California has some of the most iconic bridges in the United States, and the world. Today we take most of them for granted as we drive over them. Everyone knows the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is an architectural wonder and one of the most beautiful bridges in the world.
However, did you know that California is home to many other amazing bridges? Here’s five bridges every Californian should visit.
Bixby Bridge, Highway 1, Big Sur
One of the most photographed bridges in the world, the Bixby Bridge can often be seen in film and on television (most recently in HBO’s “Big Little Lies”). You’ll also recognize the bridge seen in many car commercials.
Completed in 1932 at the cost of a little more than $200,000, the concrete span, one of the highest bridges of its kind in the world, soars 260 feet above the bottom of a steep canyon carved by Bixby Creek. When you see the canyon’s steep and crumbling cliffs, you can see the challenges facing the bridge builders.
To construct the bridge, a massive wooden framework had to be built with materials brought by truck on what was then a narrow, one-way road with many hairpin turns. More than 45,000 individual sacks of cement had to be hauled up the framework.
Each bag was transported by a system of platforms and slings suspended by cables 300 feet above the creek. The span was completed five years before the opening of the road that links Carmel (about 15 miles to the north) with San Luis Obispo.
To get the best photos of the bridge take advantage of multiple viewpoints. Pull over at the numerous turnouts to get amazing views, particularly from the bridge’s south end at sunset.
The Tower Bridge, Sacramento
Built in 1934 at the cost of nearly $1 million, the Tower Bridge was the first vertical lift bridge on the California Highway System. The bridge crosses the Sacramento River, linking West Sacramento in Yolo County to the state capitol in Sacramento County.
The bridge was designed by California state architect Alfred Eichler, and has a strong Streamline Moderne influence, which is a form of Art Deco.
The bridge originally carried railroad traffic in the center, with vehicle traffic to the sides, but this practice ended in 1963.
The bridge was originally painted silver but since 1976, has been painted an ochre to give it the appearance of gold. This was to reflect the state nickname: “California: The Golden State.” The concrete pillars on the approaches were originally painted blue, but are currently unpainted.
Its golden frame is especially striking when lit up at night.
For a closer look, stroll across Tower Bridge for views over the Sacramento River and watch the boats go by. It is interesting to note that the center part can lift vertically when tall ships traverse this section of the Sacramento River, allowing as much as 100 feet of clearance underneath.
In 1982, the Tower Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Sundial Bridge, Redding
840 Sundial Bridge Parkway, Redding, 96001
One of only two bridges in the United States designed by world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, the Sundial Bridge is a glass decked, cable-stayed cantilever suspension bridge that reaches 217 feet into the sky and spans 710 feet across the Sacramento River.
It is the world’s largest working sundial.
Opened on July 4, 2004, the pedestrian bridge provides an easily-accessible entry point for Redding’s extensive trail system, perfect for hiking, walking, mountain biking or cycling.
It takes about 15 minutes to walk across the bridge, stopping along the way to take in the scenery and watch the wildlife. On the other side, you can walk under the bridge to see it from another angle.
Foresthill Bridge, Sierra Nevada
Opened to the public on Labor Day in 1973, the 2,428-foot-long-span, with piers only 16 feet shorter than those of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge, was built at a cost of $13 million. It rises 730 feet above the stream bed of the American River’s North Fork, and was the second highest bridge in the world when it opened in 1973. Today, it remains the highest bridge in California and the fourth-highest bridge in the United States.
The bridge was built to span Auburn Lake, a proposed reservoir of the Auburn Dam. However, the dam was never built. The surrounding land is owned by the Auburn Recreation Area and is popular with lovers of the outdoors.
The bridge is pedestrian friendly, boasting wide walkways on each side that allow for great viewing of the American River.
Cold Spring Canyon Arch Bridge, Santa Barbara County
This bridge in the Santa Ynez Mountains, on California Route 154, which links Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez, was completed and opened to traffic in 1963.
The bridge, which cost $2 million to build, has won awards for engineering, design and beauty. It is the highest arch bridge in California and among the highest bridges in the United States. At its highest point, the bridge deck is 400 feet above the canyon floor.
The bridge span is 700 feet long. Seismic retrofitting was completed in 1998.
Turnouts at either end of the bridge are for emergency parking only. However, views of the bridge can be obtained from other turnouts along the roadway.