Underneath the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is always notable no matter how many times you’ve experienced it. Another extra special delight is going under the bridge.

 

Public tours, private charters, and privately-owned watercraft cruise beneath the orange span every day. Tourist or resident, we all like to visit the waters under this famous bridge.

I was on a birdwatching boat recently on the San Francisco Bay. Even though it was January, we had lucked out with the weather and the waters were calm and the sun was bright. Coastal bird flocks were our destination.

 

While still docked, the guide said, “I have a surprise for you.”

 

We were a boat-load of birders heading out to see what the herring were attracting. What could be more exciting than this?

 

“The Captain says the water is calm enough, we can go under the Golden Gate Bridge today.”

 

Everyone cheered.

 

When you’re on the bridge there is one prevailing sound: the traffic. Six lanes of fast-moving traffic and a constant thu-dud…thu-dud…thu-dud of vehicles speeding across the highway grates. It’s wonderful.

 

But when you’re under the bridge, all you hear are the wind and the water.

 

Harbor seals relaxed in the sun near their prime-real-estate beach caves. Western grebes, black oystercatchers, and western gulls were busy all around us.

Harbor Seals

From the water, the bridge is 220 feet (67 m) above you, and seems so far away.

 

The water under the bridge is turbulent, and there are always warnings to beware. The majority of the under-bridge adventurers are experienced boaters, but sometimes a few reckless individuals are there to catch a thrill, too.

Surfers at the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco

There are many factors here at the conjunction of the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean that make the water dangerous.

 

There are two different kinds of water. The Bay water is runoff from the surrounding land, it is earth-warmed and carries silt. Contrastingly, the Pacific Ocean is cold, nutrient-rich water stirred by upwellings and tides. The two different water types clash here and funnel through a narrow land constriction, thereby creating a tumultuous disturbance.

 

In addition, underneath the water is an ever-changing sea floor. Tectonics, dredging, tidal currents, and many other alterations have re-shaped the underwater landscape year after year. U.S. Geological Service images, click here.

Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands

Black Oystercatchers more interested in barnacles than the Bridge

Defunct military forts stand at each end of the Golden Gate Bridge, these are also good spots for getting a close-up underneath view. Fort Point and Fort Baker.  Both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point, San Francisco, California

Post I wrote about Fort Point. 

Golden Gate Bridge Facts

 

If you have ever visited this iconic bridge, you know the specialness to which I refer. We each leave a little bit of our heart in San Francisco.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

 

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119 thoughts on “Underneath the Golden Gate Bridge

  1. These shots and the info are really cool. I’ve never gone under the Golden Gate Bridge, but I remember that one of the highlights of a visit to San Francisco was walking across the bridge. It was so cool to watch a guy painting the bridge. Apparently they have to sandblast off the old paint before they put on new paint to keep the bridge from gaining weight.

    • I loved hearing your GG Bridge story, Mike. It’s a fact that residents always repeat (I don’t know how true it is) that the bridge painting occurs all year long. They start at one end and it takes so long that they then have to start all over again. I’m glad you enjoyed today’s post. I thought yours and Walter Sanford’s posts were cool, too–finding the exoskeleton of a dragonfly nymph and cleaning it up and then studying it. So much in life to love….

  2. Thanks Jet for another early morning reading delight. And yes it’s true: the bridge and it’s surroundings are very special.
    Have a good day!
    Ria

    • Thanks so much, Ria, I’m glad you enjoyed a visit to the GG Bridge this morning. I remember a delightful visit with you to Fort Point last year. Have fun enjoying the fresh snow in your mountains–

  3. Jet as you know I love your posts but this one will be one of my top picks. The views of the bridge are stunning. Jaw dropping, gob smacking, magazine cover calling images. The one with the Headlands in the background so unique. Of course the last one brings such fond memories of our time together in San Francisco. A special memory for both Dave and I and so grateful for your generous gift of showing us so much of the city.

    • That was a terrific day we spent together, and so fun to be at the base of the GG Bridge with you and Dave. Since then I have visited the other side, Ft. Baker, and have more fun things to show you both. So glad you enjoyed the bridge with me again today, Sue, thanks for your wonderful comment…gave me a big smile.

    • Yes, it is quite a sight from any angle, Janet. It is such a huge bridge, the angles are endless. Glad to share it with you here today, thank you for your visit.

