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Photo spots at the
North End of the Golden Gate Bridge

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In simple words, there are two main viewing areas at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge: East of highway 101, and only accessible when traveling northbound, you will find the so called “Golden Gate Vista Point”. This is also the “official” view point at the northern end of the bridge. Nevertheless, the most popular shots have been taken from locations west of highway 101 along Conzelman Rd.

On this page, I like to give you a brief overview of both locations, how to reach them and which time of the day promisses the best light for taking pictures.

East of Highway 101

The only viewpoint at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge located east of highway 101 is also the “official” view point. It is called “Golden Gate Vista Point”.

How to reach?
Northbound (coming over the bridge), simply take the very first exit after the bridge and follow the sign “Golden Gate Vista Point”, leading to a big parking lot. That’s it. You are there.
Southbound (coming from the Marin Headlands), it is not accessible without crossing the bridge all the way to the south, turn back and follow the northbound directions given above. This roundtrip will cost you 6$ bridge toll, but in my opinion it is hard to find a better way for spending this money than having the wonderful ride over the bridge and back again.

Golden Gate Bridge from Vista Point North

What to photograph?
Once you are at the Vista Point, you have two major spots: The San Francisco skyline or, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge itself. Bring a moderate (35mm) wide angle lens for capturing the skyline in total or bring a telephoto lens to pick out details of the skyline on a clear day. Also use a wide angle lens to capture the bridge together with the surrounding area.
Tip: For a nice shot of the bridge, position yourself at the point where you can view straight along the driveway of the bridge and use a telephoto lens of approx. 180mm. It can result in a shot like this (click image to enlarge).

Which time?
Before noon, the light is on the east side of the bridge. So try to be there before lunch. During a hazy day, also the afternoon or the early evening is interesting for taking a shot along the driveway. The picture above has been taken at 7:55 p.m.

West of Highway 101

West of Highway 101, the Conzelman Road leads up to the hills of the Marin Headlands and to some of the most spectacular spots for photographing the Golden Gate Bridge.

How to reach?
Heading southbound (coming from Marin County), Conzelman Road is pretty easy to reach: Simply take the last exit before the bridge and keep right. Easy!

If you head northbound (coming over the bridge), it is more difficult to find. Immediately after the bridge, there are two exits in a very short sequence:

  • The first exit leads to the official Vista Point like described above. Do NOT take this exit.
  • But take the second exit instead, advised as “Sausalito”.
  • Then keep left at the fork and turn left afterwards by following the sign "101 South, San Francisco".
  • After underpassing the 101 take the first exit on the right into Conzelman Road which climbs steep ahead.
  • In case you miss this exit, the only remaining way is back over the Golden Gate Bridge, followed by a 6$ bridge toll.

Conzelman Road is, more or less, one big view point for photographing the Golden Gate Bridge. Nevertheless, parking outside the designated pullouts can lead to problems, especially when the traffic is high. Therefore, I am going to describe the three main view points located close to turnouts. These are, following the Conzelman Road from bottom to top:

  • Battery Spencer
  • Kirby Cove
  • Hawk Hill
Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Spencer

Battery Spencer is a former military camp, build to protect the entry of the San Francisco Bay. Battery Spencer itself is of minor photographic interest. But from the end of the area, you have a fantastic view of the Golden Gate Bridge. You are amazingly close to the north tower of the bridge. The picture to the left has been taken just with a 58mm focal length (click image to enlarge)!

If you are happy to catch a clear day, you can also use a telephoto lens to take a picture of the skyline with the ropes of the bridge in front (see example).

The photo spot itself is not visible from the road. Use the first parking lot when driving up Conzelman Road and have a 200m walk to the view point. Note: Battery Spencer is a very windy point. Even if you feel quite warm when leaving the car, it can be very chilly at the view point itself.

Kirby Cove is located “half way up the road” between Battery Spencer and Hawk Hill. This spot is quite good to take a picture of the bridge in front of the skyline. Together with Hawk Hill, Kirby Cove is much less windy than Battery Spencer.

Hawk Hill is the highest spot along Conzelman Road. After Hawk Hill, the road drops down again and the view turns away from the bridge. You know that you have reached hawk hill, when the road turns into a one way-road.

If the bay is flooded with fog, you can take pictures like shown on the right where parts of the bridge look out of the fog (click image to enlarge). If you catch a clear day, you can also take a wonderful shot of the bridge in front of the skyline. Compared to the Kirby Cove spot, you see the bridge more from the side. A short telephoto lens is best for this. The picture to the right was taken with a 100mm lens.

Golden Gate Bridge from Hawk Hill

Which time?
The best time for the spots along Conzelman Road is late afternoon until sunset since the light falls on the west side of the bridge. Especially Hawk Hill is one of my favorite spots on earth for a sunset.

The Spots on a Map

In order to provide you with a better overview, the spots are marked on the map below. Simply drag the mouse over a marker to see the name of the spot.

Depending on the traffic, you can expect a driving time from Fisherman’s Wharf to Hawk Hill of approx. 20 minutes.

What is around?

After visiting Hawk Hill, it is a good idea to follow the road down the Marin Headlands. It passes some rolling hills, always providing a peek to the ocean to your left and it leads to Rodeo Lagoon. Enjoy strolling around there or bring some food for a picnic. It is such a quite and remote place there that it is hard to believe that you are just a few miles outside San Francisco.

Close to this is also the Point Bonita Lighthouse. Simply follow the signs to the Point Bonita which lead you to a small parking lot. From there take a short walk through a tunnel and a swing bridge to the Lighthouse itself. The tunnel is the only way to access the lighthouse by land and unfortunately it is closed most of the time. So, if you are keen on visiting the lighthouse, check out the opening times before.

Photographing the sunset mostly leads that I end up having dinner afterwards. In case I am at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge for sunset, I follow 101 north for three more exits where you can find an Outback Steakhouse.

I hope this location description is helpful to you. I wish you the best possible light when you go out there and simply let me know, if you miss some information.

Michael


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