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San Francisco Bridges — Golden Gate, Oakland Bay, San-Rafael

Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco landmark No.1

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

The San Francisco Bay is home to some of the most famous and magnificent bridges ever built, including the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, Hayward-San Mateo Bridge and the Dumbarton Bridge. Collectively, these five bridges represent a gamut of engineering structures and designs.It’s no wonder, given the diverse geography they must span.

To the west of San Francisco sits the Pacific Ocean and due east through the strait of the Golden Gate lies the San Francisco Bay, extending 10 miles northeast to the San Pablo Bay entrance and 40 miles southeast into Palo Alto. At its greatest width the bay measures 13 miles with depths reaching over 200 feet, just inside the Golden Gate; yet, 70 percent of the bay is less than 12 feet deep. At points along the 50-mile length of the bay, five structures of engineering excellence, some considered impossible to build, span gracefully over 23 miles of the bay waters and allow travelers to visit San Francisco, the peninsula and the East Bay easily, quickly and safely.

Crossing the strait of the Golden Gate from San Francisco to the Marin headlands for 1.7 miles is the world-renowned Golden Gate Bridge, easily identified by its International Orange color. Opened in 1937, the bridge was built at a cost of $33 million and 10 workers’ lives. The single-suspension span is anchored off the shores of the bay by twin towers that reach skyward 750 feet, and was once taller than any building in San Francisco. To support the suspended roadway, two cables more than 7,000 feet in length, containing 70,000 miles of wire stretch over the top of the towers and are rooted in concrete piers on shore. Ten years in planning due to formidable opposition, but only four years in actual construction, the Golden Gate Bridge brought the communities of San Francisco and Marin county closer together.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Bird watchers, beachcombers, hikers, cyclists, surfers, surf fishers, picnickers and nature lovers flock to both sides of the Golden Gate and the coastal range to The City’s south. This phenomenon is the result of a stunning environmental breakthrough. Congress, in October, 1972 enacted legislation creating the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) Today, the GGNRA is the largest urban park in the world and the most popular in the national system. It’s hard to conceive of a preserve of this scale in the fourth most populous metropolitan complex in the country. Much of it derives from the U.S. Army’s determination to make the San Francisco isthmus impregnable. The GGNRA encompasses seven obsolete military installations.

If you’re familiar with San Francisco and its surrounds, you can look at it this way. Imagine yourself atop Telegraph Hill facing the Pacific. Down to your right are the islands of Angel and Alcatraz. Ahead the Golden Gate Bridge stretches toward the chaparral-covered headlands of Marin County. To the left is a metropolitan greenbelt realtors had been rubbing their hands over for decades. It runs along the San Francisco shoreline from Aquatic Park to Land’s End, taking in the Maritime Museum, Fort Mason, the Marina Green, the Presidio, Baker Beach, a piece of Lincoln Park and Fort Miley. Around the corner to the south are the Cliff House, Ocean Beach’s 8.5 miles of pounding surf, and the sandstone cliffs and dunes of Fort Funston. The park’s San Francisco segment totals 4,800 acres. Directly across the Golden Gate are the rolling hills, valleys and inlets of Fort Baker, Barry and Cronkhite. All of this is part of the Golden Gate Recreation Area. The rest is out of sight.

The Marin County portion of the park reaches north for 20 miles. In a swath the size of a junior sheikdom, you’ll find sandy beaches, lagoons, marshes, redwoods, ranchlands, rugged promontories, streams, fortifications, wildlife sanctuaries, picnic facilities, 100 miles of trails and five camping sites. Phone 415-331-1540 for information. Congress has increased the size of the GGNRA four times, most recently in 1980. Sweeney Ridge, site of the discovery of San Francisco Bay by the land expedition led by Gaspar de Portola in 1769, is the latest acquisition. This 1,047-acre parcel is in San Mateo County. As the chains have been dropped on hitherto restricted roads, dazzling vistas have opened on one of the most spectacular coastal configurations in the world.

The first link in the park chain was Alcatraz. Phased out as a federal penitentiary in 1963, the once-ominous Rock attracts more than 3,000 free spirits a day on sea-land excursions from Pier 41, Fisherman’s Wharf. Cityside, the NPS has created Golden Gate Promenade between the Presidio’s Fort Point beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, a pre-Civil War fortress with National Historic Site status (daily tours from 10 am to 5 pm), and Aquatic Park. The footpath follows the bay for 3.5 miles by way of Crissy beach, the Marina Green and yacht harbor and Fort Mason’s cypressed bluffs to Hyde Street Pier with its flotilla of historic coastal vessels.

NPS Website: Golden Gate National Recreation Area (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

Map Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

Golden Gate Park is an oasis for outdoor enthusiasts and one full day rarely suffices to exhaust all the opportunities the park offers.
Its 1,017 acres encompass free-to-the-public meadows, lakes, rose gardens, an arboretum, a rhododendron dell, an open-air music concourse, a children’s playground, a buffalo paddock and the tallest artificial waterfall in the West.
Nominal admission fees are charged at the horseback riding stables, Japanese Tea Garden and the beautifully restored carousel in the children’s playground. On weekends and holidays, the park is free of cars on Kennedy Drive from 19th Avenue to Stanyan, when bicyclists and in-line skaters bring their own “vehicles” or rent from a nearby shop or stand.

Main entrance off Stanyan Street at Fell

SF – Oakland Bay Bridge

The Golden Gate’s eastern cousin, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, holds the title of longest high-level bridge in the world at 8.4 miles. Completed in 1936, the Bay Bridge earned the honor of being declared the seventh wonder of the world in 1955 by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It is actually two different types of bridges–suspension on the San Francisco side and cantilever on the Oakland side connected via tunnel through Yerba Buena Island.

Due to the extraordinary depth of the water, ranging from 50 to 105 feet, and a bay floor thick with several layers of mud, the building of the bridge brought about new engineering challenges.

Special caissons, watertight chambers, were designed for digging through the Bay floor in order to embed the bridge’s foundation in bedrock. As more people began making the East Bay their home, the Bay Bridge became the most heavily traveled bridge in the Bay Area, third busiest in the country, carrying more than 250,000 vehicles daily.

Map Oakland Bridge

Richmond – San Rafael Bridge

At the north end of the bay is the cantilever-truss Richmond-San Rafael Bridge which stretches 5.5 miles. This bridge has the dubious distinction of being struck on several occasions by passing ships, including a World War II vessel and a Navy radar ship that struck the bridge twice as the ship spun around. However, the bridge suffered no serious damage.

Less elegant than its sister bridges, upon completion it was dubbed by bay area residents the “roller coaster bridge.” But, even in its austerity, the bridge glides effortlessly across the bay, linking travelers to the hills of Marin and the wine-growing regions of Sonoma and Napa Valley.

Map San Rafael Bridge

San Francisco Sightseeing & Attractions Overview

Learn about the top S.F. sightseeing and attractions in our article: San Francisco — sightseeing & attractions

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