The Mighty Mac vs. The Golden Gate

The Mackinac Bridge has become a sort of personal symbol for me in recent years, representing how my heart is divided between my homeland of the U.P. and my current home in Grand Rapids. It seems I still have the same excitement crossing the bridge today as I did when I was a child. I grew up crossing the Mackinac Bridge for the occasional trip to lower Michigan or Indiana, but I also grew up watching Full House, a now guilty-pleasure TV show set in San Francisco, with an opening sequence that often made me wonder how great the Golden Gate really was when compared with the Mighty Mac.

I had long known that the Golden Gate Bridge was not as long as the Mackinac Bridge, but I had seen way more aerial shots of the Golden Gate than of the Mackinac, and it’s only a million times more visible in the media than the Mackinac, so I had this idea in my mind that it might be more beautiful or more exciting. Plus, it had COLOR, its distinctive vermillion, which could make the eggshell towers of the Mackinac Bridge seem drab to the distinguishing eye.

In late June, I had the chance to see for myself just how the Golden Gate compared to the Mackinac Bridge. I understand my experiences are coated in bias toward a bridge I grew up crossing and which has more recently become an object of affection, but I stand by my assessment that to a Yooper, no bridge can beat the Mackinac Bridge.

Very rarely have I had a poor view when crossing or observing the Mackinac Bridge. However, on my first trip to San Francisco this summer, its characteristic fogginess obstructed my view and may have put a damper (get it? Damper?) on the bridge’s repute when it came to my visual comparison of the Mackinac and Golden Gate bridges.

Golden Gate Bridge


Mackinac Bridge

So…how do they really compare? Here are some facts:

Mackinac BridgeGolden Gate Bridge
Total Length26,372 ft. (5 miles)8,981 ft. (1.7 miles)
Suspension Span (Length Between Towers)3,800 ft. (15th longest span in world, 3rd in U.S.)4,200 ft. (11th longest span in world, 2nd in U.S.)
Height of Towers Above Water552 ft.746 ft.
Height of Roadway Above Water (At Midspan)199 ft.270.9 ft.
Diameter of Main Cables24 1/2 in.36 3/8 in.
Number of Wires in Each Main Cable12,58027,572
Diameter of Each Wire in Main Cable0.196 in.0.192 in.
Total Weight of Bridge1,024,500 tons887,000 tons (1986 estimate)
Number of Worker Deaths During Construction511
Total Number of Men Employed at Bridge Site3,500Unknown due to numerous contractor changes
Construction CostApprox. $99,800,000 (1957 USD)Approx. $35,000,000 (1937 USD)
Date Construction Began05/07/195401/05/1933
Date Open to Traffic11/01/195705/28/1937 (Pedestrian traffic 05/27/1937)
Toll for 2-axle Passenger Vehicle at Opening$3.25 (1957 – $3.75 in ’61, then dropped to $1.50 in ’69)$0.50 (1937)
Toll for 2-axle Passenger Vehicle$4.00 per crossing (collected at north toll plaza)$6.00 (southbound only)

Facts from: Mackinac Bridge Authority and Golden Gate Bridge Highway & Transportation District

The Straits of Mackinac are about four miles wide at their narrowest point and connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The Mackinac Bridge, by spanning the straits, now connects two peninsulas of a state that were previously only officially connected by ferry. Michigan functions more wholly as a state now (though, let’s face it, the U.P. is still keeping its secrets no matter how much attention it does or doesn’t get).

On the other hand, The Golden Gate, which is the name of the strait connecting San Francisco Bay with the Pacific Ocean, is under two miles wide. The Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco and Marin County. The bridge’s existence has understandably created easier access to and from San Francisco. I must admit that until I seriously studied a map of California while researching for this post, I wasn’t aware of how vast San Francisco Bay is, especially when joined with San Pablo Bay; there is a significant geographical disconnect between San Francisco and other western Californian cities.

Despite The Golden Gate’s local significance and recognition around the globe, one could argue that the Mackinac Bridge means much more to Michigan than the Golden Gate means to California, but it hardly gets the attention it deserves. Consider its length when compared to the Golden Gate: anchorage to anchorage, the Mackinac Bridge is the third longest suspension bridge in world, and the longest in U.S. My friend pointed out to me recently that there are probably many Americans who don’t even know the Mackinac Bridge exists. (I wonder how that number might compare with the number of Americans who don’t know the U.P. exists. Hmm.)

One point I will give to the Golden Gate Bridge is that it is pedestrian-friendly. I did enjoy the view on my walk to the first tower…before the rain made it less fun and I turned around. Pedestrians can cross the Golden Gate on the east sidewalk of the bridge during daylight hours, and cyclists can cross on the east and west sides 24 hour a day. Besides the Labor Day Bridge Walk, only automotive traffic is allowed on the Mackinac Bridge, and for a lucky a few a tour to the top. However, there are transport services offered to pedestrians, cyclists, and snowmobilers every day of the week. The Mackinac Bridge Authority also has a “Drivers Assistance Program,” which provides drivers for motorists who are uncomfortable with driving across the bridge. The service is available 24/7 for all vehicle types for no extra cost. Seriously, though…as I learned on my first couple times across, if you stay off the grating, you’ll be fine. ;)

If you’ve visited and/or crossed both bridges, how would you compare them?

For More Info:

Interesting info on Mackinac ferries:

Michigan’s floating highways
Bridge construction in 1956

Great photos of construction, early history of Mackinac Bridge
Upcoming attempt at “World’s Largest MINI parade”
PBS Biography of Golden Gate Bridge Workers

This is a guest post from our friend and fellow Yooper Ashley Bovin, she’s from Gladstone and you can follow her on Twitter @ashleyruthless. She also took the two photos in the article. The banner photos are used via the Creative Commons license: Mackinac Bridge photo, Golden Gate Bridge photo