Golden Gate Bridge
A famous as well as notorious landmark of San Francisco
that deserves a special mention here. Not only is this arguably the most celebrated (and possibly most photographed) suspension bridge on the planet. It also has a dark side – namely as one of the world's most popular suicide spot
More background info: The bridge was opened in 1937 and was the longest suspension bridge until 1964 (max span over 4000 feet/1300m and a total length of ca. 9000 feet/2750m).
It connects San Francisco
in the south to Marin County in the north, and spans the namesake straight that gives San Francisco Bay to the east access to the Pacific to the west.
The bridge has become one the most iconic sights of not only San Francisco and California, but of the USA
as a whole, on a par with the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building in New York
, or the Capitol in Washington D.C.
(or natural icons such as Monument Valley). It is one of the most immediately recognizable sights in the world and it has even been copied elsewhere (see Lisbon
But despite its fame and reputation as possibly the most beautiful bridge in the world, and its role as a top sightseeing attraction, it soon also developed another kind of attraction ... that of suicidal people using it to jump off it to their deaths.
At one time the Golden Gate Bridge was reputedly the No. 1 suicide hotspot in the whole world (ahead of the infamous “suicide forest” in Japan
or Beachy Head
in Great Britain
!) … but meanwhile another bridge in Nanjing
, appears to have taken over that dubious title (do the Chinese stop at nothing?).
The height of the bridge more or less ensured that jumpers would die on impact on surface of the water after falling the ca. 230 feet (70m) for four seconds resulting in an impact speed that causes major, usually fatal trauma.
An estimated 1600 bodies were recovered afterwards – yet more may have gone unnoticed and the bodies washed out to the sea by the tide. Only a small handful are known to have survived their suicide attempt by jumping off the bridge.
Countermeasures taken to prevent suicides on the bridge include hotline telephones and regular patrols on the bridge, both official and by volunteers. Yet the bridge remained a “suicide magnet” for decades (i.e. many specifically travelled to San Francisco for the purpose).
The most legendary volunteer with a track record of preventing at least 30 suicides (by talking – or wrestling – down the potential jumpers) is a certain Ken Hopper. Despite the irony of the name, a sign saying “Hopper's Hands” above the silhouette of a pair of hands, have been installed at the fences at both ends of the bridge (the one in the photo gallery below
is at the south end, near the fort).
In 2014 it was decided that a new physical barrier, namely steel netting stretching out from under the bridge (at a cost of over 75 million USD) is to be installed and put an end to the bridge's suicide notoriety once and for all. The project has been delayed, however, and at the time of writing (early 2016) construction has still not begun. Some fear that the barrier will be an eyesore distracting from the bridge's acclaimed beauty. It's hard to decide which should count more and where to draw the line.
What there is to see: There is in fact hardly anything to see here that is clearly related to the dark side of this landmark. If you don't know it, you wouldn't guess it.
Only once the projected suicide barrier is in place will there be a more overt indication of its dark history as a suicide spot. Until then, the hotline telephones may serve as a reminder of this legacy if you are actually on the bridge.
along the eastern side of the bridge is open to pedestrians during daylight hours. Cyclists can also use the bridge at night. (See below for access details
Furthermore, there is another indirect reference to the bridge's deadly history in the form of the two signs at the ends of the bridge that say “Hoppers Hands”. This is not, as you may erroneously suspect, an allusion to people hopping off the bridge, but Hopper is the name of a legendary volunteer who prevented many a suicide on the bridge (see above).
One of these signs can be found at the bottom of the southern main pylon near Fort Point, from where you also get a good view of the bridge from the bottom.
The best view from higher up is to be had from the other side in Marin County, especially from the hills to the west of the bridge's northern end. .
Below the southern end of the bridge, the historic fort at Fort Point is well worth a look as well, not just for the good angles you get to see the bridge from below, but also in its own right.
A fort has guarded the Golden Gate, the entrance to San Francisco
Bay, since the Spanish colonial times, and in its present form it was constructed in the mid-19th century. Its high fortifications of thick brick walls certainly have a sturdy martial look. Yet the fort never saw battle itself.
Inside, there are exhibitions
both about the fort and its military roles, as well as about the topic of desegregation in the US
military. Some period artefacts and reconstructions are on display too. Furthermore there is a photo exhibition about the Golden Gate Bridge and its maintenance.
Since 75th anniversary of the opening of the bridge, there has also been a “Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center” at the “Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion” near the southern end of the bridge. In addition to the obligatory souvenir shop and cafe there are also some informational elements. Walking trails lead off into the surrounding area from here too, including to the access point to the eastern pavement of the bridge itself.
As you would expect, sightseeing tour buses also go on the bridge, including ones of the hop-on-hop-off variety (on and off the bus, that is!)
at the eponymous Golden Gate, the bottleneck waterway between the Bay and the Pacific Ocean
, at the northern edge of San Francisco
. The southern end of the bridge is in the Presidio district of the city, the northern end is in Marin County, CA, USA
Google maps locators:
Access and costs: partly restricted, free for pedestrians and cyclists.
Details: To get to the bridge you are advised to take public transport, as parking is very limited. But there are some spaces both at the Welcome Pavilion and at the Point Fort historic site, as well as at the northern end of the bridge (various locations).
For public transport you can use Golden Gate Transit bus lines 10 (crosses the bridge too, so you can get to the northern end that way), 70 or 101, from downtown, Union Square, Civic Center, or along Mission St. Alternatively get Muni line 28 (from Lombard Street or Van Ness Ave)
For pedestrians, access to the bridge is free. You have to use the eastern walkway.
Opening hours: from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and until 9 p.m. in summer.
Cyclists can also use the bridge outside these times using automated gates. In the afternoon, cyclists can only use the western pavement. Free.
For cars, a complicated toll system is in place. It's geared towards locals using the bridge regularly with an electronic automatic collection system that works through monitoring vehicles' license plates. For the one-time visitor, there is no way of simply paying a one-way fee in cash or per card on site, instead you have to register or prepay online or go to specific cash payment locations (NOT at the bridge!). This visitor unfriendly system scared me off sufficiently and I gave up on the idea of driving it, so I only saw the bridge from the south side. At least I was lucky to find parking at Fort Point.
Time required: depends – from between just a few moments for a quick look from the roadside, or several hours if you want to walk the length of the bridge both ways, reach all the good viewpoints and also do the exhibitions at Fort Point and the welcome centre.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
see under San Francisco
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under San Francisco
- Golden Gate Bridge 1 - in its full glory
- Golden Gate Bridge 2 - an infamously popular suicide spot
- Golden Gate Bridge 3 - peope on the bridge who are probably not about to hop
- Golden Gate Bridge 4 - under the bridge
- Golden Gate Bridge 5 - the fort underneath the bridge
- Golden Gate Bridge 6 - Fort Point lighthouse
- Golden Gate Bridge 7 - inside the fort
- Golden Gate Bridge 8 - period artefacts
- Golden Gate Bridge 9 - proud history