The Golden Gate — the grand dame of Northern California bridges — is without a doubt a stunner.
It spans one of the most beautiful natural settings in California where the Pacific meets the San Francisco Bay bookended by the rugged Marin headlands and one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.
And it is, without a doubt, an engineering marvel. But as a suspension bridge its genre is widespread.
Do not misunderstand. The bridge itself is a beauty. And a walk across it is exhilarating. That is especially true on a blustery day when the bridge sways ever so as it was designed to do.
However, if you want to get up close and personal there is the little detail that you are walking within feet of a major freeway commute corridor.
It is why if you want to enjoy a tranquil experience while walking across a unique bridge that’s an engineering marvel while soaking in nature’s beauty your best option may be to head to Redding and not San Francisco.
It is in Redding at the northern point of California’s 450-mile long Great Central Valley you will find the Sundial Bridge spanning the Sacramento.
The bridge is what its name implies. It is a functional sundial that matches in grandeur and proportion what nature has created nearby including Mt. Shasta, an active volcano that soars up to 14,180 feet, as well as the Sacramento River that is not only the state’s longest at 447 miles but also is the main artery that collects and flows water that is the lifeblood of California.
Northern California has at least five bridges worthy of a day trip or inclusion in a multi-day getaway. Besides the Sundial in Redding and the Golden Gate in San Francisco there is the Bixby Creek Bridge on Highway 1 on the way to Big Sur, the Rainbow Bridge just below the Old Highway 40 pass overlooking Donner Lake and the Knights Ferry Bridge in the 209’s own backyard.
You will find the Sundial Bridge in the heart of Redding.
It wasn’t designed to carry vehicle traffic. Instead, it serves as the downtown Redding entrance to the community’s extensive Sacramento River trail system.
The bridge connects the northern and southern sides of Redding’s 300-acre Turtle Bay Exploration Park. The bridge and recreation area access are free although there are paid features worth visiting such as a museum, forest camp, wildlife woods, and botanical gardens.
Yes, it is a working sundial and happens to be one of the world’s largest. But because its shadow casts such a large arc it can only “record” four hours a day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is not accurate in the winter due to the sun’s position in the sky that casts a shadow that is too far into the nearby wooded areas to be seen.
The bridge also has a unique translucent deck. It allows night time viewing below your feet that is a spectacular touch while taking in views on the horizon especially as twilight sets in. The non-skid surface assures bicycle tire marks don’t impede the view.
The shadow on days when it is visible moves at roughly a foot a minute. It is an eerie and beautiful sight to say the least.
The bridge’s design of a 217-foot-high inclined pylon with cable stays avoids the nearby salmon spawning habitat given there are no supports in the water making it one of the more environmentally sensitive river crossings around.
The bridge opened in 2004 at cost of $24 million.
It is 700 feet long and 23 feet wide weighing 1,600 tons. It incorporates a steel structure with galvanized steel cables, non-skid glass panels in steel framework for the decking with granite accents.
The 217-foot-high pylon employs 580 tons of steel while the bridge boasts 4,342 feet of cable.
Bixby Creek Bridge
Head out of Carmel-by-the-Sea on Highway 1 for 15 miles into the rugged Big Sur Coast on Highway 1 and you will cross the Bixby Creek Bridge.
If it looks familiar that’s because it has been featured in countless car commercials over the years.
The 279-foot-high arch bridge deck spans 360 feet near the mouth of Bixby Creek as it flows into the Pacific Ocean.
There are numerous turnouts that are a favorite for tourists to get pictures and soak in the views. The one on the south end of the bridge is especially renowned for spectacular views at sunset. There are more than a few places where you can set your smartphone on video mode and slowly turn to record spectacular 360-degree vistas.
Completed for $199,861 — you can’t even buy a used Lamborghini for that today — it was under budget when it opened in 1932. At the time it was the longest concrete arch span in California and the highest single-span arch bridge in the world. Today it still remains as one of the world’s tallest.
Much like the Bixby Bridge, car TV commercial producers have been drawn to the Rainbow Bridge above Donner Lake and just beyond the Soda Springs ski area for decades.
Officially known as the Donner Memorial Bridge before the public replaced it with the more popular Rainbow Bridge moniker, it was completed in the 1920s.
It replaced a steep stretch of roadway that wound down to Donner Lake from the Donner Pass on Old Highway 40 at 7,056 feet. Highway 40 is the forerunner to Interstate 80 that opened in 1964.
What makes the bridge unique besides its spectacular view is its design. The arch bridge was common for the era as can be seen at nearby Yuba Gap, across the American River in Folsom, and the Bixby Bridge. What sets it apart is the steepness of the grade it was placed in as well as the fact it features a compound curve that had never been tried before in an arch bridge design.
The final plans for construction issued in 1925 stated, “The alignment consists of a series of compound curves; there is a 360-foot radius curve over the arch and a 145-foot radius over each approach span.”
The bridge cost $33,304.22 when it was completed in 1926 leaving the contractor with a profit pegged at $1,319.
Knights Ferry Bridge
Built in 1863, the covered bridge spanning the Stanislas River east of Oakdale a mile north of Highway 108/120 via Sonora Road is considered one of the best-preserved 19th century wood-iron Howe truss bridges still around.
Near its northern end are the ruins of a mill and what was California’s first hydroelectric plant.
At 379 feet long with four support spans on stone abutments and piers, it is the longest covered wooden bridge west of the Mississippi River still standing today.
The bridge sections consist of Howe trusses crafted from wooden planks bolted together via wrought iron tension rods. The bridge’s exterior is finished in vertical wood siding with a metal roof.
Golden Gate Bridge
Why walk the Golden Gate Bridge?
Besides the fact people from all over the world have it on their list of things to do when visiting San Francisco and the fact it has been declared one of the Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the views are breathtaking without taking away your breath.
From the time it opened in 1937 until 1964 it was the world’s longest main span suspension bridge at 4,200 feet. The bridge road deck clears the water by 220 feet while the towers soar 746 feet above the water allowing it to be the world’s tallest suspension bridge until 1998. The two 36.5-inch wide cables that pass through the towers and hold up the road deck each consist of 27,572 strands of wire that would cover 80,000 miles if laid out end to end. There are 1.2 million rivets in the bridge. Thirty-eight painters are constantly painting the bridge. Eleven workers were killed building the bridge.
If you plan on walking the Golden Gate Bridge there are a few things to note.
During Daylight Saving Time the east sidewalk is open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. The automatically controlled gates close at 9 p.m. and reopen at 5 a.m. The Pacific Standard Time hours to walk are 5 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Bicyclists are allowed 24-7 on the sidewalks. This time of year they can use the west sidewalk from 3:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and the east sidewalk from 5 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. From 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. they can use the east sidewalks but have to press buzzers at the closed security gate. Security then locates the cyclist with video cameras and opens the gate. The procedure is repeated on the other end.
The only animals allowed on bridge sidewalks are service animals. Roller blades, skateboards, and roller skates are not allowed.
Electric bikes or small scooters may not be ridden on the bridge sidewalks in the power-on mode. They can be pushed or ridden across in the power-off mode only.