  4. Hi Jet, it’s always awesome to see you in my inbox! Love this post. Never been on or under this bridge, never been to SF! I can tell the water is turbulent just by reading it’s surface. I saw a program on TV the other day where SF Bay was drained. It’s amazing how deep the water is between the two towers, as though they may slide into the gorge. Athena takes some great photos!!

    • Thanks so much for this fun comment, John, I love it that you’re happy to see me in your inbox. I thought the water looked turbulent in those photos, too, I’m glad you noticed. Different parts of the Bay fill up quickly with silt and dredging is a regular process. Glad you liked the photos, too. Athena never sits down on the boat, and we are the lucky recipients. I had a hard time narrowing down all the many photos for this post. Thanks very much, John, wonderful–

      • Thank you Jet! Growing up on a lake in Michigan and being an avid boater, I was and still am interested in how water interacts with the shoreline, boats and hydrodynamics. Your bay is astounding without the water as well!

      • The maritime life of boats and water is a fascinating one. I like knowing you enjoyed it when you lived in Michigan, John. I once went with a friend canoeing on Lake Michigan (Chicago) and we really had no business doing such a thing. The winds came up and we were paddling so hard and barely advanced. I thought I was going to have to spend my life on that lake. lol. Boating is tricky and challenging, how wonderful that you learned.

      • Well, the wind usually blows offshore on the Illinois/Wisconsin side so yeah, glad you weren’t blown away! The Great Lakes are inland seas in my book. 😃

  5. Wonderful to experience this through your eyes and words,Jet! I probably won’t ever get to visit this fantastic place, but at least I can experience a little of it on your blog.

  6. Excellent educational post, Jet. I’ve never been to the Golden Bridge so I was very interested hearing about the clashing waters, which I did not know about. Wonderful images which again I loved looking at. Thank you so much for sharing a part of the world that is not a part of mine. Much Love to you!! 💞

    • It is such a world living near the GG Bridge. I like to ask natives about their GG stories, because they always have at least one. One of my friends, for example, had the fun of being taken up to the top once when she was little, stories like that. I found your world of deep snow and crocuses very fun to watch too, Amy, we don’t get snow like that in SF, and many people would go nuts over such a downfall. Fun to share our worlds….thank you.

      • Yes it is fun to share worlds, Jet, I agree. I just came in from brushing off the snow from our trees to the point my arms felt like they would fall off. LOL Our one Maple Tree has a broken branch (the one in the picture) and I can see the sap is running. I told hubby IF we knew how to tap our trees we could have Maple syrup. He just grumbled as he usually does, about how we have enough to do as it is. True too. But it was a nice thought to have our own Maple syrup. 😉

    • Oh how fun that will be for you and your husband, SWI. As you are leaving SF and crossing the bridge, be sure to stop at the Vista Point on the right just after the bridge ends. Great views. My warmest thanks for your visit today. Email me if you have questions about SF.

  7. Lucky you! I’ve lived in SF area for over thirty years and only once have I sailed under the bridge. Unfortunately it was in the fog! Still a great experience.

    • When I was composing this post I was wondering how many times I had been under the bridge. Once was for a friend’s memorial service when we scattered his ashes into the Pacific O. With bird trips and going with out-of-town guests on tourist boats, I guessed it’s been about ten times or less. And each time is an absolute thrill, as you know, Jan. Thanks so much, I always enjoy your local contribution.

  8. Fabulous post, Jet. I have never sailed under the bridge…have walked under on land and run over the top. Fort Point is a favorite viewing spot. Your post is filled with interesting facts and photos. Thanks!

  9. There are my oyster catchers. Thank you. I see that the legs are not orange, as I thought I remembered them. Only the bill. I had it in my head all these years that the legs were the same colour as the bill. Shows how impressed and focused I was on the bill colour. I was very interested in your description of the turbulence of the waters under the bridge. I had wondered about that. No place for the inexperienced boater, for sure. Thanks for a great post!

    • Oystercatchers all have similar physical attributes, but they do not all look the same. They have different markings depending on where you are in the world. The black oystercatcher, pictured here, is a west coast bird. I’m glad you enjoyed today’s post, Anneli, always nice to hear from you. Here’s a link with all the world’s oystercatchers so you can see the variations: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oystercatcher

      • Thanks for the link, Jet. I see none of them have the orange legs of my imagination, but some are less pink than others. It’s been years since I’ve seen them but I always enjoyed seeing and hearing them when we lived in the Charlottes (Haida Gwaii).

