Too often when people visit the Golden Gate Bridge, they walk as far as the lookout, turn around, and go back. I say: Don't be afraid to keep going! On the other side of the bay, there is a plethora of scenic, worthy attractions near the bridge.
Once you get across, you'll be in Golden Gate Park National Recreation Area, at the foot of Mount Tam. You'll spy rocky ocean cliffs and rolling hills, and mind-boggling views. It still impresses me that so close to the bustling city, there is so much open wilderness and dramatic ocean.
So whether you walk, drive, or bike across the bridge, stick around. These lesser-known options are worth a visit.
By car: Point Bonita Lighthouse
Just four miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge, in the national recreation area, is the still-active lighthouse, perched 300 feet above the water, accessed only by suspension bridge. The half-mile walk from the parking lot down to the lighthouse is one of the most sensational coastal hikes in the Bay Area—the rocky cliffs and expanding ocean make you feel like you're at the tip of the world.
Note: The lighthouse has limited hours (Sat.-Mon.12:30-3:30 p.m.), so plan ahead.
Getting there: Take the Alexander Exit right after the bridge, bear right, and follow Alexander Avenue, and turn left on Bunker Road.
By bike: Sausalito
Biking across the bridge is one of the most popular ways to enjoy the route. Once you're across, it's an easy downhill ride to Sausalito, a small upscale town where you can poke around the many art galleries and boutiques. Grab a bite at one of the waterfront restaurants, or better yet, save some money and get a sandwich from Venice Gourmet Italian delicatessen (625 Bridgeway, 415/ 332-3544) to eat on one of the many benches overlooking the Bay. Pedal yourself back to San Francisco, or hop the Sausalito ferry, which serves wine and beer and is considered one of the nation's best ferry rides.
By foot: The Cavallo Point Day Spa
After crossing the 1.7-mile bridge, head down the paved trail that starts at the parking lot of the vista point. The scenic two miles goes past Horseshoe Bay (with more inspiring views of the Golden Gate Bridge) to the Cavallo Point Lodge spa. A day pass ($40) offers access to a heated outdoor meditation pool, a eucalyptus steam room, yoga classes, and a state-of-the-art fitness room. After all that walking, get cozy next to the firepit or just relax in the gardens that have excellent views of the bay. After you're good and relaxed, simply take the spa's complimentary shuttle to the Sausalito Ferry and return home by boat. Monday through Saturday 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. 8:30 a.m. - 7 p.m. 601 Murray Circle, Fort Baker, Sausalito, 415/ 339-4767.