Take brilliant pictures of San Francisco from the top of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The iconic Golden Gate Bridge that spans the waters where the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean meet, symbolizes the Gold Rush and wealth of the Golden State of California. San Francisco’s most recognizable landmark is also its biggest tourist attraction. Featured in every travel publication, the Golden Gate Bridge is the most photographed attraction in California.
Although it is hardly possible to photograph this icon in a novel way, the hike across the bridge promises some distinct compositions that are harder to find than the most typical overview photographs. Hiking on this majestic bridge also lets you appreciate the marvelous accomplishment that this bridge represents.
Take the walking tour across the windswept bay and enjoy some of the best views the city has to offer!
How to get there
From Highway 101 north, take the last San Francisco Exit (View Area Presidio / Golden Gate NRA / Fort Point). Turn left to the parking area. You can park here or take the tunnel underneath Highway 101 to the slightly larger parking area on the other side. Additionally you can park a little further on Merchant Road (free) or on the lot near Lincoln and Battery East Rd (free).
From Highway 1 north, merge onto Highway 101 and then take the next exit. Then follow the directions above. From Highway 101 south, take the 25th Avenue exit right after the Golden Gate Bridge then turn right onto Merchant Avenue.
The rate for the parking meters at the viewing area parking is $1/hour between 8am to 9pm, 7 days a week.
How to photograph from the top of the Golden Gate Bridge
The southeast viewing area, close to the parking lot offers an interesting view of the Bridge and its extension. Below it, you can see the top of Fort Point. Unfortunately, a wire-mesh fence partially blocks your view.
Nearby, a statue of Joseph Strauss pays homage to the chief designer of the Golden Gate Bridge. Standing back as far as possible and zooming in when photographing the statue, compresses the space between bride and statue, pulling the bridge closer.
Take the thrilling walk on this fascinating bridge! Once you cleared the wire mesh fence, you have a clear unobstructed view down. Since the bridge is popular with jumpers, this openness is in question. Lawmakers are considering extending the fence, which would influence photography.
Currently, you can still take photographs such as the one above, putting the bridge in the foreground and the city in the background. I focused on the city, to keep the distant features sharp, accepting some blur on the bridge. It is impossible to get the bridge and the city in focus, even with a very small aperture. A slight blur on the bridge does not matter though, since its features are easily distinguishable. The same amount of blur on the city would however be distracting. The movement of the cables makes focus stacking, the process of combining two pictures with different focal plane, difficult.
The platforms at the bridge towers offer the best spots for photography. I took the picture at the start of this article at the south tower. Looking straight up, I used the same focus technique, keeping the smallest features sharpest, trading off some sharpness on the larger nuts.
The sidewalk leads around the tower’s east pillar and protrudes out. From here, you have a better angle on the bridge (see above) and a good view of the tower’s macro details.
Standing on the bridge during a slight wind and heavy traffic, gives you only a small sense of what it must feel like to work on the towers. Look straight up and imagine working there! When I discovered this painters lift / cage hanging from a cable from the south tower, I had to get on the floor to photograph it from this perspective. The image demonstrates the work environment of the bridge workers. The wide-angle perspective works in favor of the image, impressively demonstrating the height of the tower that seems so distant in this shot. The worker who has to stand in this small cage, dangling high above the bridge road deserves our utmost respect.
Look for details such as this cage, the door into the tower, the cable connectors and others to complete your bridge portfolio. Although it is hard to create unique bridge images, it is not impossible.
Best Time of the Day and Best Season
The views of San Francisco are better during late afternoon.
You can spend two hours leisurely crossing the bridge and taking photographs, but one hour does suffice if you do not have that much time.
- Wide-angle lens
- Normal Lens
- CP filter
- Leave your tripod in the car. The bridge rocks in the wind and due to the traffic, making a tripod nearly useless.
- Bring $2 in coins for the parking meters.
- Fort Point
- Views of Presidio
- Presidio historic walk
- Land’s End and Sutro Baths
- Golden Gate Bridge from Hawk Hill and Battery Spencer
- Fort Baker
- Baker Beach
- Legion of Honor
- Stow Lake, Strawberry Hill, Aboretum (Golden Gate Park)
- Japanese Tea Garden (Golden Gate Park)
- Marina, Crissy Field
- Palace of Fine Arts
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