No visit to San Francisco would be complete without visiting one of the cities’ most well-known landmarks, the Golden Gate Bridge. Visited by millions of people a year, it is considered by many to be the most visually stunning and photographed bridge in America, if not the world. But one question many people have is this, is the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge the same?
No, the San Francisco Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge are not the same. The Bay Bridge provides a direct route between San Francisco and Oakland to the east, while the Golden Gate Bridge links San Francisco to Marin County and towns to the north.
They are but two of the eight bridges that span various parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, helping to keep the ever-increasing vehicular traffic flowing in and out of the densely populated Bay Area moving. Continue reading on for a more in-depth look at these two iconic bridges.
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge
The listed name is the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge. However, locally it is simply known as the “Bay Bridge.” Construction on the bridge began in July of 1933, and it opened for traffic in November 1936. In just under three and a half years, the construction of one of the most remarkable engineering accomplishments of the 20th century was complete.
The bridge is, in reality, a collection of structures, and according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the total length is 8.4 miles, which includes the toll plaza and approaches. Driving from west to east, the segments are:
- Western Approach: A multi-level section of the freeway leading from San Francisco to the Bay Bridge’s West Span.
- West Span: This is a two-tiered suspension bridge comprised of two suspension structures connected to a center anchorage. This bridge crosses the bay to Yerba Buena Island.
- YBI Transition: This is the connection between the Yerba Buena Island tunnel and the SAS.
- The SAS: This is the self-anchored suspension bridge that forms the link between the YBI Transition and the Skyway.
- Skyway: The longest part of the eastern span, this section stretches to the Oakland Touchdown.
- The Oakland Touchdown: The roadway that leads from the Skyway to the city of Oakland.
The Bay Bridge carries ten lanes of Interstate 80, a major coast-to-coast highway, helping make it the Bay Area’s busiest bridge and the third busiest in the country.
The State of California owns the Bay Bridge, and it is managed and maintained by the Bay Area Toll Authority and the California Department of Transportation.
In 1989 the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the original eastern span, though repaired afterward, the eastern section was eventually replaced in 2013.
Pedestrian and Bicycle Path
In the latter part of 2016, a walkway opened on the East Span. The 15.5-foot-wide path runs along the bridge’s southern side, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to traverse the bridge from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island’s landing area.
For a more in-depth breakdown of the Bay Bridge Trail, check out my post, “How Long Is The Bay Bridge Trail?” The trail contains two interconnected sections, the first part is an overland path, and the second part crosses the East Span of the Bay Bridge.
Bay Bridge Statistics:
- Daily Crossings: Approximately 247,720 vehicles
- Length Over Water: Around 3.6-miles
- Tower Height: West towers 519-feet, East tower 525-feet
- Clearance Below: To the water West Span 220-feet and East Span 190-feet
- Replacement Cost: East Span 6.4-billion dollars
Bay Area Answers Fun Fact: There are 273 light poles on the East Span of the Bay Bridge; poles range in height from 23 to 65 feet and weigh between 2,500 to 7,500 pounds. There are 1,521 light fixtures, with each having 25 to 50 LEDs amounting to more than 48,000 LEDs in the lighting system.
The Bay Bridge Guardian
One of the Bay Bridge’s lesser-known facts is that it has its own special guardian, which is sometimes needed when architectural structures are built in the Bay Area.
On October 17, 1989, around 5:04 in the evening, the Bay Area was shaken by the Loma Prieta earthquake. The bridge suffered damages when a 50-foot section of the upper deck on the East Span collapsed.
Construction workers toiled day and night to get the bridge repaired so traffic could return to normal. As work wound down on the repairs, ironworkers smuggled a hand-forged 18-inch steel troll onto the bridge and affixed him to Pier E9.
Trolls are known for their longevity and protective powers, plus their legendary skill as craftsmen (especially in metal) and as builders, which make them the perfect choice for the role of a bridge guardian.
For 24 years, the troll and his spud wrench faithfully protected the bridge from further damages. When the new East Span opened, the troll went into retirement, and he now resides at Caltrans Bay Area District HQ at 111 Grand in Oakland, making the lobby his new home.
The troll had become a member of the “family” of Bay area residents, and as the end of the construction of the new East Span was nearing completion, they wondered if the new bridge would again have a troll to protect it.
