Think San Francisco, and you’ll probably picture the city’s most famous landmark, The Golden Gate Bridge. ‘The bridge that couldn’t be built’ stretches majestically across the Strait of The Golden Gate, which links San Francisco Bay with Marin County.
So, what’s the best way to see the Golden Gate Bridge? Why not try biking it…
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Why is the Golden Gate Bridge famous?
One of the most beautiful and most famous bridges in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge is instantly recognisable.
Work began on the Golden Gate Bridge in 1933 and took four years to complete. At the time, it was the tallest and longest suspension bridge in the world and led the way in suspension bridge design. Although taller and longer bridges have since been built, the Golden Gate Bridge became an emblem of US power and is now an iconic symbol of San Francisco,
Both U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway) run across the bridge, and there’s also a pedestrian walkway alongside the road.
The bridge has many eye-catching elements from its awe-inspiring towers and sweeping cables to Art Deco design features. It’s a magnificent sight to behold, and it’s no surprise that the Golden Gate Bridge is said to be the most photographed bridge in the world.
The distinctive orange vermilion colour of the Golden Gate Bridge is known as ‘International Orange’. It’s similar to the red lead primer which the steel was coated in at the Bethlehem Steel foundry.
The bridge’s consulting architect, Irving Morrow, saw the colour on his commute to the construction site. He noticed how the primer’s colour contrasted with the sky and ocean but complemented the hues of the nearby hills, and paint for the bridge was commissioned in the same colour.
The bright orange shade also makes the bridge clearly visible to ships in fog, and at night, the floodlit bridge glows with a magical golden tone that reflects off the waters of San Francisco Bay.
The Golden Gate Bridge: Facts and Figures
The Golden Gate Bridge is dauntingly huge up close, and even if you’ve seen masses of photos, you aren’t prepared for just how big it looks ‘in the flesh’.
Here are a few facts and figures about this iconic bridge:
- The Golden Gate Bridge took four years to build and was completed in 1937.
- The Bridge weighs in at a hefty 887,000 tons.
- The twin pylons anchoring it to the ground are a neck-craning 746 feet high with around 600,000 rivets in each.
- Each of the cables supporting the suspended roadway is more than 7,000 feet long and contains 80,000 miles of wire.
- The cables stretch over the towers and are anchored in concrete on the shore, which is quite reassuring when the winds pick up.
- The roadway sits 225 feet above the water, and the bridge can sway up to 27 feet in bad weather.
The weather was cold, grey and windy on the day we biked the Golden Gate Bridge, and that sway was playing on my mind…
Biking the Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco was the first stop on our South West US road trip, but we didn’t actually set eyes on ‘that bridge’ until our third day in the city.
The city of San Francisco is well-known for its fog, and even from the forty-sixth floor of our San Francisco hotel, the iconic bridge was shrouded in swathes of swirling mist from the Pacific ocean.
But that didn’t matter because, on our final day in the city, we were set to ‘bike the bridge’ and see it up close and personal.
Read more: 1 and 2 day Itineraries for San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge Bike Rentals
There are a few San Francisco bike tours and bike rental companies to choose from, but Blazing Saddles is one of the most popular tour operators. This rental company offers both bike rentals and bike tours on the Golden Gate Bridge.
After arriving at their Hyde Street depot, we watched a short introductory film and got measured up for bikes and cycle helmets. As someone who’s only ridden a bike about three times in the last ten years, I was a little bit nervous. Actually, very nervous!
Golden Gate Bike Tour and Alcatraz visit – Check rates and availability
We met our tour guide, Ken, and the rest of our group of 18 at The Aquatic Park near the cable car turnaround. Although it was a chilly, grey day, hanging around waiting for the rest of our group wasn’t a bad thing because we got to meet Freddie Flintoff and Jamie Redknapp!
They were filming on the beach for ‘A League of Their Own’ and were happy to pose for pics with us. Sadly, we didn’t have time to remove our geeky cycle helmets first!
Read more: Best things to see and do in San Francisco
Fort Mason, The Marina and Crissy Field
When everyone had arrived, we set off on our tour of the Golden Gate Bridge. After a few wobbles and a steep hill, I got the hang of it and managed to enjoy the views as we cruised the footpaths alongside the bay. I even started to warm up a bit!
