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Trekking in San Francisco : Bridges, Swings & Russian Treats

Who doesn’t want to walk across the historic, iconic Golden Gate Bridge? It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but each time I found myself in San Francisco, it was with someone who either couldn’t deal with the heights or we had a timeline that was just too tight. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have been to the visitors center and yet, never actually walked across the bridge.

I arrived via Lyft at 8 am, with my backpack full of supplies for a day of fun. I had stopped on the way at a sinfully tempting place called Cinderella’s Russian Bakery to get a coffee and pastry for breakfast. I ended up walking out with a bag full of pastries, a couple of piroshki’s for lunch, and several other intriguing things to snack on. My pack was a bit heavier than planned, but food was definitely ticked off my list! It was a beautiful day, and I planned for an entire day of fun without any concerns or hunger pangs to get in the way of this adventure. 

Upon arrival at the Welcome Center, I snapped a few quick photos and then started to make my way across the bridge. This first thing I noticed was an absolute traffic jam at the entrance to the pedestrian walkway. There is a sign clearly detailing the rules of the walkway, but no one even made notice with all the chaos. The next thing that caught my eye was how creepy the signs are telling pedestrians to stay on the right side. They are made with silhouettes of an older suit and hat clad man leading a small girl in a dress and a pony tail by the hand. I’m sure this looked completely appropriate in 1937, when the bridge was initially built. Now, something about it just doesn’t look right at all to me, but the more obvious problem is that many tourists don’t even pay attention to them. I watched and counted for a while, and it takes two near misses with a speeding, yelling, bell ringing cyclist to make most tourists reluctantly move to the right side of the path.

As I walked further across the bridge, another thing caught my eye. There are consistently red drops of paint splattered along the cement the entire length of the bridge. First I thought, wow, what a lot of wasted paint. Then I tried to imagine myself balanced precariously on one of the supports having to try to paint as the bridge bounced up and down from the weight of the traffic, and swayed back and forth from the strong winds. I honestly cannot imagine having this as a job, but if I did, I feel certain I’d spill entire buckets of paint and drop my brush recurringly. 

When I got to the middle span of the bridge, there was a large ship passing underneath and at exactly the same moment a low flying helicopter swooped down and just barely seemed to clear the cable supports. This was unnerving as the thought of either the pilot or captain being even the slightest bit too close could absolutely ruin everyone’s day. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my son once. He had been posted in the Bay Area briefly with the Coast Guard. When I inquired about what he did his response was, “We watch the bridge, 24/7. We always know who comes and who goes and how close they can get, who must be escorted, etc…and we try to rescue the people who jump, but they rarely survive.”

I’m completely surprised at how many things are visible in the water from such heights. I saw numerous sea lions, and a great variety of birds who, just like the tourists, seem to be attracted by the bridge. I also watched a lone fisherman in a small boat catch and reel in a large and rather uncooperative fish while two sea lions bobbed patiently in the water watching him. I wondered if they were rooting for the fisherman or the fish, or if they were like me, completely indifferent, yet fascinated to see the outcome.

Upon arriving at the Sausalito end of the bridge, I made my way to the observation area through the throngs of tourists who had arrived by car. I couldn’t help but feel a bit more entitled to experience the view than this lazy lot of car riding humans. While there I happened upon two policeman on bicycles and noticed that their uniforms said “Golden Gate Police.”

I asked one of them about the differences between their job and the San Francisco City police officers and it turned out that he was a super chatty, nice guy named Daniel. He shared that the Golden Gate Police Squad is a coveted position that only the most experienced and qualified officers get selected for. They are evaluated based upon numerous things, but primarily their people skills, and ability to de escalate situations, particularly suicide attempts. Their job is to patrol the bridge and watch for any potential jumpers. 2013 saw the highest documented rate of successful suicides from the bridge with 46 people plunging to their death. In 2016, the Golden Gate Police force became 22 members strong, and they were able to intervene successfully in 138 attempted suicides. In addition to these specially trained officers, 2019 will also see a net installed to catch people who manage to get over the railing unnoticed.

