Top 20 San Francisco attractions

Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center

free admission

The Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center is the best spot to see the famous bridge.

The 3,500 square foot Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center opened in 2011, in anticipation of large crowds for the bridge's 75th anniversary that year.  

The building is hard to miss, painted in the International Orange of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Inside there are informative exhibits and bridge-themed merchandise. 

The exhibits then continue outside on the plaza, leading to an overlook with soaring views of the San Francisco Bridge.  You can walk or bike onto the bridge from here!

10 best attractions at Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center

1. Take the free shuttle from downtown San Francisco to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center

Golden Gate Visitor Center

Parking is really limited at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, so take the free shuttle from downtown San Francisco. As an added bonus, the shuttle loops around other major attractions at the Presidio.

2.  Check out bridge-themed souvenirs.

Golden Gate Park Visitor Center

The Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center has some fun, bridge-themed souvenirs, mixed in with interpretative exhibits. The merchandise is classier than your average tourist shop.

3. Learn about the incredible engineering feat involved in building the Golden Gate Bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge Facts

Watch cool videos and see exhibits on the amazing construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Here's a few statistics that will blow your mind. The main cables on the Golden Gate Bridge used 80,000 miles of wire!  To put this in perspective, these cables could wrap around the earth three times.

Another staggering statistic is the 600,000 rivets used to build the bridge, and some of these original rivets are on display for you to see.

4. See the 12-foot span test model of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge Model

The exhibits continue on the plaza outside the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center.  Make your way to the 12-foot span test model that engineers used to test the viability of the bridge in 1933.  This model went missing for thirty years, but was eventually tracked down in a shed.

5. Walk around fascinating Battery Lancaster.  

The exhibits on the plaza are situated on an old concrete military fortress, known as Battery Lancaster.  Battery Lancaster has secret underground rooms, and magazine rooms where the ammunition was stored.  It used to have three 12-inch guns (cannons) on disappearing carriages, that could target enemy ships.   

There are over a dozen of these fortresses at the entrance to the Bay, that were part of an early 19th century defense system.  Unfortunately, some of these were destroyed when the Golden Gate Bridge was built in the 1930s. 

6. See the 3-foot thick cables that hold up the Golden Gate Bridge.  

How long is the Golden Gate Bridge

Get a close-up view of the two main cables that hold up the Golden Gate Bridge.  Each cable has an incredible 3-foot diameter, with 27,542 wires in each cable! 

The cable was originally installed by New Jersey contractor, John Roebling and Sons.  John Roebling was a German immigrant who pioneered a technique of spinning the cable with an unreeling machine, to create the 1.4 mile cables we see today, weighing 24,500 tons each. Roebling utilized the same technique on the George Washington Bridge in New York years earlier, also a suspension bridge.  

7. Learn about the other bridge components, like the deck trusses, suspender ropes, towers and main cables. 

Golden Gate Bridge construction

Other exhibits break down the individual components of the Golden Gate Bridge, like the deck trusses, suspender ropes, main cables, towers and foundations.  Budding engineers will be fascinated by this.

8. Stop for a snack at the Round House Cafe.

Golden Gate Bridge Cafe

The Round House Cafe is conveniently located a short distance from the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center.  The cafe capitalizes on the superb views with a circular, art deco design, and was first opened in 1938 as a diner.  It's nothing fancy inside, but a great place to load up on drinks or a quick snack.

9.  Continue along the plaza to the bridge overlook. 

The Golden Gate Bridge

The excitement builds as you continue along the plaza to the overlook!

10. Enjoy close-up views of the Golden Gate Bridge at the overlook.  

San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge

The path ends at an overlook with a soaring view of the Golden Gate Bridge, bringing you so close to the action that you can hear every car noisily thudding across the bridge.  Walk onto the Golden Gate Bridge from here!

An astounding 40 million cars use this bridge each year, and it's also fun to watch the parade of cyclists and pedestrians crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Golden Gate Bridge deck deflection

Visitors are always shocked to learn that the Golden Gate Bridge is designed to sway up to 28 feet sideways, on windy days!  This is known as deflection.

Golden Gate Bridge fog

The Golden Gate Bridge is often shrouded in fog on hot summer days.  On these occasions, you will hear the haunting sounds of the foghorn warning approaching ships.  

What else is there to do near the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center?

Take the short trail down to Crissy Field, with attractions like Fort Point, East Beach, and the Warming Hut Cafe.

The Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center is also part of the Presidio, an old U.S. Army base with an incredible array of attractions, like museums, restaurants and visitor centers.  Two highlights are the Presidio Officers Club and Walt Disney Family Museum, both at the Main Post at the Presidio.

Know before you go

  • Address:  Golden Gate Bridge, Coastal Trail, San Francisco, CA 94129.
  • Hours: check here.
  • Snacks: Round House Cafe.
  • Restroom: yes.
  • Parking lot:  yes, but it gets incredibly busy.
  • Presidio Shuttle:  free shuttles from downtown to the Presidio, and around the Presidio.

More Museums in San Francisco

Review this attraction