      • Oystercatchers are truly a joy. I’m glad you enjoyed those black oystercatchers near the GG Bridge, Anneli, as well as the ones in Charlottes.

  10. HI. Jet – I love your Golden Gate Bridge narrative today. I have been to the GG Bridge many times and it is a very special place, The trip to Sausalito is one of my favorites.

    • It is fun to cross the bridge and spend some time in Sausalito, isn’t it, Sharon? I’m happy to know you have enjoyed the GG Bridge many times. I’m also glad you enjoyed the narrative today. I always enjoy writing these essays and I always learn something. I always knew, for instance, that the water under the bridge had dangerous currents. But I never knew the reason for it until I did the research for this post. Many thanks and a smile to you–

  11. Fabulous photographs and facts about a stunning construction! I love bridges, and your local bridge is one of the best – and we’re smiling at the memory of our visit with you a few springs ago…
    What a treat to be able to float underneath the bridge – an entirely different experience to the noise and excitement up top. Thanks for this, Jet, really enjoyed it once again!

    • It was great fun to write about the GG Bridge, pc, I am so pleased you enjoyed it. I didn’t know you loved bridges, but this makes sense because you have introduced me to the Peace Bridge in the most marvelous way. One day I want to walk across that bridge and get closer to the beautiful Bow too. Sending a smile back to you and Mrs. PC, and of course the energetic Scout too. Many thanks–

    • Yes, imagine surfing under the bridge! You see how turbulent it is. Sometimes wind surfers go under there too. Glad you liked the post, and I’m glad you commented on the oystercatchers, Sherry. As you know, it is always fun to see them, and they so often blend in, you don’t even know they’re there. Cheers to you and your avian friends in Central Park–

  12. Beautiful photos and awesome under-bridge adventure! I’ve never gotten to the west coast (yet!) but hope someday I get to & get to go under this bridge. Experience it’s stature and strength. We’ve boated under many bridges, both big and little, on the Chesapeake Bay; and each time you go under a bridge again, it is still as enthralling as before. A different world as you say. Great post, thank you, Jet!

    • Thanks, Donna, I like hearing about the experiences of going under bridges on the Chesapeake Bay. You’ve got plenty of info here for how to get under the bridge, but in the meantime, I’m glad you enjoyed the photos.

  13. You may have come across the blog maintained by Allan Smorra, called Ohm Sweet Ohm. He’s a retired electrician who spent years working on the Golden Gate Bridge, and the section of his blog devoted to the bridge is remarkable. On the page I linked the first two entries are of particular interest: “Lest We Forget” and “Visitors In The Night.” I’ve never forgotten either of them. If you snoop around, there are some extraordinary “insiders” photos, too.

    As for the bridge, itself, I loved your tale of being beneath it. I’ve never had the experience, although I spent a few years watching the fog drift over, around, and under it from the hills in Berkeley. And you’re exactly right that everyone has their bridge tale. I still remember mine, and laugh when I do — it involves something that I threw off the bridge. But that’s a tale for another time and place, or at least not for a public blog. 🙂

  14. I so enjoyed your boat cruise under the bridge and the wonderful photos! This is one of your adventures that I can actually picture myself enjoying some day. What a fabulous way to see the bridge and birds, although the water does look a little rough in my favorite shot of the surfer. The oystercatchers and seals have a perfect view! Beautiful post and I’m ready for summer!

    • Always a delight to have you visit, ACI, and I chuckled at you saying this was one adventure of mine that you could picture yourself doing. This was a boat ride with an Audubon Group but no one was required to be a member. You just had to sign up in advance and pay ($55/person). But there are daily boat rides by the Red and White Fleet, that’s how I went the first time under the bridge years ago. While researching for this post, I perused some kayaker sites and kayakers do apparently go under the bridge, too. But I have never ever seen one, and I think you and Gabby would probably prefer different sailing means. lol. I hope you have a wonderful weekend, enjoy the Oscars!

  15. Special indeed Jet! I am really enjoying your book “Golden Gate Graveyard” as well as a good murder mystery, it has so many interesting facts about San Francisco!

    • I am so happy to hear you’re enjoying GGG, Bertie. I spent two years researching, including a full tour of Alcatraz, and really enjoyed learning about SF on a deeper level. It’s a pleasure and an honor to share it with you. Thanks for stopping by, my friend–a great treat.

  16. A special thanks, Jet, for this wonderful post. It brought back some really good memories. That bridge really is something special. In so many ways.

