The day I walked it, the sky was as blue as vintage china. It was pleasantly cool. A few cyclists sped by, a couple of runners, a handful...

Share story

The day I walked it, the sky was as blue as vintage china. It was pleasantly cool. A few cyclists sped by, a couple of runners, a handful of walkers.

With every step, the orange towers loomed larger.

With every step, I felt smaller, a tiny dot above San Francisco Bay.

Walking the Golden Gate Bridge isn’t on everyone’s to-do tourist list. But when San Francisco’s fabled fog parts for sunshine, it’s a memorable experience.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Opened in 1937, the 1.7-mile orange bridge connecting San Francisco to Marin County welcomes walkers and bicycle traffic on its sidewalks.

The celebrity bridge also has its own visitors center, gift shop, gardens and cafe, located at the foot of the span on the San Francisco side.

Once on the bridge, the incline is steady but not steep.

Tourists usually see the Golden Gate Bridge from below on a tour boat, or by bus, car or bike. But standing quietly on the bridge, a walker absorbs both the experience of being on the span itself and the sights beyond its cables and steel.

Look down. See the roiling water of San Francisco Bay more than 200 feet below. Look north and east, and see the undulating green of Marin County, melancholy Alcatraz Island and the shimmering San Francisco skyline.

At the same time, up close, you can see that each rivet on the bridge is the size of a salad plate. The orange paint is slightly ocher. The pavement beneath your feet vibrates a bit from the traffic.

More than 1.8 billion vehicles have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge since it opened in 1937. Bridge officials don’t keep track of how many pedestrians use the bridge, but there can be as many as 6,000 on a busy summer day, says Mary Currie, spokeswoman for the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District.

In the early 20th century, San Francisco boomed with dreamers, but ferries were the only way across the Golden Gate straits. Why? Nobody thought it was possible to build an earthquake-proof bridge there.

Then engineer Joseph Strauss and colleagues came up with an idea — a suspension bridge able to move with the wind and anchored securely against peril.

It worked. The Golden Gate Bridge has withstood storms and earthquakes, even the 1989 Loma Prieta quake that cracked the nearby Bay Bridge. It can sway (side to side) 27.7 feet and flex (up and down) 10.8 feet.

Can a pedestrian feel it sway? I didn’t. But then again, it was a quiet day.

At the bridge’s highest point, walkers stand 271 feet above the water, while the Art Deco-style towers loom another 500 feet straight up.

Along the way, I met a bridge painter unrolling a hose and toting pails of International Orange paint.

Is it true that as soon as they finish painting the bridge from one end to the other, they have to start over? Well, no. “That makes a good story,” he said, laughing.

Although the bridge radiates good nature and beauty, it has a dark side. Its orange railings are low — just 4 feet high — and about 24 people commit suicide every year by jumping off the bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge officials have proposed adding metal nets 20 feet below the railings on each side to catch or deter jumpers. The $50 million net idea has been deemed the least intrusive to the architecture while also being effective. It also would allow them to keep the bridge open to pedestrians (see

Because final funding has not been approved, there’s no start date yet for the bittersweet project. But it would help end the bridge’s link to sorrow.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.