ALERT: The Golden Gate Bridge District and CHP close the North Vista Point and the Welcome Center parking lot at the South Vista Point to passenger cars from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM on most summer weekends, and on holiday weekends year round. We have all the details from past closures here.
The South Vista Point at Strauss Plaza (Southeast Parking Lot)
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA 94129 (See Map Below)
Phone (415) 426-5220
South Vista Point Address for your GPS: This area has no address other than “Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco 94129.” User inputs to Google Maps have created name confusion between here and Vista Point on the Sausalito side of the Bridge, so the safest search term on your phone or tablet is “Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center.” On most newer car GPS systems the Welcome Center is listed as a POI (point of interest), but on older cars look for “Southeast Parking Lot” or “South Vista Point”.
Insiders Tip: During peak summer and holiday period visitor hours this lot is often closed to passenger vehicles from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM to avoid backing up traffic on the Bridge, but the Bridge has been inconsistent about when this is and is not done — one holiday they close the lots and another they won’t. When the lots are closed from 11:00-5:00 only buses, vans, taxis, Uber and Lyft drivers etc. may drop off and pick up passengers. The same is true for the Vista Point parking lot at the northern end of the Bridge. We have a list of other Bridge parking lots here that remain open at these times.
This parking lot is the most heavily visited visitor location on the Golden Gate Bridge, and the spot where a majority of people begin their walk across the Bridge. It gets crowded and is often full, and there are overflow lots both below it on Lincoln Blvd. and up the hill on Merchant Road (see map below). The area was extensively upgraded for the 75th Anniversary of the Bridge’s opening in 2012, with a new Welcome Center and other upgrades and renovations.
There is a charge of 25 cents for every 15 minutes ($1 an hour) and a time limit of 2 hours. (At night the limit is 6 hours.) You can pay with a credit card or cash. If you don’t have young kids or stop for a long time 2 hours is long enough to walk across the Bridge and back, and it’s definitely enough to walk to the center and walk back. Our page about walking across the Bridge is here.
After you pay you’ll receive a receipt to place on the dashboard of your car, like the one at the left. I love the view here so much that sometimes when I’m returning to Sausalito from a meeting in San Francisco I’ll stop here to go to the Round House Cafe for a hot dog for lunch.
During the more popular visitor hours there are cars waiting for a spot, often jamming up traffic in the lot, and the Bridge District how has a traffic officer helping to keep traffic flowing.
The Best Places at Strauss Plaza to Take Pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge
Insiders Tip: The two view areas located at each end of the Golden Gate Bridge have been given confusing names that the locals know but that can confuse visitors:
• The parking lot on the southern end of the Bridge (on the San Francisco side) offers beautiful and famous views, but is referred to un-glamorously as the Southeast Parking Lot. On rare occasions they add the phrase “and Strauss Plaza.” Many locals still refer to the San Francisco side as “the south vista point”. This is the location of the Welcome Center, the Golden Gate Bridge Cafe vending area, and the 1938 architectural gem called the Round House Cafe, which serves light meals and coffee.
• The parking lot on the northern end, bordering Sausalito in Marin County, is called by the appropriately dramatic name “Vista Point” so everyone can tell there are magnificent vistas. The Marin side apparently had better Marketing people than the San Francisco side back in 1937.
• Despite the difference in names both sides have a) a parking lot (the northern one is bigger and not metered), b) bathrooms, and c) great views.
Insiders Tip: The panoramic photos with the Bridge rising above rocky cliffs are taken from the San Francisco side. The postcards that feature the San Francisco skyline next to the Bridge come from Vista Point on the north side adjacent to Sausalito.
From here you can walk directly onto the east sidewalk of the Golden Gate Bridge. Our page about walking across the Bridge is here.
You can also walk down a path to Fort Point, which lies below the south end of the Bridge in San Francisco. We describe visiting Fort Point (a worthwhile walk) in detail here.
You’ll also have some views of the San Francisco skyline from here as it peeks through the trees, though I had to stand on a bench to get this photo, taken on the same overcast day as the image above:
Getting to the South Vista Point by Car
The Southeast Parking Lot is located at the last northbound exit as you leave San Francisco on Highway 101, just as you’re about to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. The sign for the exit reads “Golden Gate National Recreation Area View Area.”
Insiders Tip: Because of extensive road construction in the area there’s a trick to making sure you don’t miss this parking lot exit coming north from San Francisco. As you approach the Golden Gate Bridge a) on Doyle Drive from Lombard St. and the Marina, or b) on Park Presidio Blvd. from Golden Gate Park (the two arteries that feed traffic to the Bridge), stay in the far right hand lane. The satellite photo below of the toll plaza and parking area shows both these roads merging from the lower right hand corner of the image.
If you’re on Park Presidio Blvd. it’s easy: stay in the right lane as you come up the hill, and about 100 yards after the two roads start to come together the exit will be on your right.
If you’re on Doyle Drive, which has been completely rebuilt for earthquake safety, it’s trickier. Stay in the right lane as you approach the Bridge, which as the roads merge becomes the 3rd from the right lane. You have about 100 yards to merge 2 lanes right and take the exit. When traffic is clogged it’s easy because people will eventually let you in and you can get through. When traffic is flowing freely just slow down and proceed carefully and you should be fine — it’s when people aren’t expecting the exit to appear so quickly that they are surprised and miss it.
Immediately after exiting, you’ll see the main parking lot on your left.
If you’re returning to San Francisco after your visit: When you’re ready to return to San Francisco after walking around the area, do NOT follow the road up to the Toll Plaza from the main parking lot (which we describe in detail below). Instead take the tunnel beneath the Bridge, and turn left after you emerge from the tunnel. When you come to a stop sign next to the Bridge District employee parking area turn left and you will re-join the flow of traffic just south of the Toll Plaza.
Insiders Tip: You can also reach this lot traveling south on the Bridge. Stay in the far right lane as you approach the Toll Plaza and pass through the toll gates. Take the first right after the Toll Plaza and then another immediate right turn. This will take you downhill and into the tunnel that goes underneath the Toll Plaza. On the other side of this short tunnel is the main parking lot described above. It will be on the right as you exit the tunnel, adjacent to the visitor rest rooms.
Getting to the South Vista Point by Mass Transit
From San Francisco or Marin via Golden Gate Transit: Almost any northbound Marin Transit bus that crosses the Bridge (Routes 2, 4, 8, 10, 18, 24, 27, 38, 44, 54, 56, 58, 70, 92, 97, and 101) stop at the Golden Gate Bridge Toll Plaza. From there it’s a short walk down the hill to Strauss Plaza. The same method works southbound from Marin, although you have to walk through the tunnel beneath the Toll Plaza to reach Strauss Plaza and the Bridge East sidewalk.
Named for the Bridge’s Chief Engineer, the Strauss Plaza not only offers spectacular views, but houses the Gift Shop and Welcome Center (previously called the Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion) where Rangers and Docents answer visitor questions, a vending machine area, and the Round House Cafe.
Another feature of the Plaza is the cross-section of one bridge cable (shown in the photo below), showing the thousands of wires inside each casing. Except for local kids (who had to study the Bridge as we were growing up in Marin and San Francisco schools) most people think the cables are one big fat strip of steel instead of many thousands of wires wrapped tightly into bundles.
Food and Drink at the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge Cafe is a vending center and snack shot opposite the entrance to the Visitors Center. The Round House Cafe serves fast food and coffee, and is located just up the steps to the right of the Bridge Cafe, adjacent to the Toll Plaza.