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Golden Gate Bridge vs. Bay Bridge: The Key Differences

If you live (and drive) in the Bay Area, two bridges will stand out as iconic: the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland San Francisco Bay Bridge.

As a 10 year Bay Area resident, I’ve driven over each bridge hundreds of times. Here’s what you need to know about these twin engineering marvels.

The Basics

The Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge are both surprisingly old. They’ve been in operation for almost a century as I write this.

Of course, each bridge is maintained continually. The Bay Bridge has also been updated on its Eastern Span, a process that I was lucky enough to witness.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge CA 1968
Golden Gate Bridge in 1968. Via Gado Images.

The Golden Gate Bridge, an internationally recognized symbol of San Francisco, is a suspension bridge spanning the Golden Gate Strait, the entrance to the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean.

Bay Bridge

Span of the Bay Bridge
Span of the Bay Bridge

The San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, often referred to as the Bay Bridge, is a complex of bridges that span part of San Francisco Bay and connect the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, with a “stop” at Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island in the middle.

Historical Context

Historically, San Francisco was a peninsula that was hard to access from Oakland or Marin. Goods that were delivered to ports in San Francisco had to be taken by railroad down the peninsula and around the Bay.

Traveling from Marin County to San Francisco required either a multi-day trek around the full Bay, or a boat trip across the water from Tiburon, Larkspur, Sausalito or other North Bay cities.

Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Field area
Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Field area

The Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge changed that! They opened up San Francisco to visitors from around the Bay Area. In that way, they helped shape the history of our region.

Golden Gate Bridge

  • Construction started: January 5, 1933
  • Opened to public: May 27, 1937

Bay Bridge

  • Construction started: July 9, 1933
  • Opened to public: November 12, 1936

The Bay Bridge was completed a few months earlier than the Golden Gate Bridge, despite starting construction later. This fact is primarily due to the greater complexity and challenges involved in the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Driving across the Bay Bridge
Driving across the Bay Bridge, with Golden Gate visible in the distance

I was fascinated to learn that both bridges were constructed around the same time. Imagine going from no access to the East/North Bay to two major engineering marvels in a span of five years!

The older span of the Bay Bridge
The older span of the Bay Bridge

Structural Design

The two bridges also differ significantly in their design:

Golden Gate BridgeBay Bridge
Bridge TypeSuspension bridgeComplex of bridges including a double-decked suspension bridge, through truss bridge, and causeway
Total Length8,981 feet (2,737 meters)23,000 feet (7,000 meters)
Width90 feet (27 meters)58 feet (18 meters)
Longest Span4,200 feet (1,280 meters)2,310 feet (704 meters)
Towers Height746 feet (227 meters)526 feet (160 meters)

The Bay Bridge is significantly longer and includes more structural diversity than the Golden Gate Bridge. However, the Golden Gate Bridge has a longer single span and taller towers.

The Golden Gate Bridge often gets all the tourist love, but the Bay Bridge is an equally amazing engineering marvel, incorporating a natural island (Yerba Buena).

Aesthetics and Recognition

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge’s distinctive ‘International Orange’ color and art deco styling make it a globally recognized icon. Its color was chosen both for visibility in the fog and to complement the natural surroundings. It is a favorite among photographers and tourists.

Interestingly, it was originally supposed to be yellow!

Cargo ships in the Golden Gate
Cargo ships in the Golden Gate

Bay Bridge

The Bay Bridge, though equally impressive in its engineering, has a more utilitarian design and doesn’t have the same level of global recognition as the Golden Gate Bridge. However, it has its unique appeal with the inclusion of the Bay Lights art installation, making it a nighttime spectacle until the installation recently ended.


In terms of accessibility for pedestrians and bikers:

Golden Gate Bridge

  • Pedestrian and bicycle access available. You can rent a bike and bike across!
  • Sidewalk access hours vary depending on the season

Bay Bridge

  • Only the eastern span of the Bay Bridge includes a pedestrian and bicycle path
  • The path does not extend to the western span connecting to San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge provides more access for pedestrians and cyclists compared to the Bay Bridge, which only offers limited access on its eastern span.

The full span of the Bay Bridge, seen from Berkeley Hills
The full span of the Bay Bridge, seen from Berkeley Hills


Both bridges are known to have some terrible traffic!

The Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge both see their worst traffic during the morning and evening rush hours. The Golden Gate gets traffic from people commuting to and from the North Bay, whereas the Bay Bridge absorbs all the commuters from Oakland, Berkeley and the East Bay.

Neither is good in terms of traffic, but I find that the Bay Bridge generally has the worst traffic when going to the city, and the Golden Gate has worse traffic leaving the city.


While both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge are integral to San Francisco’s infrastructure and identity, they each offer different experiences.

The Golden Gate’s distinct color, design, and global recognition are counterbalanced by the Bay Bridge’s length, structural diversity, and unique light installation.

Each bridge has its appeal and significance, contributing to the unique landscape of the San Francisco Bay Area. Whether you’re marveling at the Golden Gate Bridge’s majesty from Battery Spencer or watching the Bay Lights shimmer on a clear night, both bridges affirm the city’s charm and character.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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