Apart from the Statue of Liberty and the White House, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is surely America’s most recognizable landmark. Opened in 1937, construction of the bridge took four years to complete. It measures 8,890 feet (about 1.7 miles) end to end, and crosses the Golden Gate Straight, which connects San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean. Without a doubt, it is the world’s most iconic bridge.
The Golden Gate Bridge is within walking distance of San Francisco’s historic Presidio and is surrounded by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a national park segmented in 37 separate tracts of land, together accounting for some 80,000 acres. The bridge itself is not part of the national park and is instead managed by The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, which is a collaboration between nearby counties.
Wheelchair accessibility at the Golden Gate Bridge
Millions of visitors flock to the bridge each year, exploring not only the bridge itself, but the surrounding area and national park sites. The Golden Gate Bridge is wheelchair accessible, with disabled access provided to the pedestrian walkway, exhibits, trails and historic sites along the coastline.
Tourists typically stop first at the welcome center, which contains an information desk, exhibits and a gift shop. It is located at the bridge’s South end. Additional exhibits are located outside the welcome center and in a bunker. Information on the location and scope of those exhibits is provided on the Golden Gate website.
A wheelchair accessible bathroom is located in a separate structure, directly across from the welcome center. The accessible stall had space to park a wheelchair alongside the toilet as well as grab bars.
Two exhibits just outside the welcome center are worth a look. The first is a tactile model of the bridge, which helps those who are blind better understand the design of the bridge. Some information is provided in braille.
The second is a moving mural, with a picture that changes as the viewer moves past. The optical panels animate the construction of the bridge, which took place from 1933 to 1937.
An accessible ramp leads from the visitors center up to the bridge entrance. It features hand rails and a gentle slope.
At the top of the ramp is the Round House Cafe, which offers a selection of food and drinks. I did not stop in and cannot comment on whether it is a good choice.
The bridge’s pedestrian walkway is fairly wide, but it is shared with bicyclists. Be aware as you move along the bridge so that you won’t experience a painful collision! The walkway is smooth, with a cement surface. A safety barrier has been erected between the pedestrian and vehicular traffic lanes.
Viewing areas are located at a number of points along the bridge. They are great places to stop and take photographs of the San Francisco city skyline. It is better to take pictures from the ends of the bridge, as wire netting is installed along the central span as a suicide prevention measure.
How far you go is up to you — I personally went about two thirds of a mile before turning back, deciding instead to spend time exploring the many picturesque trails around the bridge.
Once I had doubled back and reached the bridge entrance, I took a separate path down to the sidewalk that runs underneath the bridge. There, visitors will find panels describing the structure of the bridge and its seismic indicators, which monitor the bridge’s response to geologic movements, such as earthquakes or tremors.
As a result of work done to strengthen the Golden Gate Bridge, it is believed that it could withstand earthquakes bigger than a 7.0 on the Richter scale. In 1989, the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake caused significant damage to the bridge.
Pathways lead away from the bridge in all directions. By heading Southwest, you’ll come upon cement structures, the ground level of which are partially accessible. Dirt pathways, which are generally hard packed, are partially accessible but easier to navigate in a powered wheelchair.
By following the paths leading East, you’ll find accessible trails comprised of a number of different surfaces, which connect the Golden Gate Bridge to the Presidio, an adjacent national park. There are a number of excellent vantage points for photography, and I definitely stopped to take a photo with the bridge.
Both paved and dirt pathways run between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Presidio. The route between the bridge and my hotel, which was located within the Presidio, was 1.3 miles. I had no issues navigating the paths with my power wheelchair. It is a lovely walk or roll, which I highly recommend.
When I made it to Crissy Field, a large green space within the Presidio, I knew I had made it! Crissy Field is actually very interesting, as it was previously an air strip on the army base. Now, it is a nice place to enjoy the sunshine, play, relax, and take in amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
Transportation to/from the Golden Gate Bridge
On a recent trip to San Francisco, I had the pleasure of staying at The Lodge at the Presidio. By staying at the hotel closest to the Golden Gate Bridge, I was able to visit the bridge at my leisure and enjoy the Presidio, a national park comprised of land that was previously the site of a U.S. Army military fort. There are museums, trails, restaurants and more within the Presidio, enough to keep you occupied for a full day or more.
Transportation between the Presidio, the Golden Gate Bridge and Downtown San Francisco is provided free of charge on the PresidiGo Shuttle. For more information about the Presidio and the wheelchair accessible PresidiGo Shuttle, visit Presidio.gov.
For those staying in San Francisco, a number of city bus routes operated by Golden Gate Transit and San Francisco Muni, are available from Downtown, the Civic Center, Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf to the Golden Gate Bridge’s South side, which is the area I reviewed here. For a complete list, visit GoldenGate.org.
Parking at the bridge is extremely limited, and visitors are encouraged to arrive instead via public transport, a taxi or a ride share operator. Uber and Lyft both provide wheelchair accessible vehicles in San Francisco, but wait times may be longer than a traditional wheelchair taxi. For driving directions and parking information, visit GoldenGate.org.
While many people spend only an hour at the Golden Gate Bridge, the surrounding trails offer ample opportunity for extended exploration. The bridge and its picturesque backdrop are breathtakingly beautiful. On a number of occasions, I just paused to gaze upon the synthesis of the iconic man-made structure and the awe-inspiring natural setting. No matter when you visit or how long you stay, the Golden Gate Bridge is sure to impress.