The Golden Gate Bridge is turning 75 this year. And what a historic span it's been. Big, bold and orange, the bridge is a beloved symbol of San Francisco and one of the most instantly recognizable landmarks in the world.
But for all its photogenic qualities, the bridge is a uniquely accessible icon. You can drive across, walk across, bike across, sail beneath or even scream over it in a daring display of aerial acrobatics. (Okay, to do that last thing, you'd have to be in the Navy's Blue Angels elite flying squad during Fleet Week.)
The public can also celebrate the bridge's three-quarters of a century by taking part in many events scheduled from now through the fall, including art exhibits, film screenings, tours and talks. The biggest celebration takes place on the anniversary of its opening date, May 27.
In addition, organizers are inviting the public to share personal stories and photos of the bridge online at golden gatebridge75.org/celebrate/share-stories-photos.html.
"Everybody has a unique experience of the bridge," says Mary Currie, public affairs director for the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District. Hers came as a 14-year-old on a family vacation from the East Coast. "I remember being completely mesmerized and just incredibly blown away and amazed at the size and magnitude of the bridge. I don't what that grace and beauty is that draws you in, but it draws you in."
Here are some details on activities, events and history related to the Golden Gate Bridge's 75th birthday.
Sure, it's pretty, with elegant, brilliantly orange arms above the aqua shimmer of the San Francisco Bay. But this is no remote Mona Lisa of a landmark. Part of the appeal of the Golden Gate Bridge lies in how fully it can be experienced.
MASS TRANSIT: If you want to walk across, you may want to take mass transit, as there's not much parking nearby. Information on transit options can be found at goldengatebridge.org/visitors/directions.php.
ON FOOT: Once at the bridge, pedestrians can access the East Sidewalk (the one facing San Francisco) from approximately sunrise to sunset. This sidewalk is for bikes and pedestrians, which means a certain amount of cooperation is required. No pets except service animals, no roller skates or skateboards. The West Sidewalk, which is for bikes only, has been closed due to construction but reopens Friday.
BY BIKE: A number of companies in San Francisco, including Blazing Saddles (blazingsaddles.com/san-francisco.aspx), offer bike rentals or organized tours. Visitors can ride across the bridge to the pleasant seaside town of Sausalito and then return by ferry.
• The bridge is not named for its color, but for the Golden Gate Strait, which is the entrance by water to San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. The bridge was painted orange partly for aesthetic reasons and party to increase visibility in the fog.
• When it opened, the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world, a status it retained until the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened in New York City in 1964. More than 2 billion vehicles have made the trip between San Francisco and Marin County since 1937. The bridge has only been closed three times due to weather, but it is often partly shrouded in fog, and its fog horns can sound for hours a day during the area's foggy summer season.
• The bridge was unscathed by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, centered just 60 miles away, but it is being retrofitted to protect it from future quakes.
The Golden Gate Bridge has been in many movies. It served as a picturesque backdrop for Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak's tensely romantic first meeting in Vertigo in 1958 and was nearly decimated by a falling Romulan drill-of-death in 2009's Star Trek. It also made the cover of Rolling Stone magazine for a 1976 story about San Francisco-based rockers.
Numerous film screenings, tours, exhibits and other activities are being held around San Francisco this year to mark the bridge's birthday. A calendar of events can be found at goldengatebridge75.org.
The biggest public celebration is scheduled for May 27, with events at multiple venues along a 4-mile stretch of waterfront from Fort Point at the south anchorage of the bridge to Pier 39 at Beach Street and the Embarcadero. Bridge sidewalks will be closed at approximately 6 p.m. and reopen after the fireworks cap off the evening at 9:30 p.m. Fireworks will be viewable along the waterfront from Fort Point to Marina Green East.
FISHERMAN'S WHARF: Several events are planned at Fisherman's Wharf May 26-27. Music, historic images, vintage automobiles from 1937 and maritime history exhibits will be on display at the Hyde Street Pier. At Pier 45, join the crew of the Jeremiah O'Brien celebrating the bridge anniversary on their Seamen's Memorial Cruise May 27 (boarding 9 a.m., departure 10 a.m., return 2 p.m., adults $125; children 5 to 16, $75; family of two adults and two children $325; ssjeremiahobrien.org/events.php).
SWING OUT: Get into the musical mood of the 1930s at Pier 39 with Fil Lorenz Orchestra swing band. Free swing dance lessons provided in the entrance plaza. There'll also be dancing to more contemporary tunes, 2 to 9:30 p.m. May 27, free, Beach Street and Embarcadero, pier39.com.
Before the bridge
Learn about the history of the bridge before its construction through an exhibit of photos, maps, charts, drawings, paintings and computer graphics along with a natural, nautical and military soundscape, at Montgomery Street Barracks, Building 103, next to Main Post Green, 103 Montgomery Blvd., presidio.gov , May 23 to Nov. 18, Wednesdays to Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Gallery 1 traces the history of the Golden Gate Straight, and Gallery 11 explores two centuries of harbor defense and the bridge's building.
One tragic aspect of Golden Gate history: Hundreds of people have leapt to their deaths from the bridge. The Bridge Rail Foundation, which is devoted to stopping the suicides, is staging an exhibit May 27 at the far west end of Crissy Field, near the Warming Hut on the Presidio, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., using more than 1,500 pairs of shoes to represent lives lost.
Debate over how to prevent suicides has been ongoing since the first death the year the bridge opened. Fencing has been proposed but never built. The bridge's board of directors has approved putting a steel net below the bridge, but funding has yet to be arranged.