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Mackinac Bridge vs. Golden Gate Bridge

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

See?

Mackinac Bridge

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

Mackinac Bridge Golden Gate Bridge
Total Length 26,372 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 Water 552 ft. 746 ft.
Height of Roadway Above Water (At Midspan) 199 ft. 270.9 ft.
Diameter of Main Cables 24 1/2 in. 36 3/8 in.
Number of Wires in Each Main Cable 12,580 27,572
Diameter of Each Wire in Main Cable 0.196 in. 0.192 in.
Total Weight of Bridge 1,024,500 tons 887,000 tons
(1986 estimate)
Number of Worker Deaths During Construction 5 11
Total Number of Men Employed at Bridge Site 3,500 Unknown due to numerous contractor changes
Construction Cost Approx. $99,800,000
(1957 USD)
Approx. $35,000,000
(1937 USD)
Date Construction Began 05/07/1954 01/05/1933
Date Open to Traffic 11/01/1957 05/28/1937
(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 photoGolden Gate Bridge photo


21 Wonderful Comments

  1. I’ve lived in both the UP and San Francisco and have crossed both bridges dozens of times, and gotta give it to the Golden Gate, especially after seeing this data. Sorry Mighty Mac.

    The UP does have better pasties and is less crowded, there is that.

  2. Thank YOU!!!!!!!!! I have always wondered why the Golden Gate is so special compared to the “Mighty Mac” and, you just proved it to me, it isn’t!!!!!! Yes, I am a Michigander, and maybe that does make me bias, but really, our bridge is much more beautiful….Thank you so much for posting and for taking one for the team and trying out the Golden Gate.

  3. I’ve been across both numerous times and I also have to give it to the Golden Gate. You mention that the Mighty Mac is much longer, but it really isn’t. You seem to conveniently neglect that the suspension part of the bridge – the part that is truly beautiful and awe-inspiring, is longer on the Golden Gate, and that the towers are taller and the bridge farther above the water. Plus, the Golden Gate was built a full 20 years before the Michigan counterpart, and there’s just something to be said about being first. Plus, the construction technology available must have made it more difficult in the 1930s, making it a more impressive feat. And I imagine ocean tides and salt water added complexity to the project. You do make a good point about economic importance, though.

  4. Carol McLane
    Jul 18, 2013

    The Golden Gate is more visually known only because it shows up in movies and TV all the time. And that is because the producers are too cheap to use locations away from california.

    I too am thrilled everytime I cross the Mighty Mac — I watched it being built as a child, have crossed it often and love the symbol of our lovely state.

  5. I have traveled on both bridges and the Golden Gate is magestic and you feel its strength. The views from both are great. The length of the Mackinac and the engineering with the grates, and the extreme weather it deals with, is amazing.

  6. Great article, Ashley! Best one yet!

    Might Mac wins hands down. As far as the color of the Golden Gate being better, maybe the Mac should be painted neon pink or leopard spotted. Then it would get more attention!

  7. The Mackinaw bridge is way more beautiful by far!!!

  8. Ashley Bovin
    Jul 19, 2013

    Thanks for all the comments, everybody! Nice to see all the input here and on Facebook.

    Ken, I didn’t neglect the facts about the suspension span being longer for the Golden Gate or the bridge’s and towers’ heights above the water (see the table). I acknowledge my bias, but I stand by my choice. I appreciate your input and your perspective, and I get what you mean about the specialness of being first. I suppose I should also mention I have a natural tendency to root for the “underdog” in most competitions. I simply think the Mackinac does not get the recognition it deserves, when it really is a longer bridge with a greater function…and it brings people to the U.P.!

  9. Betty Burnett
    Jul 23, 2013

    Terrific article – learned a few new things about the Golden Gate. Having crossed the Straits on the ferries many times as a teen, I was absolutely WOWED when the bridge was built, but quite nervous the first time I crossed it. In the 50+ years we’ve had the Mackinac Bridge I have crossed it several hundred times and never cease to be awed by its beauty and majesty! Our family watched a ship from Japan go below us once – then when we got to the Soo Locks, the same ship went through – awesome! My most delightful experience on the bridge however was when a rainbow appeared on the bridge during a light rainfall and I actually drove through the rainbow – a never to be forgotten experience! Once the center section was swaying in the wind so badly I could not swallow or speak, my mouth was so dry from fear. It was closed right after our car passed through the toll booths. No, I haven’t seen the Golden Gate, but why should I – we have the MIGHTY MAC and the beautiful Upper Peninsula!

  10. I, too, have crossed both bridges mutiple times. The Mac simply because as a yooper, you have to do it to get downstate. The Golden Gate because we were stationed out that way.

