The Most Interesting Non-Golden Gate California Bridges

Don't worry, I won't be including the Golden Gate on this list.  I'm sometimes into low hanging fruit, but honestly, we've talked about the Golden Gate before.  Let's talk about other bridges located throughout California that are famed or bear some level of aesthetic, historical or intriguing quality.  

Fernbridge (Eureka) 

Quick Facts:
Span (length): 1,320ft
Material: Concrete
Constructed: 1920

Holding the title for the longest functioning poured concrete bridge in world. Fernbridge crosses the Eel river before meeting the Pacific ocean. Having survived NINE major floods over the last century, Fernbridge has proven itself to be a well designed, structurally sound piece of infrastructure in Northern California. This bridge is an attractive workhorse, with the refined, important qualities of form and functionality. 

Felton Covered Bridge (Felton)

Quick Facts:
Span (length): 80ft
Material: Wood
Constructed: 1892, Restored 1987

Crossing the San Lorenzo River, and one of the few remaining covered bridges left in America, the Felton bridge is considered America's tallest covered bridge.

Registered as a Historic California Landmark and National Historic Place, the Felton Covered Bridge was constructed using a wooden truss system. Though the bridge had to be restored in 1987 following 1982 storm damage, the Felton is now used for pedestrians only, though, at one time, the bridge was the main entry point for Felton, CA for over 45 years. Imagine showing up to the town in that period, the narrow view through this frame a portal into civic life.   

The Felton bridge is still a cool piece of historical architectural and civil engineering history. I love the mazework of trussing and framing from inside these old wooden bridges. It's one of those places my father, a Civil engineer, took my brother here when we were younger, describing the physics of bridge loading and how wood handles compression forces. 

Bixby Creek Bridge (Big Sur)

Quick Facts:
Span (length): 714ft
Height: 280ft
Material: Concrete
Constructed: 1932

If you've driven the PCH or been to Big Sur, you've almost certainly driven across the Bixby Bridge.  Built originally to connect the Big Sur residents with the rest of the coast, especially during winter months when roads to Big Sur were impassable. Bixby is one of the longest single span concrete bridges in the world. Consider this bridge was constructed during the Great Depression, the construction effort led to hundreds of well paying jobs, especially due to the cost-savings concrete bridge designs afford. Interestingly, the vertical buttresses on either side of the arch center-point are functionally unnecessary and aren't included in modern arch bridge design.   

Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge (San Diego)

Quick Facts:
Span (length): 550ft
Height: 25ft
Material: Stainless steel
Constructed: 2011

One of the few self-anchored suspension bridges in America, the length of the Harbor Drive pedestrian bridge makes it one of the longest self-anchored pedestrian bridges in the world. The bridge was built to connect parking areas with the Petco Stadium, the convention center and Gaslamp Quarter. The supporting structure is a 60 degree angled pylon with stainless steel cables connecting to the bridge decking. Supporting tension loading. Thanks Dad. 

Sundial Bridge (Redding)

Quick Facts:
Span (length): 700ft
Height: 26ft
Material: Steel
Constructed: 2004

Yes, the bridge is a functioning gnomon based sundial, with its cantilever tower set at a 42 degree angle. Spanning the beautiful Sacramento River, the iconic design was furnished by famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and incorporates a cantilever spar cable-stayed design. If you think this and the Harbor Blvd. designs look too similar, I commend your observation. The cantilever spar cable-stayed design is a more modern approach to the cable-stayed bridge design. This bridge design has the spar angled away from the bridge, to reduce overturning at the foot. The result is a beautifully modern and sleek bridge for pedestrian and bicycle access.

The sundial bridge is also positioned above the Sacramento river, permitting unblocked access for the salmon spawning grounds beneath the bridge. 

Coronado Bridge (San Diego)

Quick Facts:
Span (length): 11,179ft
Height: 200ft
Material: Prestressed concrete & steel
Constructed: 1967 - 1969

Currently getting outfitted with an all new totally-badass energy efficient programmable LED lighting, which is slated to be completed in 2019 (the bridge's 50th anniversary). The lighting will be incorporated in an energy neutral manner - the power being supplied by a series of wind turbines.