    FWIW… we’re still in a holding pattern waiting for these latest storms to pass. I can’t seem to help but enjoy the stormy weather (as long as it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome!)

    • I am really pleased that you enjoyed the GG bridge post, Gunta, and happy that it sparked happy memories for you. Stay safe in these stormy days. I have no doubt you will have some beautiful photos of it.

  17. Quite interesting post about this colossal piece of Engineering. A great monument to the American ingenuity and greatness of our people. It’s grandiosity extends from top to bottom as you’ve confirmed with your boat trip. Thank you for your grand tour my friend… 🙂

    • Yes, the GG bridge really is a colossal piece of engineering, HJ. It’s construction was so hotly contested and fought by many at the time, the way these things go sometimes. How wonderful that it turned out so well, and has carried so many millions of people safely across the bay. I appreciate your visit and kind comments, my friend, thanks so much.

    • This bridge looms large and is a constant presence in the Bay Area, and we find it in all kinds of weather always towering with such beauty. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Eliza, thanks so much for your visit.

  18. I love the underside of bridges Jet, big and small. My favourite shot here of the Golden Gate is the one with the surfer, though not because of him, but rather getting up close to that enormous metal upright. I love them all of course and can see there is an incredible number of sailing boats in the bay. I spent a couple of years exploring the upper reaches of the Severn Estuary here in Wales including the underside of the Severn Bridge (2nd Severn Crossing) – it was amazing both visually and aurally.

    • I really like that surfer photo too, Alastair, for exactly the reason you say. The immensity of the tower’s base is unbelievable. I also enjoyed hearing about your explorations of the Severn Estuary and the Severn Bridge in beautiful Wales. My best wishes to you for a lovely weekend, my friend–

    • Aloha, Bill, and many thanks for your visit to the Bay Area here. It is exciting to be under the bridge, and always a joy to be accompanied by so many wildlife friends.

  19. You have done a wonderful job of capturing the experience of seeing the bridge from below. I hired on to the District in 1999 and I was more impressed the first time I climbed over the rail and went down onto one of the inner scaffolds than I was when I climbed the Main Cable for the first time. For some reason, the sheer size and weight of the bridge can be felt when viewed from the bottom. Athena’s photos are a nice complement to your story. Happy weekend. Ω

    • It is an honor and a pleasure to receive your visit here, Allan. I hope you know how much everyone in the Bay Area, and those who don’t live here too, appreciate the work and devotion you have given to this astounding bridge. I love hearing about your climbing “over the rail”, the inner scaffolds, and the main cable. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts and learning firsthand what you have experienced in your life as an electrician on the GG Bridge. In the meantime, I thank you for your visit here, and kind comments.

      • You’re very welcome, Jet. I always thought of my work there as being a “steward” of a world renown structure. There’s a video on my ‘About’ page that will give you an idea of what it’s like to work there. I guess that it’s time to write a few more stories of my time at the GGB. Thanks for the nudge and stay tuned.
        Ω

  20. Under or over, I’ve never managed either, Jet 😦 What a wonderful sight on a day like this, but then this bridge looks amazing in fog too, and not everyone can manage that. 🙂 🙂

  21. Very informative post, Jet! I am curious about those Forts now 😀 Must be a stunning view from there and to be so close to the bridge. Black Oystercatchers are super adorable!!

    • Yes, the forts are an interesting historical aspect combined with intimate views of the bridge. Great fun, and free to stroll around. At Fort Baker a few weeks ago we saw a young woman posing for a photo shoot in a voluminous hot-pink tutu — quite a contrast from the rugged fishermen. Glad you enjoyed the GG bridge post, Indah — thanks for stopping by.

    • The Harbour Bridge is another outstanding bridge in this world. I never wanted to climb it in my visits to Sydney, but I sure appreciated it’s magnificence. Glad you enjoyed the monsterness of the GG Bridge, Lloyd. Thinking of you today on Oscar day. Have fun!

      • :-/ I’m glad you liked it. I enjoyed it too however I thought as a telecast Jimmy Kimmel did one of the best hosting gigs last year where as this year it was pretty average. What saved it for me was the quality of all the nominees, I was upset with none on winners or if they’d been different and several voices being heard and celebrated throughout. A couple of things that stood out to me, the montages including the my buddy Rog (film critic Ebert talking about film’s ability to create empathy) which I take to heart very seriously, Jennifer Garner rocking that blue dress and Maya and Tiffany and Kumail for their wisdom and their wit, How about you?