    To me the whole atmosphere surrounding the glimpses of the Mackinac Bridge thru the trees and the build up to the actual entry is incomparable to any other bridge I’ve crossed. Even the color of the bridge is bright and fresh.

    Everyone always talked about the Golden Gate with ‘awe’ in their voices. Maybe it’s because the bridge is so crowded; or the lead to was uninspiring to me; but I found the Golden Gate more rust colored more than vermillion, and traffic made it seem congested. No matter when we crossed it.

    Or could it be that I’m just partial to Our Bridge, The Mackinac!!

  11. I’ve seen and crossed both and BY FAR the Mackinaw Bridge is the best. The Golden Gate is just another suspension bridge – I was truly unimpressed crossing it. Heck, the new Negaunee bridge is comparable to the Golden Gate! I am terrified crossing both of them, so I PREFER the tealy color of the Mac…it’s calming. And unlike some who feel crossing the bridge is less scary on the cement, I prefer to ride the grates as those guard rails seem awfully low to someone afraid of heights – but they do allow the grandest of views. While Golden Gate gets all the glory, but the Mac is absolutely the BEST.

  12. Just happened upon your article and blog. I have traveled the Mighty Mac many times as a child and adult on vacation from Illinois beginning in the mid 60′s. I finally saw the Golden Gate in 2006 and I have to say that the Mackinac Bridge is much more breath-taking and the surrounding scenery adds to that – the beautiful views and the crystal blue skies on a clear day. My heart belongs in the UP, wish it were my home rather than a place I visit.

  13. Keith Dallas
    Sep 4, 2013

    Great debate! I two have crossed both bridges many times, both are truely remarkable in there own setting. However, I love the drive to the Mighty Mac from the point of seeing the towers rising above the the pines along I-75. Arriving at the approach ramp looking up at the massive towers. Crossing the apex and looking at the expanse of blue water and white spray from the ferries below. As we descend the apex and nearly arrive in the UP, the many yues of crystal clear water, sand, scent of pine and pure blue sky welcomes me to the land I love. The U.P.

    PS just crossed again last week, still fresh in my minds eye.

  14. When I first read through the stats, I found myself comparing the two bridges. But then, after reading the wonderful descriptions of the scenery, approach, crossing (tense, scared, excited!) and purposeful beauty, I realized that there IS no comparason!

    The comment about choosing the grates or the cement is awesome! It reminds me of our yearly family camping trips, crossing the great milestone, Up North to the U.P. during the amazing Michigan summertime. And, the time by brother and I rode our motorcycles across, in the rain! woah!!

    Peace to everyone taking time out to appreciate the wonders of our great country.

    Happy 2014!
    -Jeff (from the thumb area)

  15. Maybe I’m just biased being from IL and WI but spending the summers in the UP I have seen the Mighty Mac and would prefer to have that in my back yard then the Golden Gate the majesticness of the Might Mac is something that Cali just can’t compare to. The nature and wild life not to mention the smells that only come from being up there I’d much rather deal with the winters and the weather that changes 4/5 times in one day and the different seasons then the fake tans of the west.

  16. I was born and raised in lower Michigan. My father was born and raised in the upper. Crossing the Big Mac has always been exciting to me. I currently live in Denmark where the Second longest suspension bridge, Storebælt (The Great Belt) in the world is located. For 10 days after it’s opening the motorway in 1998 (the railway opened in 1997), it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, until the longest suspension bridge was opened in Asia. The Great Belt is also an exciting bridge to cross but it’s much more expensive than the Big Mac at 360 Danish Krone ($65.00 USD) one way for passenger car. Although I’ve never crossed The Golden Gate Bridge, I have crossed two of the longest suspension bridges in the world.

  17. After hearing about the Golden Gate my whole life, I finally had a chance to cross it this past Spring, and all I could think of to say was, “That was it?” The Mighty Mac is far more impressive! I, too, still find it exciting every time I cross it, and especially love the Labor Day Bridge Walks. I actually think it’s more scary to drive it, than to walk it.

  18. Never the seen the golden gate bridge but have seen and Walked the Big Mac several times ,so take that San Fran

  19. Still say the Mac is the best bridge around! Especially in the winter!! And the fall!!

  20. I remember when the bridge opened up. It was exciting to know that our state was actually connected. We have a beautiful state and the Mackinac Bridge makes it even better. I love the U.P., but enjoy visiting family and friends in ‘the mitten.’

  21. Dena Wickoren
    Feb 5, 2014

    Having lived in the UP I also love the Mac. I have crossed the GG several times.
    The big thing to me is the financial impact and history of the GG on the depression.
    The GG helped break the depression on the West cost.
    Those of us that are old enough remember the depression as well as driving across the Mac on opening year.

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