As I was chatting with Daniel, I noticed an old car pull up with giant Teddy Bears hanging out of the windows and a gentleman who got out, stood next to his car and began greeting everyone. It was immediately clear that he’s a regular. Daniel says he drives out each day, parks his car so people can take pictures if they like and just sits and chats with everyone for several hours. I know there’s a story here, but I didn’t have the time to suss it out, sorry. I’ll leave you to create this one for yourselves. 🙂 

From this point, if you want to head to Kirby Cove Swing, you have to walk under the bridge to get to Battery Spencer Park. The entrance for this can be a little tricky to find. You need to walk over to the front edge of the parking lot to a small brushy growth area near the entrance and find the steps going down and then under the bridge. After walking under, continue to follow the trail that runs roughly half a mile up and curves around to the left. This will lead you to more expansive bridge views from Battery Spencer Park.

After you’ve taken your fill of photos here, head back down the trail toward Conzelman Road and then turn left. Walk a short distance until you see Kirby Cove Road and follow it on your left for about one mile toward Kirby Cove Campground. Walking along this dirt road is a bit of a drag, but there are a few breathtaking views of the bridge and rugged coastline below which make it worth it!

When you enter the campground area, continue to curve around to the left slightly as you make your way down to the water’s edge. Be warned that the right side of this beach is a nude beach! You may get a bit more than you bargained for if you wander too far to the right side of the beach, but if you keep to the left you will find the Kirby Cove Swing and a cave just beyond, that can also be explored. 

The beach at Kirby Cove is a great spot to take photos, have a picnic, or go for a quick dip in the water if it’s a hot day. I opted for eating my bakery goodies, while watching a few teenage girls attempt to get into the freezing water. After 45 minutes of egging each other on, they had only managed to get in up to their ankles. That was all I needed to know that this March day was much better for eating pastries and piroshki’s on the beach, than for swimming. And because it was an 8.4 mile round trip walk, I didn’t even have to feel an ounce of guilt about devouring all my Russian treats! 

8 Comments

  • Reply
    Gary Oyler
    April 24, 2017 at 6:44 am

    Awesome post!
    Sounds like a lot of fun!
    The photos are great!
    You’re an inspiration! 😁😁

    • Reply
      Bethany Eells Porter
      April 24, 2017 at 3:13 pm

      Thank you Gary!
      It was a fun day and I really enjoyed getting to explore by foot! You should go check it out sometime! 🙂

  • Reply
    Richard W Dill
    April 24, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    The paragraph on the Golden Gate police was intriguing. I would have never guessed there was such a thing. I usually give the benefit of doubt to people, but honestly I first thought “yea right, sure its a coveted position”. Then you explained about suicide attempts and I can see the importance. They intervened 138 times! Awesome!

    • Reply
      Bethany Eells Porter
      April 24, 2017 at 3:25 pm

      Yes Richard, apparently there’s a short time each year that police officers can apply to be on the Golden Gate force, but Daniel said there’s usually one or two positions available and hundreds of applicants.
      He also shared that once they are selected they must go through extensive additional training for deescalation methods before they are allowed to begin duty. It’s amazing to think that with all these efforts in place, many people still manage to jump from the bridge each year. Hopefully, when the nets are installed in 2019, will see the deaths stop.
      Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  • Reply
    Cheri
    April 24, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    Hi, Bethany. Thanks for taking us along on your bridge stroll on what was clearly a glorious sunny day. Good stuff!

    • Reply
      Bethany Eells Porter
      April 25, 2017 at 4:33 pm

      Thanks Cheri!
      It was a beautiful day…perfect time of the year to be hiking around in San Francisco!
      I’m really hoping to bump into you somewhere along a trail this summer! 🙂

  • Reply
    Vanessa R Lum
    April 29, 2017 at 7:37 pm

    Enjoyed your narrative. Will keep this in mind the next time I find myself in San Francisco!

    • Reply
      Bethany Eells Porter
      April 29, 2017 at 8:51 pm

      Hi Vanessa! Thank you for the comment!
      We need to make a date before I leave this island!

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