Golden Gate Strait and the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Park - 1892 Geography Social Studies Tragedies and Triumphs Visual Arts American History

Long before the Golden Gate Bridge became a San Francisco landmark, a narrow-but-deep stretch of water linked the Pacific Ocean to a bay (now known as the San Francisco Bay). For two centuries, as far as we know, European sailors passed-by that narrow opening without sailing into the bay or exploring the adjoining land.

Maybe it was the oft-present summer coastal fog that obscured the passage. Maybe it was just the narrow opening itself that didn’t seem inviting to maritime explorers. For whatever reason, no exploring captain felt the need to coax his ship over the turbulent, 300-feet-deep stretch of water until 1769.

In that year—about eight decades before the start of California’s “Gold Rush”—a group of Spanish scouts saw the passage during their land-based explorations. In 1775—at a time when the American Revolution was beginning on the Atlantic side of the country we know today as the United States—Juan de Ayala (a Spaniard) sailed his ship (the San Carlos) from the Pacific through the narrow break in the hills and into the Bay.

It was the first time, in recorded history, that Europeans actually sailed into the Bay. At the time, the watery passage didn’t have a specific name. That came later, in 1846, when John C. Fremont—an explorer, soldier and future American presidential hopeful—first laid eyes on the watery trench which is today such an important part of San Francisco and its international seaport.

The narrow passage from the Pacific, flowing into an otherwise landlocked harbor, reminded Fremont of the Golden Horn of the Bosporus in today’s Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople). Fremont used a Greek work to name the place—Chrysopylae—which, in English, means “Golden Gate.”

In his 1848 work entitled “Geographical Memoir,” Fremont gave even more meaning to Chrysopylae. He described it as:

...a golden gate to trade with the Orient.

He certainly was right about that. On any given day, in today’s San Francisco, we see huge ships coming-from and going-to countries like Japan and China.

Work on the bridge, which now crosses the watery passage known as the Golden Gate, began on the 5th of January, 1933. America was still in the grip of the Great Depression when the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937.

The Bridge isn’t painted gold, despite its name. That’s because the bridge was named for the water below it—the Golden Gate Strait—and not the other way around.

To help the huge structure standout against its stunning backdrop—and so it can be seen in spite of the predictable, seasonal fog coming off the Pacific Ocean—its color is orange vermillion (which is also known as “International Orange”).


In the drawing at the top of this page, we see Golden Gate Park as it appeared in the late-19th century. It shows the narrow opening from the ocean, into the bay, and depicts an area of undeveloped land as it appeared about fourteen years before the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.

H.B. Eliott created that illustration—a "Bird's-eye view of Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, 1892."  It is maintained at the Bancroft Library (UC Berkley).  

Click on the image for a better view.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Dec 30, 2016

Updated Last Revision: Sep 09, 2019

Media Credits

Online, courtesy MOAC (Museums & The Online Archive of California).  PD 


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"Golden Gate Strait and the Golden Gate Bridge" AwesomeStories.com. Dec 30, 2016. Jan 29, 2020.
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