Learn more about San Francisco’s most famous icon with these 25 Golden Gate Bridge facts. Sure, we cover the bridge’s history and engineering, but we will also answer your burning questions like which bridge engineer was also a romantic poet, when did an ostrich stop traffic on the bridge, which famous people were allowed to climb it (and which one got arrested for it), who is Karl the Fog and how many times has Hollywood destroyed the bridge.
The Golden Gate Bridge is both an engineering marvel and a cultural keystone for San Francisco. There are a lot of interesting facts about the Golden Gate Bridge that cover its construction and engineering. For instance, when it was built, it was the tallest and longest suspension bridge in the world. But there is also a lot to learn about the Bridge’s place in SF culture. When Tony Bennett sang about leaving his heart in San Francisco, he talked about his love being “above the blue and windy sea”, just like the bridge. Tourists flock to it. People walk on it, they ride their bikes on it and they rely on it for their daily commute.
We hope that by reading this article, you will not only learn some Golden Gate Bridge facts, but that you will also come to love it like Tony.
Read More: Use our guide for visiting the Golden Gate Bridge to get advice on how to park, when to go, how to walk it and great photo locations.
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History & Engineering Facts About the Golden Gate Bridge
Check out these interesting Golden Gate Bridge facts to learn more about how and when the bridge was designed and constructed.
1. The Golden Gate Bridge is Not Named for It’s Reddish-Orange Color
Rather, the bridge is named for the Golden Gate Strait, which it spans. On a lovely fall day, you can stand at the south end of the bridge and look north toward the golden hills of the Marin Headlands and clearly see why the strait is considered golden. At least that’s what John C Fremont thought. He was an Army major-general and explorer who came through the strait on an expedition in 1846. The entrance to the bay reminded him of the Golden Horn of what is now Istanbul, and he wrote that it’s a “golden gate to the trade with the Orient.”
2. It Only Took 4 Years to Build the Bridge
This is quite an engineering achievement considering the challenging terrain and the fact that is was financed and built during the Great Depression. In 1923, the population in the region had exploded. Popular support grew for the bridge, which would connect the city to a growing population in the North Bay. In 1930, voters approved a $35 million bond initiative ($523 million in today’s dollars). Construction on the bridge began in 1933 and it was completed in 1937.
3. Joseph Strauss Was the Lead Engineer for the Golden Gate Bridge (and Also a Poet)
Strauss may have been the lead engineer for the bridge project, but he very wisely assembled a crack crew of designers, engineers, geologists and contractors. He was a well-respected engineer, credited with building over 400 bridges in the US, Canada and all over the globe.
Strauss was the son of a Bavarian painter and a musician and he was also an accomplished poet. Here is a bit from his poem The Mighty Task is Done:
At last the mighty task is done;
Resplendent in the western sun
The Bridge looms mountain high;
Its titan piers grip ocean floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky.
4. An Estimated 200,000 People Visited the Bridge on Opening Day
The bridge opened on May 27th, 1935. By 6AM, there were already 18,000 people waiting to take a stroll and it didn’t let up all day. It was quite a party with people tap dancing, riding unicycles, playing tubas and wearing stilts. They even crowned five “Fiesta Queens” on opening day.
5. The Golden Gate Bridge weighs 840 Million Tons
Dang, that’s more than the Empire State Building.
6. The Bridge is Constantly Being Painted
It takes a lot of maintenance to keep that iconic red color so bright. They don’t necessarily paint it end-to-end, but they are constantly doing touch-up work.
Consulting Architect Irving Morrow selected the distinctive orange color, called International Orange, because he felt that it blends well with the span’s natural setting. He considered it consistent with the warm colors of the nearby land masses while being distinct from the cool colors of the sky and sea. Good call, Irving.
If you want to paint your house this color, give Home Depot the following formula: CMYK colors- C= Cyan: 0%, M =Magenta: 69%, Y =Yellow: 100%, K = Black: 6%.
7. The Golden Gate Bridge Towers are 746 Feet Tall
How high is the Golden Gate Bridge? 746 feet worth of high, which is about 68 stories. At the time that it was built, it was the tallest bridge tower in the world. 85 years later, it still ranks as the 13th tallest.
