Icon in Red, a homage to the Golden Gate Bridge

It was once known as “the bridge that couldn’t be built” and its proposed construction was met with fierce opposition. Thankfully, the Golden Gate was bridged and the result is a majestic piece of architecture. You can see the iconic red of the bridge from lots of different places in San Francisco, but my favourite was from Baker Beach as the sun set. Today the Golden Gate Bridge is taken for granted, but that wasn’t always the case.

Its many early opponents claimed it would destroy the natural beauty of San Francisco Bay, others believed that it wouldn’t survive an earthquake similar to the one that flattened San Francisco in 1906. The people who worked the ferry that existed before the bridge probably weren’t too pleased either.

Despite this, the momentum to span the Golden Gate and connect the city with its northern peninsula continued to build. In 1919, the tender to design a bridge was won by a Chicago-based engineer, Joseph Strauss. Strauss was a man capable of dreaming big, in fact he’d already made designs for a 55-mile long bridge across the Baring Straight to connect Alaska with Russia.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, United States

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, United States

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, United States

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, United States

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, United States

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, United States

At a mile wide, the Golden Gate was a less daunting prospect and Strauss promised to build the bridge to a budget of $35 million. For over a decade progress was mired in litigation and opposition, but the drive to build became overwhelming during the Depression of the 1930s.

On January 5th, 1933, construction of the monumental Golden Gate Bridge finally began. The excavation of 3.25 million cubic feet of earth necessary to support the twin towers that stretch 746 feet into the air, employed thousands made redundant in the Depression. The two cables that support the road below are 7,000 feet in length and contain 80,000 miles of wire. 1.2 million steel rivets hold all the pieces of the bridge together.

The designs for the graceful suspension bridge that emerged after four years of construction was the work of many hands, and have stood the test of time. Since then the bridge has won many accolades, none less than the fact that in its first 75-years of operation it only closed three times due to bad weather.

Today it’s considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers, it’s one of the most recognisable buildings on the planet, and is a truly awe inspiring sight viewed from far away or close up. It does hold some less fortunate accolades, including as a popular site for suicides.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, United States

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, United States

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, United States

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, United States

Sunset from Baker Beach, San Francisco, California, United States

Sunset from Baker Beach, San Francisco, California, United States

As for the iconic red colour … it’s officially an orange vermillion known as International Orange. It’s supposed to aid visibility for shipping in poor weather conditions. A team of 38 painters maintain the bridge’s paintwork.

The City by the Bay, San Francisco

Where to start about San Francisco? How to describe a city that has had more words written about it than one human being could read in a lifetime? Our starting point was arriving into the city in a hire car at rush hour, crawling through traffic while trying to find our hotel following  20 hours of travelling, including 11 hours in a plane. We really needed to find our hotel.

We’d booked something ’boutique’ that was shoehorned into an old, narrow building in a fashionable part of town. It cost a small fortune for a room that wasn’t big enough to accommodate two people, two bags and tea and coffee-making facilities. We were woken daily at 6am by garbage trucks picking up bins in the alleyway behind the hotel. Value for money is highly speculative in San francisco.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, United States

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, United States

Sunset from Baker Beach, San Francisco, California, United States

Sunset from Baker Beach, San Francisco, California, United States

We checked in, just glad to have somewhere to stay after a gruelling journey, but this city has an energising effect. It wasn’t long before our excitement got the better of us and we headed out to sample our first bit of San Francisco’s famed nightlife and culinary scene.

If its origins were inauspicious, as an impoverished Spanish colonial mission, today San Francisco is a small town with a fully deserved global reputation. Founded in 1776, the mission was built at great cost in lives by the indigenous Ohlone and Miwok who lived around the bay before Europeans arrived. Things didn’t improve much when it became a neglected Mexican outpost in 1821.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, United States

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, United States

Sea Lion, San Francisco, California, United States

Sea Lion, San Francisco, California, United States

Alcatraz, San Francisco, California, United States

Alcatraz, San Francisco, California, United States

San Francisco, California, United States

San Francisco, California, United States

A year after being incorporated into the United States in 1847, gold was discovered in the Californian hinterland. This village of 800 people literally exploded over night. San Francisco became the disembarkation point for hundreds of thousands of gold prospectors. By the mid-1850s its population had grown to over 30,000; by the end of the century that number was ten times greater.

The arrival of the ‘Forty Niners’ saw San Francisco became a byword for iniquity. If you had money you could buy anything you wanted in the dozens of bars, gaming houses and brothels. This wild and irreverent history has left its mark on this remarkable city as it’s journeyed from insignificant speck on a map, to a socially liberal, non-conformist icon, to tech hub and unicorn startup epicentre.

San Francisco, California, United States

San Francisco, California, United States

San Francisco, California, United States

San Francisco, California, United States

Hungry I Club, San Fracisco, California, USA

Hungry I Club, San Fracisco, California, USA

San Francisco, California, United States

San Francisco, California, United States

With so many world-famous landmarks, it’s almost impossible to decide what to see and what to do when you only have a few days. We decided to abandon any itinerary and to explore the city streets on foot – which was just as well, you can wait an eternity for one of the fabled cable cars to arrive and to not be packed with people.

On our first day we went down to the Fisherman’s Wharf area, stopping for food at Pier 39. This area has some great eateries but it feels a bit like being in a theme park. Far more interesting was the stroll along the waterfront towards Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Bridge. The views over the bay to Alcatraz and the northern shore are beautiful, but the views from the Golden Gate Bridge are even more impressive.

San Francisco, California, United States

San Francisco, California, United States

The Castro, San Francisco, California, United States

The Castro, San Francisco, California, United States

Street car, San Francisco, California, United States

Street car, San Francisco, California, United States

Needing more perspective, we headed to Twin Peaks for vast sweeping views over San Francisco and the Bay. This is a city of hills but few offer such magnificent vistas. Afterwards we walked  down through Eureka Valley to the Castro, to have a brunch accompanied by unlimited Bellini cocktails in the epicentre of the fight for gay rights in the United States.

There was a time when a Sunday visit to the Castro would have meant naked people exercising their right to be naked in the streets. Creeping social conservatism and changing demographics saw public nakedness in the area banned in 2012. Despite widespread protests, local politicians have yet to relent.

Alcatraz, San Francisco, California, United States

Alcatraz, San Francisco, California, United States

San Francisco Bay, California, United States

San Francisco Bay, California, United States

San Francisco, California, United States

San Francisco, California, United States

San Francisco, California, United States

San Francisco, California, United States

We spent a lot of our time wandering around central districts like Nob Hill, Pacific Heights, the Tenderloin, Russian Hill and Cow Hollow. All names that are known the world over. It’s a fascinating city to stroll around, and people are remarkably friendly as you do so. Most fascinating for me was the diversity of the city, and the fact that there are so many small independent shops, bars and restaurants.

We ate superb Mexican food at tiny places without names, had cocktails made by a biker/barman who sliced the limes with a huge bowie knife, watched cars drive down Lombard Street, walked past naked badminton players on Baker Beach, and sampled delicious dim sum in China Town. We planned to spend more time in San Francisco on our way back, but in the end ran out of time. This short visit whetted our appetites for more though.