We passed by the former US Army post Fort Mason and the marina before our first stop for photos at Crissy Field, a former military airfield. We got some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge en route to the bridge itself, and Crissy Field is where you’ll get the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge’s full length.
We got some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge en route to the bridge itself.
A rest break at the Warming Hut
On Golden Gate Promenade, we stopped at the Warming Hut, where you can buy drinks, sandwiches and pastries. At each stop, Ken would wait until all the group were together and tell us fascinating facts about San Francisco and the bridge. He was also happy to answer any questions we had.
At The Warming Hut, the bridge loomed over us moody and brooding – even that brilliant orange seemed darker than usual.
Read more: San Francisco highs at Coit Tower
Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge up close
San Francisco tour options – Check rates and availability
Panting heavily after a pretty steep hill, we arrived at the top and saw the bridge up close for the first time. The towering pylons soared overhead, with suspension cables and touches of Art Deco stretching out along the bridge in front of us.
The time had come to bike the bridge, so it was ‘best foot forward’ into the foray of oncoming cyclists and pedestrians. I’ll admit it got a bit hairy at times; those cycle lanes are skinny!
We stopped briefly part-way across the bridge to enjoy the views of the city of San Francisco and the bay. The sight of the city through the mist was fabulous, but my
gaze was constantly drawn upwards to those massive steel towers and chunky suspension cables.
The iconic Golden Gate Bridge is a beauty to look at, but for me, the real wonder is how this amazing bridge was actually constructed.
Reaching the other side
It didn’t seem long before we’d cycled the 1.7 miles and had arrived at the north side of the bridge with a whoop, a high five and a massive sense of relief on my part!
There’s a vista point here where the sidewalk widens. The stunning view makes this spot the best place for photos across San Francisco Bay to the city.
Golden Gate Bike Tour and Alcatraz visit – Check rates and availability
The Golden Gate Ferry from Sausalito to San Francisco
We arrived saddle-sore in Sausalito so, instead of cycling back across the bridge, we took the Sausalito ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 41. Bikes safely stowed on board, we had a hot coffee and warmed up as we sailed across the bay and past Alcatraz to Pier 41.
From there, the ride along the San Francisco waterfront to the ferry terminal was all fabulously downhill. It was a relatively easy ride back to the bike depot, and as we arrived, we were cheered in by the Blazing Saddle staff. It was a lovely welcome back!
Golden Gate Bridge in Sunshine
It was impossible to take any photos while biking across the Golden Gate Bridge as we were on the move most of the time. If I’d tried, I’d have probably caused an accident, so I don’t have many shots of the actual day we biked the bridge.
I’ve visited San Francisco in the sunshine before, and these photos were taken when I did the Golden Gate Bridge walk. Doesn’t it look totally different in the sunshine with a blue-sky backdrop?
Tips for biking the Golden Gate Bridge
Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge by bike is a great way to see this American icon, and it’s definitely a must-do when you visit the city of San Francisco. Here are a few tips to make your day run smoothly:
Leave enough time to cross the Golden Gate Bridge
How long it takes to cycle across the Golden Gate bridge depends on whether you’re a strong cyclist and whether you choose a regular cycle or take the electric bike option. You should allow 15-25 minutes to cross with no stops.
If you’re also planning to bike to Sausalito, that could take another 45-60 minutes.
Most bike rental shops are quite a distance from the bridge, so you would need to allow up to another 45-60 minutes to reach the bridge. So, it’s best to allow at least 2.5 hours to bike the Golden Gate Bridge, plus additional time for taking photos.
Be prepared for cold and windy weather
Even on a summer’s day, the Golden Gate Bridge can be very windy, and it can feel pretty cold when you’re crossing the bridge. It’s a good idea to wear light layers so that you can remove layers as you warm up or put them back on if the weather worsens.
If the weather is particularly windy, you should also be prepared for strong gusts of wind when you go around the pillars. Be prepared to shift down a gear or two and slow down.
Wear a helmet
Be safe on your Golden Gate Bridge excursion, and wear a cycle helmet. You’ll be sharing the road with two-way traffic en route to the Golden Gate Bridge, and accidents still happen even once you get onto the bridge’s dedicated bike lanes.
Go early or mid-week to avoid crowds
The Golden Gate Bridge is a popular San Francisco tourist attraction, and the crowds can get pretty big around 10 or 11 am, especially in summer and early autumn. Starting your tour early in the morning, the best time is around 8–9 am, and visiting during the middle of the week are the best ways to avoid the crowds.