Fun Golden Gate Bridge fact: My father-in-law was in engineering school during the construction of the bridge and they let his class come out and climb the struts. He definitely had more intestinal fortitude than I do.
8. The Golden Gate Bridge Cables are 3 Feet in Diamater
In fact, they are so heavy, they couldn’t be transported to the bridge. So, the engineers had to McGuyver a cable spinning contraption on the bridge and they spun the cables on site. Each individual cable wire is about as thick as a pencil and the spinner looped them back and forth, spinning 27,572 wires into each cable. It took six months to complete the job.
9. There are 2 Forts and 11 Gun Batteries Guarding the Bridge
The military presence started with Fort Point in 1853. It was built for the defense of the Gate during the Civil War. A series of gun batteries were then built on both the north and south sides of the Gate. These were used in the late 1800’s for both the Civil War and the Spanish American War. Fort Baker was added in 1905. The forts and batteries were put into use again during WWII and some were even on deck during the Cold War.
If you like military history, you should also visit Angel Island state park. There are more forts and batteries on the island, along with a historic immigration station.
10. The First Bridge Toll was $.50 Cents
That was a lot of money in the Depression era 1930’s. The toll translates to $9.50 in today’s dollars. Today’s bridge toll nearly kept up with inflation and is $9.05 (or $8.05 if you use FasTrak).
11. In the Average Year, Bridge Tolls Amounted to $145,000,000+ in Revenue
Wow- that will pay for a lot of red paint. It also pays for 800 employees and the maintenance and operations required to run not only the bridge, but also four ferry services and six North Bay commuter bus routes.
12. 40 Million Vehicles Cross the Bridge Every Year
The bridge has four lanes of traffic. They have a device which moves the cones that separate the northbound and southbound lanes. This allows them to adjust the lanes available for rush hour traffic, with more southbound lanes in the AM and more northbound lanes in the PM.
If you are planning to visit the bridge in a car, check out this thorough guide for finding parking on the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Bridge’s Natural Environment
The Golden Gate bridge is perched on the Marin Headlands to the north and is surrounded by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The region encompasses a lot of open space, sensitive animal habitat and serious weather. The following facts about the Golden Gate bridge will help you understand it within the context of its natural environment.
13. The Golden Gate Bridge Held Firm During the Loma Prieta Earthquake
The San Francisco Bay area sits on the large San Andreas fault, as well as six smaller fault zones. In October of 1989, the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake hit San Francisco. It killed 68 people, set fire to the Marina District neighborhood, toppled a major freeway in downtown SF and flattened a section of the Bay Bridge. Fortunately, the Golden Gate Bridge was unharmed in the earthquake and it was able to pick up the slack for traffic that was diverted from the Bay Bridge.
14. In a Strong Wind, the Bridge Moves like Jagger
The Golden Gate is windy. A 15mph wind is pretty common, but in 1983, they had to close the bridge for a day when it gusted up to 75mph. The suspension design of the bridge gives it a fair amount of give and it will flex with the wind.
On a particularly windy day, the road deck can move laterally (sideways) as much as 27 feet 8 inches. Just like Jagger.
15. There is an Ancient River Canyon Lurking Under the Bridge
10,000 years ago, the sea level was 300 feet lower than it is today. When a warmer climate ended the ice age, an ancient river cut a 350 foot canyon through the Golden Gate. This deep canyon contributes to the strong tides, wind and fog that flow through the Gate.
16. Karl the Fog is a Frequent Visitor to the Bridge
Karl the Fog is one of San Francisco’s most iconic residents. He lives in the city year-round but is particularly active during the summer. This is because the sea-level gap at the Golden Gate is the only break in a north/south mountain range that stretches for hundreds of miles.
When temperatures heat up in California’s Central Valley, it sucks in the cooler ocean air through the Gate, giving Karl carte blanche to coat the city in a cool mist. Listen for the fog horn which yammers from the south end of the bridge.
17. There are 300 Shipwrecks Just Outside the Gate
That Karl, when he’s in fine form, he makes it difficult for ships to navigate the windy tides at the mouth of the Gate. Since SF’s harbor became a vital shipping center during the Gold Rush, hundreds of ships were lost to the ocean’s challenging conditions.
If you walk the Lands End Hike at low tide, you can sometimes see bits of the wreckage.
