Walking the Golden Gate bridge

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Yesterday was another perfect day in San Francisco: clear and sunny with bright blue skies and a breeze to keep the temperature reasonable. I decided to take the ferry to Sausalito and, conditions permitting, walk back to the city over the Golden Gate bridge.

Saint Benoit yogurt potFirst stop, the ferry terminal Saturday market, a wide array of temporary stalls on both the street side and the water side of the terminal. Pat had passed along a review of St. Benoit yogurt, and theirs was the first booth that I visited. The yogurt’s a bit expensive — $4 for a small pot including the $1.25 deposit on the decorative pottery tub that it comes in — but the review promised something special. I tucked it in my bag and moved through the terminal to check the schedules, and found that a ferry was leaving for Sausalito in 20 minutes. Perfect. I bought a ticket, then doubled back to buy a chai at Peet’s; deterred by the long line, I picked up a rye raisin rabbit (whole wheat and rye roll with raisins) from Acme Bread and made for the ferry.

As with many cities on water, San Francisco public ferries are the cheapest way to get a quick harbour tour, especially if you want to go wherever they’re going. For $7.10, the ferry leaves from just north of the Oakland Bay bridge, with views of Yerba Buena and Treasure Islands, travels up the east side of the city, then heads out across the bay, skirting to the east of Alcatraz with a great view of the Golden Gate bridge, and on past Angel Island to reach Sausalito. About 30 minutes in total, and you’re on the lovely and very touristy Sausalito waterfront.

Years ago — at least 10 — I was on a 4-day wine cruise tour out of San Francisco, where we cruised on a river boat up the Sacramento river, then up the Napa river for a local tour and another overnight at Sacramento. When we returned to San Francisco, we took the ferry over to Sausalito and climbed up to the Alta Mira hotel, which had a dining room on the terrace with a fabulous view of San Francisco and an even more fabulous wine list. With that memory in mind, I crossed the street directly by the fountain at the ferry docks in Sausalito, and found those long-ago steps leading up the side of the hill. Channeling my inner mountain goat, I climbed up, looking back occasionally for the views over the water, and finally reached the Alta Mira. Alas, in 2004 it was converted to a bed-and-breakfast with no public dining facilities, and that wine list on the terrace is gone. The very accommodating desk clerk invited me to go out on the terrace and enjoy the view; that remains the same.

Panorama from the Alta Mira in Sausalito

I hiked back down to the water’s edge and walked along, the Golden Gate bridge in my mind although I had only a rough idea of how far it was. Amidst the usual array of tourist stores and ice cream shops, a man was creating balanced rock sculptures on the breakwall. Rock balancing at Sausalito waterfrontA few kayakers were enjoying the water. Cyclists on rented bicycles, obviously from the San Francisco side, where everywhere. And tourists, tourists, tourists. I started walking in the direction of the bridge. Five miles and about 400 feet of elevation increase later, I reached the north lookout point beside the bridge, wishing that I had worn more appropriate shoes. I stopped for a brief look around and to rehydrate at a water fountain (stupidly, I didn’t carry any water), then started across the bridge.

There is a walkway on either side of the bridge: bicycles on the west (ocean) side, and pedestrians on the east (city) side. Those of us on foot have the better view, I think. The bridge is 4,200 feet across, and it’s windy enough that I had to take off my hat. The sun and wind were pretty intense; between the walk up from Sausalito and the trip across the bridge, my shoulders and nose were sunburned in spite of the 30spf that I’d applied before leaving the hotel. I walked out on the bridge, pausing frequently to snap photos and peer over the edge at the boats passing below. With only a standard height handrail, I can see why this is such a popular spot for jumpers.

Golden Gate bridge towerLike a true engineer, a little ways out on the bridge I stopped to grasp one of the huge steel cables running up from the roadbed to the suspension cables. It vibrated in my hand, strummed by the constant wind blowing through the strait. I gawked upwards at the towers and the cables, having much more time to do so than when I’ve driven across the bridge in the past. Some drivers obviously had a problem with that as well; I witnessed one of what was likely a number of rear-end collisions on the bridge that day, due to either or both of the parties looking up instead of ahead.

I reached the city side of the bridge, and knew that I wasn’t walking any further for a while. I hopped on a local bus headed for Fort Mason, figuring that I’d walk from there to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was a lovely walk along from Fort Mason, although a bit further than I’d anticipated with my already sore feet, but I did pass by a bit of sand beach that I didn’t even know existed, complete with kids paddling in the water to escape the heat.

Fisherman’s Wharf was a zoo of tourists, and I couldn’t get away from there fast enough. I knew that the cable cars would be crammed, so headed for the F car — historic electric streetcars that run along Embarcadero to Market, then up Market. I figured that I could hop off at the ferry terminal just before it made its turn onto Market, and walk the short distance to the Hilton from there. There was a car waiting, and I hopped on to find it over-crowded with people who mostly seemed to know each other. My fare was waved away, I have no idea why, and we departed a few minutes later for a crowded but laughing trip along Embarcadero. I hopped off at the ferry terminal, went in and finally got my masala chai latte from Peet’s, and finished my afternoon outside on a bench watching the ferry dock where I had departed more than five hours earlier.

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