Widely acclaimed as one of the world's most beautiful spans, San Francisco's famous Golden Gate Bridge has been a symbol of the city on the bay since 1937. It was constructed over a period of four years at a cost of more than $35 million, with tall towers, sweeping main cables, and its distinctive orange vermilion color.
The bridge's name does not, however, come from its coloring but from the Golden Gate Strait which it passes over. The three-mile long and one-mile wide body of water serves as the entrance to San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. When it was first seen by Army Captain John C. Fremont around 1846, he named the strait "Chrysopylae'' or "Golden Gate'' after a harbor of which it reminded him - Istanbul's "Golden Horn.''
The bridge has nonetheless always been painted "international orange.'' The color was selected by Architect Irving Morrow to blend well with the warm colors of the nearby land masses, while providing enhanced visibility for passing ships.
Upon its opening, the 4,200-foot-long suspension span of the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest in the world. It remained so until New York City's Verrazano Narrows Bridge was completed in 1964. At mid-span, the Golden Gate's roadway reaches a height of 270 feet above the water's surface, rising gradually from the south abutment at a height of 186 feet, allowing for even the tallest ships to pass beneath.
In 1968, the Golden Gate Bridge became the world's first major bridge to institute one-way toll collection. This system was so successful, it was subsequently implement on many other bridges around the globe. Today, tolls are collected in the southbound direction only, going into San Francisco. The rate for two-axle vehicles and motorcycles is $6 if paid in cash and $5 using FasTrak, an electronic toll system operated by Caltrans. Larger vehicles pay $3 cash per axle or $2.50 with FasTrak.
By the close of 2009, more than 1,874,100,000 vehicles had crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. Estimates have put the number of annual visitors to the structure at about nine million people from all around the world. It can be particularly busy in summer.
The bridge is open to pedestrian traffic, wheelchair users, and bicyclists via the sidewalks during daylight hours. Those on foot must share the east 1.7-mile-long sidewalk with cyclists on weekdays. Please note, however, that roller blades, skateboards and roller skates are not allowed, and dogs are permitted only if under control on a leash at all times.
Excellent vantage points for viewing the bridge can be found the Fort Point overlook near the southeast parking lot as well as the renovated garden area nearby. Map of walking, biking and hiking trails located on the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge can be obtained in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and at The Presidio
The Golden Gate Bridge also has a Gift Center, which is located in the historic "Roundhouse'' on the southeast side behind the Strauss Statue. The building was designed in 1938 as a restaurant for motorists. Now, it is open from 8:30am each day, offering historical information, photos, books, posters, videos, and various souvenirs. It closes at 7:30pm during the summer and 6:30pm in winter. Food is available at the Bridge Cafy nearby. Open daily from 9:30am to 5pm, it serves muffins, sandwiches, salads, desserts, sodas, water and Starbuck's coffee.
Although it does not have a physical address, the Golden Gate Bridge is easy to find by following Highway 101 to where it spans the strait between San Francisco and Sausalito. There are parking areas and restrooms on both the northeast and southeast sides, and spaces for persons with disabilities are provided.