of the Presidio defense system until just after WWII. You can scramble around the old concrete bunkers and climb on top of the walls for views of the bridge.
Many visitors just stick to the east side visitors center, but the west side has great Golden Gate Bridge views along with an expansive look at the Marin Headlands landscape.
Tips for visiting: If you are coming from the city, get off at the Welcome Center exit but follow signs which will take you under the highway to the southwest parking lot.
Other stuff in the area: There is a coastal hiking trail along the bluff that goes past the batteries and to an overlook for Marshall’s beach.
Best time for viewing the bridge: Late afternoon or sunset will give you nice light on the west side of the bridge.
Baker Beach is a nice long beach located further west of the west side batteries. It’s dog friendly and it offers great ground-level views of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
It’s not a nude-beach per se, however when I was there recently, there were a few nude sunbathers. It was also February and 55′ F outside so I don’t know how that could have been comfortable for them. But that’s San Francisco all over; nudity is a thing here and everyone just goes with it.
Tips for visiting: There is a parking lot at the beach but expect it to be crowded on weekends. San Francisco is one of many dog friendly cities on the West Coast and you can take you dog on most of the hiking trails and beaches in SF.
Other stuff in the area: Baker beach is located adjacent to a neighborhood full of stately San Francisco homes so spend some time wandering around. If you get hungry, check out the Salt Root Cafe for coffee and Brazilian cheese puffs (YES!).
Best time for viewing the bridge: Go for an afternoon or sunset at the bridge.
Land’s End is the furthest point in western San Francisco before the coastline curves south. It’s characterized by cypress forest and cliffs. You can continue along the coastal trail through Land’s End.
Because of the trees, you’ll play peekaboo with the bridge but if you find the right spot, you can get a full wide angle view of the whole west side of the bridge.
Tips for visiting: Once again, parking exists but is at a premium during busy times.
Other stuff in the area: The Legion of Honor museum is a world class fine art museum featuring a wide range of ancient and European art. They always have interesting special exhibitions.
Best time for viewing the bridge: Afternoon to Sunset.
Views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Side
Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point
After the tour buses stop at the Welcome Center, they stop again on the opposite side at the lookout on Vista Point. The Vista Point sits at bridge level so you’ll get straight on views of the eastern face of the bridge.
From there, you can also get views of the northern downtown skyline, Angel island and Alcatraz.
Tips for visiting: It gets very busy here so be prepared to circle in order to get a parking spot. They have bathrooms on site.
Other stuff in the area: After catching your Golden Gate Bridge viewpoint, you can drive into nearby Sausalito for lunch. Check out the Sausalito Gourmet Delicatessen for reasonably priced sandwiches.
Best time for viewing the bridge: Anytime until late afternoon. After that, it will be a bit glare-y, unless there’s fog, then it will be….um…foggy.
Fort Baker sits below the Vista Point and was an army post built in 1905. It was active throughout WWII and the cold war before gradually winding down in the 1970’s. The land was donated to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1995.
Tips for visiting: The fort is rather large so leave time for wandering around. The National Park Service offers a cell phone tour of Fort Baker that covers 10 spots on a three mile walking tour.
Other stuff in the area: There is also a high end restaurant–Cavallo Point– located in the fort. They are open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner everyday.
Best time for viewing the bridge: Anytime before late afternoon when the setting sun will cast a lot of shadow.
Batter Spencer counterbalances the west side batteries and like them, it is now a concrete remnant of a bygone area. It’s current job is to function as a platform for finding one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge park.
The battery and the views are a short walk from the parking area and the site does have restrooms.
Tips for visiting: At the risk of sounding like a broken record….small parking lot….popular spot….go on a weekday.
Best time for viewing the bridge: This whole northwest side is best done after midday. I went in the morning and as you’ll see below, I caught a lot of glare on my shots which I’m carefully disguising as black & white “art shots”.
The road winds past Battery Spencer and all along the Marin Headlands. There are trails and vista spots offering great views of the Golden Gate Bridge all over the area. However, Hawk Hill is notable because it has parking, which is in short supply on this narrow road.
There are several more batteries in this area which beg for exploration and you can also hike out to Point Bonita lighthouse.
Tips for visiting: Don’t be in a hurry. This is a beautiful stretch of road and take your time enjoying the views. This area doesn’t have services so BYO picnic.
Other nearby stuff: Hawk Hill is so named because of the many hawks living in the area. The best viewing times (on fog-free days) are 10am-2pm September through November.
Best time for viewing the bridge: After noon in order to avoid morning glare.
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Golden Gate Bridge Views from the Water
Alcatraz was a federal prison from 1935-1963. It’s a moody hulk of a building marooned out into the middle of the bay. It inspired a bunch of movies featuring crazy birdmen (Birdman of Alcatraz), crazy escapees (Escape from Alcatraz) and crazy commandos (The Rock).
