The expansive Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic San Francisco landmarks, with its vermilion towers often peeking out of the fog rolling off the Pacific Ocean. There are plenty of places to view this engineering feat from both San Francisco and Marin, depending on what angle you fancy. The biggest insider tip? If you are going during sunset, get there early, especially since most spots have limited parking and lots can get quite backed up during golden hour. Here’s the top Golden Gate Bridge viewpoints up and down the coast on both sides.
Best Viewpoints of Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco Lookouts
From a historic defense lookout located right at the base of the bridge, to a popular hiking trail that winds along the edge of the Pacific Ocean, here’s where to find the best SF-based views.
The Batteries to Bluffs Trail
This 2.2 loop trail boasts some of the best views of the San Francisco coastline. It’s a relatively easy hike since the steep parts have wooden stairs to make the trek easier. The trail goes through the Presidio, winding past old artillery. There is a side trail that goes down to Marshall’s beach if you’re in the mood for a scenic detour.
Located right at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, and at the far end of Crissy Field, this former military fortification is a great spot to see the bridge from below and truly understand how massive it is. Climb to the top of the fort to get excellent views of the bridge and the water below. Join a guided tour run by a park ranger at the entrance of the fort to learn more about the history and architecture of the fort.
This grassy area located between Fort Mason and the Presidio, right on the water is perfect for a picnic, as kites soar high overhead. On a clear day you can get views of the sailboats in the marina and beyond that the Bay, Angel Island, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge.
For viewpoint that a bit further away and allows you to see the bridge with the Pacific Ocean, this area is a great choice for that. There’s nothing better than rounding the bend on the trail and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time, framed within the rugged coastline. The hike is easy if you stay on the main trail, but if you want a challenge head down to Mile Rock Beach, where you will be rewarded with views of the bridge among rock formations.
Battery East Vista
Recently remodeled, this newly built overlook just east of the Golden Gate Bridge is located along the Presidio Promenade. Historically, it was used as a gun battery to guard the area from invaders coming over the Pacific Ocean. There’s a picnic area, a new parking lot and bike parking.
This mile-long beach is a popular spot with a stunning view of the nearby Golden Gate Bridge. So you don’t run into any surprises, the northern part of the beach is nude. Be warned: on hot days that it will feel like all of San Francisco has come out to lay out in the sun. To beat the parking on busy days, find spots in the Sea Cliff neighborhood instead and then hike down on the California Coastal Trail from 25th Ave.
Less crowded than the nearby Baker Beach, this beach promises equally stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The beach is named after the Chinese fisherman who would often camp out in this area and who helped contribute to building the city in its early days. Keep an eye out for the surfers braving the chilly waters.
A neighboring beach to Baker, this is a more secluded, rugged beach that is located right next to the Golden Gate Bridge, and has its fair share of nude sunbathers as well. There is a bit of a climb down to the beach, and the way up gives you quite a workout. Make sure to bring warm layers since it can get quite windy and cold.
Golden Gate Outlook
Built in 2012 to honor the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, this viewpoint provides an excellent straight-on view of the bridge between two Cypress trees. Though many people reach this spot from one of the nearby trails (California Coastal Trail, the Bay Area Ridge Trail and the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail), there are parking lots nearby on Merchant Road or on Lincoln Boulevard.
One of my all-time favorite viewpoints is this transformed stretch (it was a former U.S. Army airfield) of marshland/beach/field along the bay. There are always plenty of dogs playing in the surf and people enjoying a stroll on the walking path against a stunning backdrop of the bridge and the bay. My personal favorite spot is Crissy Field East Beach, which has a decent-sized parking lot and unparalleled views of the bridge.
From high above in the Marin Headlands to up close and personal at a vista point right off the bridge, here’s where to find the best views on the Marin side.
Located on the opposite side of Highway 101 from Vista Point, this is another uber popular viewpoint that gives a more areal view of the bridge. The hike to the lookout point is easy and you get to pass abandoned military buildings on the way. Like all popular spots come here early to snag a parking spot.
Head over the bridge to the beautiful rolling hills of the Marin Headlines and be rewarded with panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline in the background. Named for the hawks that frequent this spot, there are also other majestic birds like falcons, ospreys, vultures and eagles to name a few. If you prefer to drive directly to the hill, parking is limited, so arrive early to beat the crowds. Make sure to bring extra layers, since it can get chilly up there.
Located right across the bridge in Sausalito, this former military building provides some excellent views of the bridge from the Marin side. It’s located in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and is not usually as crowded as other viewpoints. The Bay Area Discovery Museum is right next door, a destination worth stopping by if you have kids in tow.
Right as you enter Marin, this is one of the most popular Golden Gate Bridge viewpoints for taking a photo of the bridge. The parking is painful and it’s best to get there as early as possible to avoid fighting the tangle of tour buses and cars. Travel tip: fog can roll in at any time, but especially during the summer it can be the heaviest and can obstruct your view of the bridge.
The hike into the cove is less than a mile and once you get into the cove it becomes warmer since it’s protected from the elements. The view of the bridge and the Pacific Ocean is unparalleled. There are also five campsites with some of the best views in the Bay Area, that are unsurprisingly booked months in advance.
Located on the scenic Marin Headlands, Point Bonita is located at the southernmost tip of Marin. The area provides a sweeping view of the bridge and the bay in the background. Be warned; the hike there is not so easy, since it’s a steep half-mile incline. The lighthouse is only open on Sunday and Mondays from 12:30 to 3:30 pm, but be sure to double check if there’s inclement weather before you come since it could be closed as well. Entrance is free.
Best Time To Visit San Francisco
Summer in SF can get quite foggy and the view of the Golden Gate Bridge can be partially or completely obstructed. The end of summer/beginning of autumn during September and October are ideal months to visit because the weather is warmer and there are less crowds. Winter and spring can be a good option too when the forecast is clear. Whenever you go, make sure to bring a warm jacket!
Getting Around San Francisco
Renting a car during your visit is not a necessity due to the excellent public transportation around the city and greater Bay Area, but it can be helpful if you want to easily access the various bridge viewpoints. Alternative options are taking Muni or ride-sharing options, if you have more time. Golden Gate Transit (the public transportation serving the North Bay) can bring you across the bridge to Marin and most of the various viewpoints over there.
Where are your favorite views of the Golden Gate Bridge? Do you prefer the SF or Marin side?
Photo sources: Lands End, Hawk’s Hill
Leave a Reply