The 10 most famous Californian bridges

California has some of the most impressive and spectacular bridges in the world. During the first half of the 20th century here, as the population on the West Coast grew, new bridges were constantly constructed to make connections faster between key places in the State. Consider how long the journey took across San Francisco Bay to San Francisco city before the construction of the Oakland Bay Bridge, for example: so it is no surprise that this majestic 1930s bridge is near the top in the rankings of the 10 most famous bridges in California, USA.

The top 10 most famous Californian bridges

Built of concrete, metal and even wood, spanning stretches of sea, rivers or deep gorges: the Californian bridges never cease to fascinate and impress with their history, their boldness, and their often mould-breaking architecture. Let’s take a look at the top 10 most famous bridges.

1. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

The most famous of all the Californian bridges and probably also the most photographed, the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most famous icons in the USA. Spanning the strait that connects the Bay of San Francisco with the Pacific Ocean, it makes the journey between Marin County and San Francisco extremely fast. At the time of its construction in 1937, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, with an overall length of 2.71 kilometres, while the distance between the two towers – in other words, the length of the central span – is 1,282 metres. The towers themselves stand 225 metres above the water. Apart from its structure, the bridge is also striking for its colour, technically termed “International Orange”; over the course of the decades different types of paint have been used on the bridge, with the current topcoat now acrylic.

2. Oakland Bay Bridge, San Francisco

We remain in San Francisco for the second bridge in the rankings, the Oakland Bay Bridge, as we mentioned above. It is not actually a single bridge, but a complex of 3 bridges, each one linked to another, that spans the bay, thus connecting San Francisco and Oakland. Built between 1933 and 1936, it was inaugurated just 6 months before the Golden Gate Bridge: so in the space of a few months, San Francisco found itself connected to the rest of the State in a completely new way. The total length of this bridge, built of concrete and steel, is 7.18 kilometres, and it has a maximum height of 160 metres.

3. Bixby Bridge, Big Sur

Of all the bridges in California, the Bixby Bridge is a true gem of engineering and architecture, situated on Highway 1, on the coast of central California. It is an arch bridge, built of concrete and completed in 1932, and it offers an absolutely unique view over the Pacific Ocean beneath it, and the surrounding cliffs. At 218 metres long and 70 metres high, this bridge was built mainly in order to guarantee a connection to the inhabitants of the Big Sur area, who often remained cut off during winter due to conditions on the Old Coast Road.

4. Tower Bridge, Sacramento

Our exploration of the most famous Californian bridges now moves to the State capital, and a bridge that spans the Sacramento River. This vibrant yellow bridge with its imposing towers soon became one of the most widely-recognized symbols of the city. Also built during the 1930s, and completed in 1935, the central span of the bridge is a lift span that can be raised vertically to allow boats to pass through on the river below. It is 225 metres long and 49 metres high, and replaced an earlier bridge built in 1911.

5. Foresthill Bridge, Auburn

At 263 metres high and 740 metres long, the Foresthill Bridge makes it possible to cross the North Folk American River, and is used by both vehicles and pedestrians. It is the tallest bridge in California and the 4th tallest bridge in the United States. It was built in 1971 to replace an earlier bridge immediately above the river, which would have been flooded as a result of the construction of the Auburn dam (although this project was never completed).

6. Sundial Bridge, Redding

The Sundial Bridge is a cable-stayed bridge spanning the Sacramento River, but in the city of Redding rather than Sacramento. It is a very recent structure, having been inaugurated in 2004. The design engineer, as you might guess at first glance, was Santiago Calatrava. The bridge, built of concrete and steel, is painted entirely in white, 66 metres long, and is in the shape of a sundial.

7. Coronado Bridge, San Diego

The Coronado Bridge is an imposing bridge that spans the bay of San Diego, linking San Diego city with Coronado. At 3,407 metres long, it was inaugurated in 1969 and has an unusual feature: some of the supporting piers of the bridge have murals painted directly onto the pillars, forming part of the Chicano Park collection of murals.

8. Colorado Street Bridge, Pasadena

This historic concrete arch bridge was built in 1912 in Pasadena. At 447 metres long and 45 metres wide, the bridge follows a curving path so that the footings can sit on more solid ground following the configuration of the land; following the earthquake in 1989, it was closed for several years as a precautionary measure, reopening in 1993 after renovation work.

9. Albion River Bridge, Albion

The rankings of the most famous bridges in California should definitely include a wooden bridge. The Albion bridge was built in 1944: at that time, the Second World War had led to a shortage of metal and concrete, so the engineers opted for salvaged wood treated with a preservative. The only metal element is the central truss, also salvaged, probably from an older bridge in Oregon. At 300 metres long, it is crossed by about 3,000 vehicles a day.

10. Fernbridge, Loleta

The rankings of the 10 most famous bridges in California concludes with the Fernbridge over the river Eel. Also known as the “Queen of Bridges”, it is 402 metres long and is a concrete arch bridge. It was inaugurated in 1911, and is the last crossing before the river Eel arrives at the Pacific Ocean; it remains the longest functional poured concrete bridge in the world still in operation.