18. There are 4 Walking Trails Feeding Access to the Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge isn’t just for cars, it also features some great walks. The south side of the bridge is fed by the East Battery, Batteries to Bluffs and the Golden Gate Pacific Overlook trails. The East Battery starts in Crissy Field and includes a stop at historic Fort Point before heading up the bridge. The Batteries to Bluffs and Pacific Overlook trails start at Baker Beach and winds through some historic military installations before getting to the bridge.
From the north end, you can start in Sausalito to Fort Baker and then take the Conzelman trail up to the Golden Gate Vista Point.
Learn more with this guide for walking the Golden Gate Bridge.
Fun, Wacky & Cultural Golden Gate Bridge Facts
Yes, yes, it’s an engineering marvel, but wouldn’t you also like to learn some whacky facts about the Golden Gate bridge? Use the following to wow your friends on trivia night.
19. On February 22nd 1985, the 1 Billionth Car Drove Across the Bridge
Or, as they like to say in Marin, just an average Tuesday commute.
20. There are 14 Awesome Spots for Viewing the Golden Gate Bridge
The bridge is very accessible and you can spend a whole day exploring it from every angle. This article showcases 14 Golden Gate Bridge viewpoints which covers north, south, east, west and also under the bridge.
21. The Bridge Has Only Been Closed 8 Times
There have been three closures due to high wind (in 1951, 1982 and 1983). There was one construction closure in 1975 for cable replacement. For the 50th and 75th anniversaries, the bridge was closed to car traffic but open to pedestrians. It was closed twice for visiting dignitaries: FDR and Charles de Gaulle.
22. Apparently, Ostriches Like the Golden Gate Bridge
According to the Golden Gate Bridge transportation authority, on August 29th, 2005, A 6-foot-tall ostrich busted its way out of a cargo van at about 4:45 pm. Traffic in both directions screeched to a halt and dozens of tourists got busy with their their cameras. What a hoot!
Ostriches aren’t the only animals who love the bridge. There are peregrine falcons and cormorants nesting in the bluffs near the bridge, coyotes roaming the land around it, and sea lions and sharks swimming under it.
23. You are Not Allowed to Take a Horse on the Bridge
Whoa there cowboy, you are not allowed to ride Mr. Ed on the bridge. In fact, in 2009, the CHP had to stop a horseback rider who was sauntering down the Golden Gate Bridge sidewalk.
24. James Bond Is Allowed to Climb the Bridge, But You Are Not
In A View to a Kill’s dramatic fight to the death, Roger Moore’s Bond fought Maximillian Zorn (played by Christopher Walkin in a tragic blonde wig). They duked it out 700 feet in the air on one of the bridge cables and Zorn fell to his death, presumably losing his wig on impact.
In 1996, actor Woody Harrelson and eight other demonstrators also tried to climb the bridge. It was part of a logging protest– and they were arrested. If you try those sorts of shenanigans, you will be arrested too. Unless you are James Bond.
25. The Golden Gate Bridge has been Destroyed 12 Times in Movies
Apparently Hollywood has an issue with the bridge, because Tinseltown’s most creative minds keep trying to destroy it.
It was destroyed by an earthquake in Superman (and also 10.5), radiated by the sun in The Core, shredded by Magneto in X-Men Last Stand, and then again by Godzilla, and yet again by a Kaiju in Pacific Rim, and a forth time by the Monsters vs. Aliens. Then it was hit by a meteor shower in Meteor Storm, and a tsunami in San Andreas, followed by a nuke attack by the Terminator Genisys and (my favorite), smothered by a gigantic octopus twice in Came from Beneath the Sea and Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus.
And yet, she stands stalwart against the ravages of Hollywood.
And that my friends, is why the Golden Gate Bridge is so iconic. She was engineered by geniuses and is beloved by residents and tourists. She can withstand actual earthquakes and winds along with Hollywood smash-ups and eight legged monsters. We dearly hope that our little article on Golden Gate Bridge facts has expanded your brain a bit and given you some food for thought.
In the words of the legendary SF Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, “The mystical structure, with its perfect amalgam of delicacy and power, exerts an uncanny effect. Its efficiency cannot conceal the artistry. There is heart there, and soul…”
Explore the Golden Gate Bridge with a tour
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