It also has a mind-boggling 360′ spin of the San Francisco bay and the bridge. Go for the history of the prison but stay for the views.
Tips for visiting: You must book Alcatraz in advance. Tickets start at $37 for adults.
Other nearby stuff: You can also book a combo tour with Alcatraz and….
- Alcatraz and Beer Tour. Because nothing says “prison” like craft beer.
- Alcatraz and Magic Bus Tour. After Alcatraz, you can go on a flashback-inducing, music-fueled tour of San Francisco’s hippie history.
Best time for viewing the bridge: Go in the morning when the views of the bridge are clear.
Angel Island State Park also sits in the bay, just north of Alcatraz. Like the other areas surrounding the bridge it has a civil war, WWII and cold war history. It also used to function as an immigration station and has the unfortunate distinction of being one of our WWII Japanese internment camps.
You can hike, bike or take a shuttle around the island. The best Golden Gate bridge view is from Camp Reynolds on the west side of the island.
Tips for visiting: You can catch a ferry from either Pier 29 or Tiburon.
Other nearby stuff: There are some cute shops in Tiburon and you can catch a seafood dinner at Luna Blu, which is near the ferry dock.
Best time for viewing the bridge: Before the sun get too low in the afternoon.
San Francisco Bay Boat Tour
It’s one thing to see the bridge from either end but it’s another entirely to sail underneath it. Here are a few tours which will take you up to and underneath the bridge:
- Sunset Cruise: This cruise features cocktails, heavy appetizers and epic sunset views of the Golden Gate as you sail under it.
- Helicopter and Sunset Dinner Cruise: See the bridge from the air AND the water.
- Full Day Whale Watching Excursion: Go through the Golden Gate and way out into the Farallon Islands to hunt for humpbacks, grey whales, dolphins and sea lions. Grey whale season is December to April and for other whales it’s summer/fall.
Riding or Walking the Bridge
While it’s great to look at the bridge from afar, it’s also a cool experience to be on the bridge. Walking or riding a bike on the bridge gives you an opportunity to look straight up those struts that my father-in-law so
carelessly bravely climbed. The bridge itself is two miles long and here are three suggestions for how to tackle it:
- Park at either the Welcome Center or the Vista Point and walk part or all of the bridge as a round trip.
- Take the bus to the Welcome Center, then walk over the bridge and down into Sausalito. Take the ferry back to San Francisco. This is a 5 mile one-way walk. Tip: when you pass Vista Point, take a right down into Fort Baker rather than going down Alexander Ave. This will allow you to view the bridge from below and it will also route you into Sausalito via East End road which is a little longer but safer for pedestrians. Bus routes: From downtown and Union Square (101, 30, 70) or from Civic Center (101, 30,70, 92, 93).
- DIY a bike tour by renting from Blazing Saddles. They have rental locations throughout the city, including in Fisherman’s Wharf and they offer DIY tour maps.
- Lazy Person’s Guided Tour with Electric Bikes. This guided tour tackles the hills and promises great Golden Gate Bridge views.
Are you from out of town? Figure out where to stay in SF with this hotel guide.
Seeing the Bridge if You Don’t Have a Car
Unless you have a car, you won’t be able to see all of these 14 Golden Gate Bridge viewing points, but you can see many of them. Here are four suggestions for how to do it:
- From the aforementioned city bus to the Welcome Center, you can do the West Batteries and do round trip of the bridge.
- Take the 30 bus and get off at the Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina. Walk along Crissy Field to Fort Point, up to the Welcome Center and then catch a bus back from there.
- Take the 38 bus to 42nd/Clement and walk up to the Legion of Honor. Hike north along the coastal trail, ending up at Baker Beach, where you can walk back to 25th/Geary to catch the same bus back downtown.
- Purchase the 2-day City Sightseeing hop on hop off pass. It will takes you on the tourist trail throughout the city. The 2-day pass includes a Sausalito add-on which stops at both the Welcome Center and the Vista Point so you can see the bridge from both sides without having to walk the round trip.
If you want or need to rent a car while in SF, use this link to get competitive pricing. If you don’t want to rent a car, then check out this useful article on how to get from the San Francisco airport to downtown SF using public transportation.
More to do in San Francisco
- Get the local’s guide to cool things to do in SF.
- Find a great neighborhood to stay in.
- Take a walking tour of street art in the Mission.
- My favorite indy SF bookstores.
- If you are a foodie, check out the Ferry Building.
- Find cool things to do on Angel Island.
- Take a weekend getaway to Santa Cruz or Guernville in Sonoma County.
As I said above, from the Golden Gate Bridge’s anchors in the bay and it makes itself seen all over San Francisco. Create an itinerary for yourself by combining a few of these fourteen Golden Gate Bridge viewpoints and see for yourself why the bridge is “a thing”. If you have any suggestions for other cool viewing spots, please comment here or check in on Facebook, I’d love to hear from you.
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