Golden Gate: Hiking a Golden Oldie in San Francisco
By Julie Snyder
Funny how traditions get started. One year during our annual anniversary weekend in San Francisco, Joe and I decided to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and ferry back. Now we can’t imagine a visit to the City by the Bay without this leisurely 7-mile amble on our itinerary.
The first public proclamation for bridges across the San Francisco Bay came in 1869 from Joshua Norton, a bankrupted, slightly mad Gold Rush merchant who called himself “Emperor Norton.” In 1872, railroad executive Charles Crocker put forth the first plans and cost estimates for the ambitious bridge project.
Nearly 60 years passed before construction actually began in January of 1933. And on May 28, 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt pressed a telegraph key in the White House to announce the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge to the world. With towers soaring 746 above water—about the height of a 50-story building—the spectacular structure opened ahead of schedule and under its $35-million budget.
On Chestnut Street in the Marina District, we can glimpse the tops of those towers on our way to Judy’s Café, the first stop on our trans-bay trek where the sourdough French toast topped with bananas and strawberries is hearty enough to sustain a walk over not only the Golden Gate, but the Bay and Richmond bridges as well.
Heading for the waterfront, we hang a left near Golden Gate Yacht Club, host to the 34th America’s Cup in 2013. A bay-hugging promenade—typically offering an entertaining collection of joggers, bikers, walkers and dogs—leads through Crissy Field in the Presidio, a military installation until 1994 when it became an urban national park.
Near the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, we often stop at the Warming Hut cafe for a coffee and linger on the breakwater to watch water birds are at play—and if we’re lucky, leaping dolphins. A meandering path leads from the hut up a to the bridge’s pedestrian entrance.
The majesty of the suspension structure with its Art Deco lines and red-orange hue eclipses the minor annoyances of traffic noise and crowds (weekdays are less people-packed than weekends). Throughout its history, the Golden Gate Bridge has seen snow and suicides, the maiden call of Cunard’s Queen Victoria, and the 75th birthday fete of an artist who tap-danced across the bridge’s 1.7-mile expanse.
On the Marin County side of the bridge, Fort Baker—another “Post-to-Park” conversion like the Presidio—offers plenty of diversions, should you want to linger. Historic buildings now house the Bay Area Discovery Museum, a kid magnet with hands-on art, science and environmental exhibitions and events. Fort Baker is also home to Cavallo Point, a luxury lodge with a LEED Gold Certification that Travel+Leisure named one of 10 “Must See Green American Landmarks.”
On a high point beyond Fort Baker, a perfectly positioned bench is an invitation to take a break and survey the marine panorama dotted with sailboats and kayakers. A curvy, tree-lined lane leads down into Sausalito, where we follow the waterfront to the heart of the village –a cluster of shops and bay-view restaurants.
We typically forgo Sausalito’s small-town charm and make our way to the Golden Gate Ferry for a spectacular 30-minute cruise back to San Francisco. With feet up, cold beer in hand, we visually revisit our route and revel in 360 degrees of beauty.
Arriving at the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco, we’re ready for a late lunch, and the edible options are most appetizing—fresh seafood from Hog Island Oyster Company, artisan cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, handmade empanadas from El Porteno, maybe a taste of chocolate from Scharffen Berger. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market is in full swing until 2 p.m., showcasing the best products of regional farmers and ranchers.
After grabbing a cuppa at Blue Bottle Coffee, browsing at Book Passage and assessing our level of fatigue, we either walk, cable car or taxi back to our hotel. The route for our San Francisco anniversary amble may be traditional, but the experience always offers novelty—and this year, a co-celebrant, the Golden Gate Bridge.
Julie Snyder lives near Lake Tahoe, where her current pet project is Nevada Humane Society. As a writer, editor and publisher, she’s contributed to a variety of lifestyle, in-flight and travel publications, and produced award-winning catalogs for Backroads travel company. Among her passions are animal welfare, walking, travel and the Green Bay Packers.