Golden Gate Bridge photo courtesy of Thomas Henthorne Marin Top Real Estate Agent
Photo of Golden Gate bridge with San Francisco in the background

San Francisco Seen From the Marin Headlands

Vista Point parking can be a challenge on clear summer days and long holiday weekends. The line of cars often backs up across the Golden Gate Bridge span and onto city streets on the opposite side.  If you are looking for alternatives to parking at Vista Point, you’ve come to the right place.

So where do the locals park when they want to see the bridge?  Yes, we live here, and yes we still get chills every time we see that golden span! Never fear- I’m listing below the 5 best places to see the Golden Gate bridge, and none of them involve parking at Vista Point. 

Special Note: The Golden Gate Bridge District often closes Vista Point and the South Parking Lot on three-day weekends. Please visit the Golden Gate Bridge district home page for the latest closure information.

Here are the 5 best places to see the Golden Gate Bridge:

Photo of Fort Baker and Golden Gate Bridge with vista point parking top right

Fort Baker Photo Courtesy of National Park Service

NUMBER ONE:  Fort Baker (Google map below) — The National Park Service describes Fort Baker as “…a 335 acre former 1905 U.S. Army post located immediately north of the Golden Gate Bridge. This hidden gem of a site consists of over 25 historic army buildings clustered around a main parade ground, a sheltered harbor protected by a jetty, a number of historic gun emplacements, and trails and forested areas climbing gently up from San Francisco Bay.”

They forgot to mention — it has some of the best views of the Golden Gate bridge around.  As a special bonus, Fort Baker is also home to Cavallo Point, a luxury lodge featuring a front verandah that impresses even this southerner.  I love sitting on the porch, eating a burger and their Parmesan garlic fries.  Parking is usually plentiful both at the lodge and down at the designated parking along the waterfront at Horseshoe Cove or at the trailhead at Drown Road, located off of East Road.  I have never had a problem finding parking here.

If you have kids, check out the widely-acclaimed Bay Area Discovery Museum, specifically designed to serve children up to age 8, their parents, caregivers and educators.

You can walk down to the water and walk out on the pier to see amazing views of the bridge and San Francisco.  Here’s a photo I took from the pier last year:

Photo of Fisherman and Golden Gate Bridge in background

Golden Gate Bridge and Vista Point in the Background – Where’s the Fog?

You can see above why I have ranked this as number one.  If you are determined to go to the Golden Gate vista point parking area, climb a lot of stairs to the main level of the bridge.  On your way you can see the underside of the bridge, which I think is almost as beautiful as the “famous” side…

Photo of underside of Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Baker

The Underside of the Golden Gate Bridge From Fort Baker

And finally, the view of San Francisco from the pier at Fort Baker is amazing – who needs Vista Point parking?  Oh yes, the tour buses!

View of San Francisco From Fort Baker

View of San Francisco From Fort Baker

NUMBER TWO:  The Marin Headlands:  For those of you from out of town, the Marin Headlands are the hills to the left or west of the bridge as you are leaving San Francisco. When I first moved to the bay area, this used to be my favorite spot but it has become more and more crowded. The photo at the top of this page was taken from the Marin Headlands and it is a stunning view — the city through the span of the Golden Gate Bridge.  It is worth checking out and definitely better that the Vista Point parking challenge.   My Insider Tip: Take the first exit after Vista Point, cross left under Highway 101, then take the right turn up the hill to the headlands. You can loop all the way around on Conzelman Road and come back on Bunker Road, through the tunnel and then down to my Number One choice above, Fort Baker. Also take time to stop at the Marin Headlands Visitor Center.

NUMBER THREE:  Alcatraz Island — As if you need another reason to visit Alcatraz Island (by the way, I loved the night tour!), it also affords spectacular views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. You can wave at Vista Point from here. Tickets sell out far in advance and there are many sites which provide lots of good advice on this popular attraction so I won’t waste your time here.

NUMBER FOUR:  Angel Island — The lesser known island, Angel Island is one of my favorite ways to spend a day, though I never seem to find the time to get over there. Steeped in history (Americans of Japanese descent were interned there during World War II), the island affords spectacular views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge.  (I will stop mentioning Vista Point, you get the idea). The ferry ride over is also scenic — you can get there from Tiburon here in Marin County.  The Angel Island ferry from Tiburon has been operating since 1959 and is a great way to get there (and see the town of Tiburon while you’re at it).  You can also take the ferry from San Francisco.  My tip: It’s a big island — take note of the ferry return schedule and leave yourself lots of extra time.  A certain Marin Realtor may have been spotted sprinting to the ferry at one time…

Angel Island looking towards Golden Gate Bridge and Vista Point

Your Trusted Marin Realtor on Angel Island in 1996

NUMBER FIVE: Fort Point — This is the only spot on my list that’s not in Marin. After all, I am a real estate agent specializing in Marin, so it’s only fair.  Fort Point, like Fort Baker above, is operated by the National Park Service and is at the  (other) foot of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Fort Point defended San Francisco bay from the Gold Rush through World War II. It’s a fascinating history if you have time to read it. As an alternative to Vista Point parking this is probably the easiest on my list.  But like Vista Point, the relatively-small Fort Point parking lot tends to fill up quickly during peak periods, and the overall site can be crowded. Here are driving and transit directions to Fort Point. Note that if you take MUNI you will need to hike down.

Photo of Thomas Henthorne and the Golden Gate bridge in background taken by Pat Whitt

Your Marin Realtor Happy He’s Not Worried About Parking in Vista Point

Honorable Mention: The bridge is also visible from Coit Tower in the city.  I love to park at the bottom on Sansome Street and walk up the Filbert Steps to the tower. Take your time and enjoy the gardens on the way up.

If you have your heart set on seeing the view from Vista Point and are frustrated that it’s closed, here’s the next best thing….Vista Point Youtube Video!

Thank you for reading my opinion of the 5 Best Spots to See the Golden Gate Bridge (a.k.a. 5 ways to avoid Vista Point parking challenges).  Of course, there are many places to view this gorgeous bridge and see other sites in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Whether you are out of town or are lucky enough to live here, take time to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us here in Marin County.

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