Talk about a photo with bragging rights: Gripping the iconic orange-red cables of the Golden Gate Bridge, the world's most famous span, at more than 700 feet in the air.
Sadly, you can't do the real thing, but thanks to a new green screen photo experience – just one of the offerings unveiled today, leading up to the Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th anniversary celebration over Memorial Day weekend – you can pose for a photo that makes it looks like you did. (Yep, that’s me at the right, and I gleefully fooled my husband and parents – though they did notice that my hair, mysteriously, wasn't blowing around.)
In addition to the Golden Gate Bridge Photo Experience ($20), which is ideal for San Francisco’s famously foggy days, new developments include the Bridge Pavilion, a 3,500-square-foot eco-friendly building that serves as a visitor center and gift shop with beautiful bridge-themed design and memorabilia; personally guided tours on the bridge, including the first-ever night tours; and much-needed enhancements to trails and signage around the southeast toll plaza.
Such developments are generating excitement for the Golden Gate Festival, a two-day celebration packed with bridge-themed events and activities that stretch from Fort Point, under the bridge’s southeast pavilion, all the way down Fisherman’s Wharf to Pier 39. Most events are free and open to the public, and the celebration culminates with a huge fireworks display over the water at 9:30pm on May 27, marking the 75th anniversary since pedestrians first crossed the 1.7-mile span. At the time, the bridge became the world's longest suspension bridge, stretching 4,200 feet across the Golden Gate Strait, and defied naysayers who described it as the bridge "that could not be built."
In addition to the actual anniversary weekend, there are several bridge-inspired exhibitions, events, and hotel packages that continue throughout the year. Whenever you go, however, make sure to download the newly launched GoGGBridge app, a nifty travel tool that contains archival footage, historic photos, interactive maps, and videos, including a fascinating silent film of a horse named Blackie swimming across the Golden Gate.
History buffs shouldn’t miss a stop at the San Francisco headquarters of the California Historical Society (the building, located in the hip SOMA neighborhood, is easy to spot after being painted the bridge's famous International Orange color earlier this year). Through October 14, CHS will house “A Wild Flight of the Imagination: The Story of the Golden Gate Bridge,” which features a natural and geographical history of the area and chronicles events from the bridge’s conception to its completion in 1937. Among the artifacts, many of which have never been seen by the public, are a scrapbook put together by an ironworker before he fell to his death from the span, works by renowned artists Ansel Adams and Maynard Dixon, and actual tools used to build the bridge.
Artsy types (as well as kids) will get a kick out of an incredible toothpick replica of the bridge, created by San Francisco native Steven J. Backman, at the Hyatt Regency at the Embarcadero. Backman's extraordinary creation, which measures 13 feet in length and is made with 30,000 toothpicks and glue, will be on display at the Hyatt through May 30; from June, it will be on permanent display at the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Also at the Fisherman’s Wharf (a convenient, though touristy spot to stay during a San Francisco trip): the Golden Gate Bridge Package at the Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf, which includes one-night accommodation, full breakfast, and two passes for a bridge cruise. Rates for the package (which runs through November 3 and is based on availability) start at only $219, representing a savings of at least $74.
For a splurge, consider staying in the Golden Gate Suite at Hotel Palomar San Francisco. This swanky suite is outfitted with furniture made from reclaimed steel from the bridge, a window overlay to simulate a stunning bridge view, and bridge-inspired art. The package is available through the end of the year; I was quoted $539 for a weekend night in June, which includes a bridge-themed cocktail, a book on the bridge's design and history, and chocolate turndown service. (Make sure to reference code GG75 to book.)
My personal favorite? The brand-new Inn at the Presidio (which I wrote about right after it opened). This charming, 22-room property on the Presidio, a 1,500-acre former military base, offers excellent value, proximity to the bridge and San Francisco's stunning waterfront, and an upscale, historic vibe. The inn is almost fully booked for the remainder of weekends in 2012, but see if you can score a midweek night or two (or weekend cancellation) for an ideal home-away-from home during a bridge-centric trip to the City by the Bay.
To get started planning your next trip, check out our San Francisco destination guide.