The Golden Gate Bridge has long been the de facto visual ambassador of San Francisco (no offense, Bay Bridge), its image gracing countless photographs, shot glasses, postcards and the background of many a Fisherman's Wharf tourist caricature.
As the venerable landmark turns 75 on May 27, it's natural for folks to want to celebrate its history, cherish its beauty, admire its design and revel in all its International Orange glory. Of course there will be festivities galore along the waterfront next weekend from Fort Point to Pier 39 during the official birthday celebration: music, art exhibits, fireworks, even a parade. And that means traffic and crowds and traffic again.
But unless the bridge is destroyed by Godzilla or mutant supervillains, as so often happens in movies, it will still be there next week and the week after that and, with luck, every week until its 175th birthday and beyond.
With that in mind, we suggest "bridging" over the festivities, so to speak, and instead enjoying the beauty of the span pre- or post-birthday. Here's a fun guide to a variety of Golden Gate Bridge vantage points for optimal admiration: from below, above, on, next to, from a boat and from afar.
Fort Point. For an up-close encounter with the massive structure, you must visit Fort Point, the historic Civil War-era fortress tucked under the south anchorage at the end of Marine Drive on the Presidio. From there, you can gaze up at the span's powerful legs and ample underbelly -- the roadbed suspended 220 feet above the waves. The view almost feels a little risque, like looking under a lady's skirt, but don't let that deter you. And be sure to enjoy the fort itself too. Constructed between 1853 and 1861 to protect the bay entry, the tri-level, red-brick safeguard never actually saw battle and its formidable cannons were never fired. You can wander around on your own, touring the officers' quarters, barracks and courtyard, or get information from a docent. Fun fact: The fort was also featured in Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 thriller "Vertigo" in the scene where Kim Novak leaps into the drink, and there's suspense under the suspension bridge as Jimmy Stewart rushes to save her. Fort Point is free and open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays through Sundays, 415-556-1693 or www.nps.gov/fopo.
Kirby Cove. There's another underside view from the other side of the strait, but it's a little harder to access. Kirby Cove is a secluded sandy shore just west of the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge, reached via a steep, mile-long trail through a grove of cypress and eucalyptus from the parking area above Battery Spencer on Conzelman Road. It's a great place to check out passing ships and birds, and gaze out to sea. And there are four campsites there, which require reservations, 415-331-1540 or www.nps.gov/goga.
Hendrik Point and Battery Spencer. Before you head down to Kirby Cove, linger awhile at eye level with the bridge's towers, looking down at the "toy" cars crossing the roadbed. Battery Spencer is a reinforced concrete gun battery and was a guardian of the Golden Gate during the Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II. Named after Maj. Gen. Joseph Spencer, a hero of the Revolutionary War, it was completed in 1897 and deactivated during World War II, www.nps.gov/goga.
On the bridge:
It's usually windy and chilly, so bring a jacket. But there's nothing quite like being on the golden bridge itself, walking at least part of the 1.7-mile walkway, seeing it up close, examining the cables, trying to count the more than 1.2 million rivets while craning your neck at the 746-foot towers. Pedestrians can access the East Sidewalk (on the side facing San Francisco) in daylight hours only. No pets are allowed except service animals. No roller skates, Rollerblades or skateboards. The West Sidewalk is for bikes only and was set to reopen May 18 after construction.
Several companies such as Blazing Saddles offer bike rentals and tours, www.blazingsaddles.com/san-francisco.aspx.
Free walking tours are provided by City Guides, www.sfcityguides.org.
For parking info and ways to get to the bridge via mass transit, visit www.goldengatebridge.org.
Next to the bridge:
Bridge Pavilion. After all these years, the Golden Gate now has its first visitor center, the Bridge Pavilion, which opened about two weeks ago. Also painted International Orange, the center -- with an information desk, historic displays and gift shop -- sits next to the parking lot on the southeastern side of the bridge. It's open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
From a boat:
Red and White Fleet. Take the Golden Gate Bay Cruise, which has been running since 1939 as part of the Golden Gate International Exposition. It makes a loop right under the bridge, plus sails by other landmark tourist sites along the waterfront. Leaves from Pier 43½ at Fisherman's Wharf, www.redandwhite.com, or 415-673-2900.
Blue and Gold Fleet. Also offers cruises that glide under the bridge and out to Alcatraz and beyond. Leaves from Pier 39, www.blueandgoldfleet.com, or 415-705-8200.
From afar, but not too far:
Cavallo Point Lodge. For a more genteel way to drink in the Golden Gate views -- and a refreshing beverage or two -- you might want to grab a chair on the veranda at Cavallo Point Lodge at Fort Baker, tucked away at the base of the Marin Headlands and not far from Sausalito. Once serving as soldiers' barracks, post headquarters and officers' housing, Cavallo Point has been converted into a luxury hotel with top-notch food and drink at the Murray Circle restaurant and Farley Bar, 415-339-4700 or www.cavallopoint.com.
If you're feeling adventurous, pick up tour maps at the hotel's reception desk and hike around the nearby Horseshoe Cove where there's a U.S. Coast Guard station, a public fishing pier and the Travis Sailing Center, 415-332-2319, which offers sailboat lessons and rentals. Also in the vicinity is the Bay Area Discovery Museum, 415-339-3900 or www.baykidsmuseum.org.
Contact Angela Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org.