Bay Bridge in San Francisco: All About this Famed Bridge and Tips to Find Spots to See It

Jill on a windy day at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

Updated: March 9, 2023

The Bay Bridge in San Francisco connects the city with the East Bay region, which includes Oakland, Berkeley, and other cities further east. It also is part of the I-80 Highway and covers 10 lanes over the SF Bay.

The bridge is split into two sections with very different designs. The Oakland (or East Bay) side is a new structure that was completed in 2013. The SF side opened in 1936.

Bay Bridge in San Francisco

The SF side is a double-decker bridge with five lanes on each deck and has a huge volume of traffic everyday (more than double the volume of the Golden Gate Bridge). The Oakland side is one deck which carries both east- and westbound traffic on one level.

Read on for more information, where to find the best views and the status on the SF side's nightly light show.

Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.

Bay Bridge in San Francisco Fun Facts

Here are a few fun facts about the Bay Bridge in San Francisco.

Western Span of the Bay Bridge
  • The two spans have a daily traffic volume of 260,000 vehicles (compared to the Golden Gate Bridge that has a daily volume of 112,000 vehicles)
  • The two spans meet on Yerba Buena island, which you can also access from the bridge
  • Driving over the bridge is the only way to access Treasure Island
  • The older western side is officially called the Willie L. Brown, Jr. Bridge, although most people just call it the San Francisco side of the Bay Bridge
  • Both sides were originally opened in 1936, but the eastern span was badly damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. They were not able to retrofit that span, so they rebuilt it starting in 2002. The new span opened in 2013. It was a huge effort to rebuild, as they had to keep the old section open as much as possible to allow the large volume of traffic access to SF and back to the East Bay throughout the process.
  • The new Oakland side is a single deck with five lanes of traffic going in each direction. Due to the number of lanes on a single deck, it's currently the world's widest bridge.

Night Lights on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco 

For ten years, the Bay Bridge in San Francisco offered a nightly light show. Leo Villareal, a light artist, installed the lights as a temporary exhibit in 2013. The city originally planned to run the lights nightly between March 5, 2013 and March 5, 2015.

Bay Lights Night Show

The support for the light show was so positive that private donations were collected to keep it going. The goal was to collect enough money to power it through 2026. 

They were able to get most of the money for the campaign. In addition, they Bay Area Toll Authority agreed to provide some funding for maintenance and electricity for the show.

Permanent lights were installed, and it went live again. However, due to weather damage and outages, the lights went dark again on March 5, 2023—exactly ten years after they went live. 

They are now in the process of another fundraising campaign in order to try to replace and repair the lights so they can once again turn them back on. 

Where to Get the Best Views

Here are some of my favorite places to soak in the views of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco.

Bridge Artwork

Embarcadero: The Embarcadero is the main road running along SF's waterfront. You will find plenty of spots to admire the bridge from here. The best spots are south of the Ferry Building, which is Pier 1.

Pier 7: Just north of the Ferry Building is a long skinny pier that offers unobstructed views at the end.

Pier 14: This pier is on the south side of the Ferry Building is another option for unobstructed views of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco.

Tours that Include the Bay Bridge in San Francisco

Here are a few of the best tours that offer views and more details about this SF gem.

Bridge to Bridge Cruise: This daily cruise gives you the chance to go under both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. It lasts 90 minutes and offers you some great information about both of these very important structures as you enjoy the sights from the water. Find tickets for this cruise.

Night Tour by Bus: This 90-minute night bus tour offers you the chance to learn more about SF at night. You will hear more about the Bay Bridge in San Francisco as you make your way across it to Treasure Island, where you'll have a panoramic photo opportunity of the glittering lights. Visit GetYourGuide for more details.

Walking and Biking the Eastern Span

The new eastern span includes a walking and biking path. This allows you to get from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island and back. It is known as the Bay Bridge Trail and it opened in 2016.

There is a dedicated space for both pedestrians and bikers to maintain safety on the trail. The distance is 2.2 miles each way.

The path is open from 6 am to 9 pm daily and is free to use.

Driving Tips & Tolls

Driving over the Bay Bridge in San Francisco is intimidating for first timers. The traffic is moving fast, and people change lanes frequently.

Bay Bridge on a Cloudy Day

If you plan to drive over it to get into SF or over to Oakland, make sure to do some preparation before you drive. Know exactly which lane you will be in based on your entry point. Also, find out which lane you need to be in to get off I-80.

This will give you the time needed to get into the correct lane instead of trying to cross several lanes at the last minute in heavy traffic.

You will also find it easier to cross outside of rush hour traffic when it isn't as busy. Rush hour is usually on weekdays from around 5 am to around 10 am going towards San Francisco and from around 3 pm to 7 pm heading back to the East Bay.

If you are unfamiliar with the bridge, I recommend trying to drive over it outside of these hours.

My other recommendation is to be on the lookout for motorcycles as you change lanes. In California, they are allowed to share lanes with cars, so you will see several motorcycles going faster, changing lanes quickly and driving in between cars.

Check and double-check that there are no motorcycles coming before you switch lanes.

The cost is $7 to drive over the Oakland Bay Bridge. 

History of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco

For years, the city of San Francisco was a thriving place due to its ports. In 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed, as the city felt disconnected from the rest of the US.

Silver Art Along the SF Waterfront

About this time is when talks started about building a bridge to connect San Francisco and Oakland. However, it took until 1929 for the California Legislature to pass a bill to start construction.

One challenge at the time was the use of Yerba Buena Island. At the time, the Navy controlled the island, which made it federal land. California worked with the US Congress to get permission to link the bridge on the island in 1931.

Construction started on July 9, 1933. Both sides of the bridge faced challenges along the way as well as the tunnel that was created to get through Yerba Buena Island.

However, the builders were undeterred and finished the project in 1936. It officially opened to traffic on November 12, 1936.

The original Bay Bridge in San Francisco included railway tracks for public transportation. These were removed to allow for more space for car traffic.

On November 7, 2007, the Cosco Busan, an oil tanker, hit the western span. More than 50,000 gallons of oil spilled into the SF Bay. This became a huge media story because the pilot of the ship had to be blood tested and was found to be impaired due to prescription drugs.

The spill impacted more than 200 miles of coastline and it took years for the local area to recover.

Hotels Nearby

You will find several hotels near the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. The best options are those right along the Embarcadero. Several offer views from some of their premier rooms. Here are some of my top picks.

1 Hotel (8 Mission Street): 4-star hotel offering several rooms with a view. Restaurant and bar on site. Each room offers modern amenities. Great location with easy access to downtown, Fisherman's Wharf, and Union Square. It's also a perfect place to stay if you plan to see an SF Giants game. Visit here for room availability.

Hotel Griffon (155 Steuart Street): 3.5-star hotel offering a handful of rooms with a view of the bridge. Recently voted as "Best Boutique Hotel" by San Francisco Magazine. Room service and a restaurant/bar on site. Find out more about booking and rooms.

Hyatt Regency (5 Embarcadero Center): 4-star hotel right on the Embarcadero across the street from the Ferry Building. Located in the Financial District with easy access to nearby districts and public transportation. Click here to learn more about the Hyatt.

>> Find additional hotel recommendations around town

Bay Bridge in San Francisco in the Movies

You can get some great views of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco in these movies and TV shows.

  • Bullitt (1968): Most of this movie was filmed in San Francisco, so you can see several of our top attractions and districts throughout it.
  • The Amazing Race (Season 2 - Episode 11)
  • Metro (1997)
  • A View to a Kill (1985)
  • Basic Instinct (1992)
  • Milk (2008)

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?

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SF Bay Bridge Pinterest Pin

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