Beautiful bridges come in all styles, shapes, and sizes. They can be fashioned of stone, wood, or cast iron. Bridges call us to cross over, but the best make the crossing an experience to treasure. Whether it’s what took place on that bridge, the pioneering architecture, or the setting, some bridges are memorable. And sometimes they are worth seeking out even if you simply wish to gaze on them.
The U.S. is home to countless bridges. Here’s a sampling of a few of my favorites. These are chosen for their historic import and notable designs. They cover points north, south, east, and west. Whether you walk, cycle, or drive, these bridges are worth visiting.
1. Mackinac Bridge, Michigan
Mackinac Bridge, dubbed the “Might Mac,” is built over the confluence of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. This suspension bridge spans five miles over the swirling Straits of Mackinac to connect the Upper and Lower peninsulas of Michigan. When it opened in 1957, travel by ferry was no longer the only way to cross these waters.
On a windy day, Mackinac Bridge can shift as much as 35 feet to the side. Don’t worry about swaying though. The bridge accommodates slowly, then moves back to center. For a good look at the bridge in real time, check out the official bridge cam.
Enjoy the feeling of adventure as you drive straight forward with the water sparkling 200 feet below. And if you prefer to walk across, the bridge closes to vehicles on Labor Day each year and hundreds of people get out in the fresh air to cross on foot.
Combine a visit to Mackinac Bridge with a day on nearby Mackinac Island and discover the wonders of forested, waterfront Michigan.
2. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
The Golden Gate Bridge is the symbol of San Francisco. Its distinctive red towers, often peeking out from the fog, stand as a quintessential Bay Area landmark. You can drive, bike, and walk across, and the views of the bay and the city will constantly entertain you.
After four years of construction, the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, a marvel of engineering. The roadway hangs suspended from curving main cables draped over the two red metal pillars. The bridge connects two sides of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, spanning 1.7 miles over San Francisco Bay.
A model at the entrance to the bridge shows that it can sway as much as 28 feet to adapt to wind and weather. If you are walking or biking, you will feel the wind (not the swaying), so be sure to take along a light jacket even in sunny weather.
My favorite way to visit the Golden Gate Bridge is on foot. Pedestrian paths on the sides of the bridge keep you separated from traffic. You can stop to admire the views in all directions as often as you like. You’re close to Alcatraz, the former prison island, and you can pick out cityscape landmarks such as Coit Tower and Ghirardelli Square.
Cycling takes a little more care than walking, as you are sharing the paths with pedestrians and need to watch out for them. You can pull over at several places to take in the views, though.
A Welcome Center on the city side offers merchandise and books that give historical information about the bridge.
Fort Point, lying directly under the city side of the bridge, makes a fascinating place to tour while you’re at the bridge. Built to protect San Francisco and California from possible danger coming from the Pacific, the fort was manned for decades. See canons and ammunition stores and explore all the nooks and crannies of this fort, now run by the National Park Service.
A walk on the Golden Gate Bridge can be a fun part of a day in San Francisco, the city by the bay that offers so much to see.
3. Bixby Creek Bridge, Monterey, California
On the Big Sur coast of California, south of San Francisco, the Bixby Creek Bridge attracts crowds of photographers and other travelers. Built in 1932, it boasts not only interesting architecture, but it’s also set against the backdrop of the rugged Pacific Ocean coast.
The Bixby Bridge’s design makes it amazing to view from any angle. It’s an open-spandrel arch bridge, formed by a concrete arch holding up vertical columns that support the roadway. It soars 260 feet over a deep canyon that leads to the ocean. Get out of your car and take in the sight of the bridge from both the coast side and the land side.
My recommendation is to park on the side of the bridge opposite the ocean. Walk around the hillside here for less crowded views of the bridge with the blue water in the background. Then drive over to the coastal side and park. You’ll likely find more people milling around here, but you’ll be able to view the bridge and take photos from different angles.
4. Brooklyn Bridge, New York City
The stately Brooklyn Bridge, dating to 1883, was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened. It connects Manhattan and Brooklyn by taking you over the East River. It’s a bustling bridge, carrying an average of more than 100,000 vehicles, 30,000 pedestrians, and 3,000 cyclists across each day.
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964, the Brooklyn Bridge is a tourist destination for many visitors to New York City. To savor crossing this one-mile bridge, try walking on the dedicated pedestrian walkway. This walkway is elevated above the cars and taxis with bicycle lanes marked by a white line.
The most important tip for new visitors is to start in Brooklyn and walk toward Manhattan for breathtaking views of the city. To do this, take the subway from Manhattan to the High Street-Brooklyn Bridge stop. Turn right out of the subway station, then go left on Prospect Street to the bridge entrance on Washington Street. My daughter and I did this early in the morning, then went on to a day touring in the city, which worked well. Also, you are less likely to find the pedestrian walkway crowded early in the day.
5. Bow Bridge, Central Park, New York City
This small, sweet footbridge in New York City is one of my favorite spots in Central Park. Bow Bridge looks like the bow of an archer and passes gracefully over the Lake, affording views into the Ramble. It’s made of cast iron in Classical Greek style. Eight large urns decorate the banisters.
Seek out Bow Bridge in Central Park in any season, but it is especially lovely in the spring, when the trees and flowers around it are in colorful bloom.
6. Old North Bridge, Concord, Massachusetts
The Old North Bridge in Concord is the historical site of the Battle of Concord, which kicked off the American War of Independence in April 1775. British troops lined up on one side, and Minute Men from the colonies gathered on the other side. Shots rang out, and war began.
When you visit this picturesque curving bridge, you may wonder why fighting broke out in farm country in this tranquil setting. The answer is that the British heard rumors of a stash of weapons buried nearby. The British shot two colonists on the bridge then retreated to Lexington and eventually to Boston.
The current wooden pedestrian bridge is the fifth version on this site since the battle. It’s part of the Minute Man National Historic Park run by the National Park Service. Learn more about the Revolutionary War at the Minute Man Visitor Center, open from April 1 to October 31 each year. See exhibits about the battle and a short film, and shop in the park store.
While you’re in the area, plan to tour the Wayside Inn, also run by the National Park Service. The Wayside was home to Samuel Whitney, muster master for Concord's Minute Men. In the 1800s, author Louisa May Alcott lived here. Her family aided at least one runaway slave, and the Wayside is now listed on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
7. Eads Bridge
Reaching across the Mississippi River to connect parts of Missouri and Illinois, Eads Bridge is both a road and a railway bridge. It’s the oldest surviving bridge spanning the Mighty Mississippi, the largest river in North America. Commissioned by Andrew Carnegie and built by James Buchannan Eads, the stone and steel bridge opened in 1874. Eads Bridge was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1964 for its innovative design and historical significance.
You can walk across, drive across, or ride on the MetroLink train. Pedestrians and cyclists share a pathway separate from cars. The entrance is just north of the Gateway Arch, which you will certainly want to visit while in St. Louis.
Thousands of bridges populate the U.S. From footbridges to miles-long spans, bridges are not only practical, but they also beautify the landscape. If possible, walk over even the longer ones to allow yourself a leisurely exploration. Look out and enjoy the views over rivers and ocean. Imagine the creativity that went into building them. So many bridges are waiting for you to discover!
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