Updated: Jul 12, 2018
San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge has inspired generations of photographers from all over the world. The city has an allure of its own, but if your heart is set on photographing its most famous icon then consider devoting a day to the adventure.
Annually the bridge receives 10 million visitors who are attracted to its graceful towers, sweeping main cables, unique International Orange color, and Art Deco styling. It is no wonder the Golden Gate Bridge has been listed as one of the Wonders of the Modern World.
The bridge was built in 1937 and connects San Francisco to the Marin headlands and other points north along the famous 101. But she’s a moody icon, changing her looks, often hourly, with the capricious weather of the bay. Frankly this moody personality delights us photographers. On summer mornings she is often robed in fog with just the top of her twin towers visible. By early afternoon she baths in the sunshine of the western sun before the tendrils of the evening fog begin to embrace her again. A sudden rain squall can clear the skies and bring puffy clouds painted gold, red and pink by the setting sun, all within the span of a single day.
Speaking of fog, San Francisco’s famous clouds can obscure the view completely. Technically they are not fog at all but low lying stratus clouds. Whatever. It looks like fog and is far more common in the summer, peaking in late July. Many winter days are fog free. However, one near constant element to deal with is the wind. Temperatures are cooler on the water and with the wind and mist it can get chilly. Check the weather forecast frequently and dress in layers.
The Frommer's travel guide writes that the Golden Gate Bridge "is possibly the most beautiful and certainly most photographed bridge in the world." I'd have to agree with that opinion.
In this article I outline a five-stop trip that will give you the opportunity to capture the bridge in different light and views.
Starting the Adventure - Torpedo Wharf
Start your Golden Gate Bridge photo adventure in the area on the south side famously known as the Presidio of San Francisco. Built in 1776, the Presidio was designed as a fort by the Spanish to protect their interests in the area. Plan to arrive mid-morning (unless you want to try for a sunrise view) There is parking available at Hamilton Street Parking near the West Bluff Picnic area (GPS 37.807234, -122.470216. To use the GPS Coordinates see the *note below). Parking is free on weekdays (as of March 2018).
There are many attractive
views along the waterfront here but the most popular is near Torpedo Wharf. Built in 1854 by the US Army, the wharf has been rebuilt many times over the years. It earned its name when a submarine mine depot was built at the site around 1908. Tourists flock to this spot for epic selfies of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the city skyline. Since the Golden Gate Bridge lies to the East it is well lit by the morning sun. The nearby Warming Hut Cafe and Park Store is a bookstore, gift shop and café. It is an easy stroll from the wharf and its hot chocolate has warmed many a chilled photographer.
Stop 2 - Baker Beach
Traveling south on Lincoln Boulevard will take you to Marshall Beach, the next stop (GPS 37.792782, -122.483264). Lying on the Pacific Coast proper Baker Beach offers another great view of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you are there from late September to mid-March the early afternoon sun lights up the bridge and concrete abutments, and fog is less likely to obscure the view. The surf of Baker Beach can also provide leading lines pointing to the bridge. By mid-afternoon you will want to cross to the north side and head up to the Marin Headlands in the Golden Gate Recreation Area for one of the most famous views of the bridge by the bay. There's a large parking lot within a easy walk to the beach.
Stop 3 - Marin Headlands
As seen from the Marin Headlands the Golden Gate Bridge reflects the evening sun with San Francisco glowing in the background. This is a charming and familiar vista, and we never grow tired of it. Try the viewpoint at the Marin Headlands Vista Point (GPS 37.827465, -122.498967) just below Hawk Hill.
Bonus Stop: If you have the time you might drive to Point Bonita and walk along the trail leading to the lighthouse. There are outstanding views of the bridge in the distance. The lighthouse is open Sundays and Mondays from 12:30 to 3:30 pm.
Be warned though. The gates to the Golden Gate Recreation Area close at dusk, and the National Park service is diligent in clearing the area, so be prepared to take your sunset photos and head promptly down the hill to Fort Baker. (Update: Check ahead, the Recreation area has been open past dark recently - as of July 2018).
Stops 4 & 5 Baker & Cavallo Points
After sunset Point Lime in Fort Baker (GPS 37.831347,-122.478442) offers dramatic night reflections of the Golden Gate Bridge in the relatively protected waters outside of Horseshoe Bay. On a windy day this is a welcome respite.
Parking is available by the fisherman’s pier. Portable restrooms are in the area. Follow the road from the parking area around the bend and you’ll discover a quiet escape from the wind and fog. You're eye level with the tankers here and much closer to the bridge. Many photographers prefer this view. Experiment with long exposures as the lights of the bridge begin to shine.
Just across Horseshoe Bay is Point Cavallo (GPS 37.832431, -122.473462). The Bay is a sheltered marina for sail boats and other private sea craft. It is a short 5 minute drive from Point Lime to the small parking lot. The view of the bridge is stunning. On a clear night one can see the San Francisco skyline and the distant Oakland Bay Bridge.
After leaving the Fort Baker area, head north to Sausalito and enjoy a meal along the waterfront. It is a great way to end a day of photographing the most beautiful bridge in the world.
A sturdy tripod. The winds are notorious on the bay and you might consider bringing weights to help stabilize your tripod.
A lens in the 24 mm to 70 mm range and a second in the 80 mm to 200 mm range. The San Francisco skyline will tempt you as well, so a longer telephoto lens would be a welcome third lens.
Rain protection for your camera and gear.
Extra batteries and SD cards.
A small flashlight to get around after dark.
Dress in layers. The weather can be chilly any day of the year. Bring something warm to drink.
* To use the GPS coordinates listed above, copy and paste them into the search bar of Google Maps. You can then get the current driving directions that will take you to the spot. Click here for a map of the area.
About the author. JS Engelbrecht cut his teeth in photography in the fashion industry before turning his attention to Nature. "I moved from shooting pictures of beautiful jewelry to shooting pictures of natural beauty."