Residents and visitors alike were excited to learn that a new troll would once again guard the bridge and provide protection for years to come.
Fondly know as “The Bay Bridge Gargoyle,” the new troll weighs a hefty 75 pounds and stands two feet, two inches in height. He carries an ironworker’s mallet and torch and resides in the shade on Pier E2.
Motorists cannot see him as they pass by, but pedestrians can catch a glimpse of him from the walkway.
The latest troll was created by the same workshop that made the first one. To learn more about these two shy creatures, read Roll Out the Trolls: A Changing of the Guard on the Bay Bridge East Span and a white paper entitled For Whom the Troll Dwells.
Things to do Near the Bay Bridge
Judge John Sutter Regional Shoreline is a 22-acre shoreline park providing a unique recreational destination. One of the neat features you will find here is they built an observation platform using the old Bay Bridge’s foundations to view the bridge and the bay from.
While you are in the area of the Bay Bridge, you won’t want to miss a visit to Jack London Square, a lively waterfront destination in Oakland.
Other Posts of Interest
- Are There Sharks in San Francisco Bay?
- Does San Francisco Have a Beach?
- How Do You Get Around on Angel Island?
- What Is Alcatraz Used for Now?
The Golden Gate Bridge
Without a doubt, the Golden Gate Bridge is the most recognizable and well know of the eight bridges that span the Bay waters. And possibly the most identifiable bridge in the world.
Bridge construction began in early January 1933, and it was opened for traffic a little over four years later, in late May 1937, just six months after the Bay Bridge opening. It was indeed another wonder of modern engineering.
More than ten million people visit this famous architectural landmark each year to gaze at its awe-inspiring majestic towers, Art Deco styling, and unique International Orange color.
With around 110,000 vehicles traversing the bridge daily, its six lanes of traffic are altered during the day to adapt to changing traffic patterns to improve traffic flow.
The bridge carries the traffic of California’s longest route, U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1, which is also known as the Pacific Coast Highway.
While most people view the Bridge by driving across it themselves, there are, however, other options available.
- Air: If you want to get a breathtaking birds-eye view of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Bay area. Consider an air tour; there are a great many local companies offering air tours. Here is a company that offers helicopter tours and another providing fixed-wing tours.
- Water: Take a scenic cruise along San Francisco’s waterfront to get incredible views. You will pass under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz. Expect to see marine life such as sea lions, dolphins, pelicans, and maybe get a glimpse of a magnificent whale. Sailing on a catamaran offers you another adventurous way to explore the beauty of the bay.
- Bus: Another great option is the hop-on/hop-off bus. Riders can design their own itinerary by hopping off the bus when they want to and then hopping on another when they are ready to move on. Buses usually run on a 10 to 20-minute schedule. Visit a few of San Francisco’s well-known landmarks and, of course, a journey across the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Walk or Bicycle: To truly appreciate the Bridge’s soaring towers and savor the magnificent views, you need to walk or bike across it. For information on public transit to the bridge, visit the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District website. The pedestrian walkway runs along the bridge’s eastern side and is open year-round. Both the west and east sides of the bridge have bike paths, but the bridge’s west side is only available to cyclists. Their site also has detailed information on the bridge’s bike and pedestrian regulations.
The bridge is owned and maintained by the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District. They make it their mission to deliver the best experience for motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists that use the bridge.
Golden Gate Bridge Statistics:
- Bridge Paint Color: International Orange, they developed it to match the original primer color
- Tower Height: 746-feet
- Main Cable: 7,650-feet long and 3-feet in diameter
- Bridge Length: Including approaches, is 1.7 miles
- Clearance Below: To the water 220-feet
Things to do Close to the Golden Gate Bridge
When you get done exploring the bridge itself, there are ample other places for you to explore in the vicinity. Spend the afternoon at Fisherman’s Wharf riding the two-level carousel, get some delicious Ghirardelli’s candy and ice cream, watch a Giant’s game, or stroll down the famous Lombard Street.
Explore the wonders at the California Academy of Sciences by enjoying a show at the Morrison Planetarium, underwater displays at the Steinhart Aquarium, the Kimball Natural History Museum, and more.
The Bay Area features many distinctive sights and architectural marvels. The Golden Gate and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridges are only two of them. Whether visiting for the first time or even if you have lived here all of your life, I encourage you to take a moment to stop and enjoy the marvels of engineering that these bridges display.