Pick the right side
One of the Golden Gate Bridge sidewalks is open to cyclists each day, but the bike path you use depends on the time and day of your visit.
If you’re cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge any time on Monday-Thursday or before 3 pm on Friday, you’ll take the east sidewalk. That’s the right-hand side if you’re travelling from San Francisco, and this path is shared with pedestrians.
If you’re travelling after 3 pm on Fridays or any time on Saturdays, you’ll take the west sidewalk. This has a bike path that’s only open to cyclists and is on the left-hand side of the bridge if you’re starting from San Francisco.
Ride single file and stay to the right
The Golden Gate Bridge isn’t just a tourist attraction. It’s used by distance cyclists heading out on long-distance bike rides and is also a popular commuter bike route.
Riding in single file on the right of the bike path makes it easier for other bikers to pass you and helps reduce the risk of accidents. It’s also more respectful to your fellow bikers.
Signal, then pull over if you want to stop
You’re sure to want to take a photo or just drink in the view along the way, but be mindful of other cyclists. Signal that you’re going to stop by placing an open palm behind your back so your palm is facing the cyclist behind you. Then, pull over and stop completely.
The entrance to the bridge is a blind spot for cyclists coming in the opposite direction, so go a little further onto the bridge before pulling over.
Once you’re across, keep exploring
Most people carry on to Sausalito after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, and there’s plenty more you can do in the local area if you’re on a self-guided tour and want to spend a full day exploring.
Some of the best things to do in San Francisco include:
- Cycle to Sausalito for lunch in one of the excellent restaurants in the area.
- Challenge yourself to cycle up Hawk Hill – the fantastic views are worth the effort.
- Carry on cycling to Tiburon and get the ferry back to San Francisco from there. It’s further away, so the ferry ride back tends to be less crowded than the Sausalito ferry.
- Check out one of the excellent museums in the area, like the Bay Area Discovery Museum.
If you want to extend your ride further, you could cycle back across the Golden Gate Bridge instead of getting the ferry ride back. It’s a more challenging ride as you’re going back up the hill you just cycled down.
The Golden Gate Bridge: FAQs
If you’re planning to visit San Francisco and want to cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, here are a few of the most frequently asked questions about this popular activity:
How long is the Golden Gate Bridge?
Including approaches, the Golden Gate Bridge is 1.7 miles or 2.7 km from tower to tower.
How long does it take to walk the Golden Gate Bridge?
Depending on your fitness level, walking across the Golden Gate Bridge will take around 30 minutes without stops. You’re sure to want to take advantage of photo opportunities, and it’s best to take the walk slow and steady, so allow around 45 minutes each way.
Is it hard to cycle the Golden Gate Bridge?
Cycling the Golden Gate Bridge is a bit of a challenge, but the fantastic views make all the effort worthwhile. If you’re worried about your fitness level or just want a little extra help along the way, most rental places offer an electric bike option as well as regular cycles.
How long does it take to bike through Golden Gate Park?
The 11.1 km circular trail through Golden Gate Park is a popular area for cycling, hiking and running. It will take you around 2.5 hours to walk the path and less time if you want to cycle the route.
Should I walk or bike the Golden Gate Bridge?
Either option is a great way to see this iconic structure up close and personal. If you’re not a confident cyclist, you might feel more secure crossing the bridge on foot.
Bike Rental San Francisco
You don’t need to join a tour to bike the bridge with Blazing Saddles. They also offer a 24-hour bike hire option so you can explore the bridge and the city at your own pace. You’ll get a rental map, directions, various self-guided tours and ferry times are all provided. The route to Sausalito is straightforward.
Blazing Saddles hire doesn’t include ferry tickets because the ferry is operated by another company. However, you can buy your ferry ticket when you pay for your bike hire, which saves you queuing at the ferry building. Get off the ferry at Pier 41, and it’s just a short ride back to drop off your bike.
Thanks to Blazing Saddles who very kindly gave us discounted rates for our Bike the Bridge tour. They were helpful and friendly, the bikes were in excellent condition and we had a great time on our Golden Gate Bridge bike tour.
Have you been to San Francisco or considered biking the Golden Gate Bridge? Or any other bridge in any other city?