      • I, too, really liked the montages, older presenters like R. Moreno and E.M.Saint, etc. And great musical performances, especially “This is Me.” I thought Jimmy Kimmel did a great job of keeping the humor fun, not biting. And I was really pleased, like you, to see the spread of awards to all different movies instead of one particular film sweeping all the awards. I thought there was great ongoing dialogue about immigration, art, equality, empathy, and love. Our U.S. president right now is so hateful, it was heartening to see the Hollywood contingent rising above and showing the world that we value peace and kindness here.

      • I’m glad to hear it and yes you’re absolutely right about the venerable female presenters. Eve Marie Saint was so with it and so confident and gorgeous and funny and just friggin cool. Rita Moreno too.

    • We don’t often think about life under the Golden Gate Bridge, but there is a lot going on under there. I’m glad you enjoyed it Belinda, thanks for stopping by.

  22. Very interesting post, Jet! I have done that journey under the bridge once – on a tourist boat taking us around many, many years ago. I still remember the turbulent waters under the bridge, but had no idea why this was. That bridge is an amazing structure.

    • I like knowing that you’ve been under the GG Bridge, Helen. And even when it’s been awhile, you still remember the turbulence, because indeed it is memorable. I enjoyed hearing your experiences, thanks for the great comment.

  23. This is a beautiful post Jet, the story, the photos. Every time I think it’s gone, it rears its head — the part of me that was San Francisco dreaming for 20+ years. So I love all things that let me have a virtual visit to the place. Wonderfully done. Hugs on the wing!

  24. I have visited San Fransisco twice, and the bridge both times. I did not get to go under the bridge, though. I think San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities, The entire area is stupendous.

  25. Enjoyed this post – esp. the info about the turbulent water…but all I could think about as I was reading was a dead body lying on the path… right about where Athena’s last photo was taken, if I’m not mistaken! ;>)

    • I love that Golden Gate Graveyard has penetrated your mind so deeply, dear Nan…the finest compliment a novelist could ask for. Many thanks and smiles to you….

  26. Stunning photographic work and details concerning the geological changes that have influenced sealife and the currents of the water under the magnificent bridge!Indeed,you were lucky with the weather,it was a quiet and bright winter day that gave you the chance to enjoy nature and marine life.The oystercatchers and the harbour seals enjoyed their day as much as you did,dear Jet.Wishing you & Athena a splendid & peaceful Sunday,near,or above,or under the bridge,my friend 🙂

    • So happy you could join me, dear Doda, under the GG Bridge today! I always knew they were turbulent and dangerous waters under the bridge, because there are many warnings, but I never knew exactly why until I researched it for this post. It has been fun learning and sharing, and I am glad you came along to adventure it with Athena and I, Doda. I am living in a temporary condo on the bay while our house is being repaired, post-firestorm, and today the fog is so dense I cannot see the water’s edge. But I know it’s there, and so is the bridge. I am glad to know you are out there too, my friend.

      • Thank you for your detailed reply,my good friend Jet!Always polite and thoughtful!The phenomenon you described about the turbulent waters caught my attention,and reminded me of a strange phenomenon with Evripos River flowing in a city near Athens.We call it (Phenomenon of Evripos (Crazy Water).The water changes direction every 6 hours and it has to do with the moon.The tidal wave is born from the attraction of the moon in the eastern Mediterranean and is directed to the west and when we have the Full Moon and New Moon, the tides are more intense and hours change.Btw,I am so glad to hear that your house is being repaired;soon you’ll be able to live near nature and not confined in condo.Have a nice day without fog 🙂

      • Hi Doda, I love hearing about the Phenomenon of Evripos. Fascinating. The earth is a curious and wonderful place. Re our house. It is slated for repair, but no repairs have begun yet, unfortunately. It has been a challenging five months, lots of chaos in our county, disarray, and limited services, and constant battles with the insurance company. But on the bright side, repair will begin sometime this month…we hope. Still no electricity or water. But I know where to go to find lively tidal waves. 😉 It has been a joy exchanging with you, thank you for your time and kind words and interesting info.

      • How sad.I think that all these social services were well-organised in the past.If they start this month it may be ready in summer.I’ll keep in touch with you to see how things go.I ,too,thank you for everything,dear Jet.Take care 🙂

    • I think no matter how many times I have crossed the GG Bridge, I am still in awe. Crossed it twice yesterday, and the water was a deep, dark blue below. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Janet, thanks so much for your visit, always appreciated.

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