Sadly, this is one of several noted "suicide bridges." Over 200 people have claimed their lives from the bridge between 1972-2000. The Coronado is the third most popular suicide bridge behind the Golden Gate (2nd place) and the Aurora Bridge in Seattle. Though anyone who has driven in San Diego knows the defining infrastructure personality on the water. This bridge swoops in a giant, sleek curve that, especially in windy days, feels like you are driving in the sky.     

Cold Spring Canyon Arch Bridge (Santa Ynez / Santa Barbara)

Quick Facts:
Span (length): 1,217ft
Height: 420ft
Material: Steel
Constructed: 1963

Currently, the fifth longest arch bridge span in the world, the Cold Springs Canyon bridge is a historic civil engineering landmark and marvel. The bridge features a beautiful aesthetically simple design and simultaneously provides amazing views of the Santa Ynez Mountains. The bridge spans a valley that includes the now famed Cold Springs Tavern, a popular dining experience and tourist stopover that once was a stagecoach rest in the late 1800s.   

Confusion Hill Bridges (North Mendocino County)

Quick Facts:
Span (length): 531ft / 1,395ft
Height: 140ft / 253ft
Material: Concrete and steel
Constructed: 2008 / 2009

Sadly, this photo doesn't really do the twin bridges justice. The simple, low profile design of these bridges contrasts and compliments and provides simple functionality while respecting the dignity of its environment. The Confusion Hill bridges are two parallel bridges designed, with a bypass, to replace an existing landslide prone portion of the US-101. The bridges span the Eel River and were constructed with cast-in-place concrete on falsework at the abutments. 

Honey Run Covered Bridge (Butte County)

Quick Facts:
Span (length): 240ft
Height: 20ft
Material: Wood
Constructed: 1894

Originally built in 1886, covered in 1894 and then used for automobile traffic until 1965 when a vehicle crashed into and damaged the structure. The Honey Run Creek Bridge is now used for pedestrian and bike access. The bridge is acknowledged for its beautiful design that harmonizes within the country living aesthetic. Take a look at the beautiful interior of the bridge, featuring great geometric leading lines and interesting light access through rugged no-bullshit design.  

Foresthill Bridge 

Quick Facts:
Span (length): 2,428ft
Height: 731ft
Material: Concrete and steel
Constructed: 1971

The highest deck height bridge in California, and the fourth highest in the US, the bridge was originally constructed to accommodate the never-built Auburn Dam on the American River. The steel deck designed arch bridge is pedestrian friendly and walked from both sides along the complete bridge length.  It's a beautiful bridge with stunning views of the surrounding forested Auburn landscape.

Generals Highway Stone Bridges (Sequoia National Park)

Clover Creek Bridge - Source

Quick Facts:
Span (length): 90ft
Height: 20ft
Material: Concrete and native stone
Constructed: 1931

Although they look like traditional stone bridges, users notice only the facade of the reinforced concrete bridges covered in native uncoursed stone. Both bridges are designed by iconic National Park landscape architect John Wosky. Located on the General's Highway in Sequoia National Park, the Clover Creek Bridge and Lodgepole Bridge are considered models for designing in an environment, where the aesthetic character of the surroundings informs the design and balance of the infrastructure. 

Hayward Bridge (San Mateo)

Quick Facts:
Span (length): 36,960ft (7 miles)
Height at Highest Point: 134.5ft
Material: Steel and concrete
Constructed: 1967

The longest bridge in California and the 25th longest in the world, which makes you wonder what the longest bridge in the world is: I'll save you the Google trip--the Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge at a staggering 540,700ft (102.4 miles) most of which looks like this. The San Mateo bridge is a trestle design for the majority of the length and an orthotropic element to accommodate the higher section. Trestle designs are the simplest bridge design and are typical for extremely long bridges. 

Colorado Street Bridge (Pasadena)

Quick Facts:
Span (length): 1,486ft
Height: 144ft
Material: Concrete
Constructed: 1913

Another historic civil engineering landmark and suicide bridge, the legendary Colorado Street bridge is characterized by the use of Beaux-Arts arches, vintage lamps and distinctive architectural details. The bridge has been featured in dozens of shows and movies and is best known for the annual summer Colorado Street fair put on by the local Pasadena Heritage preservation society.  

San Rafael Bridge (Richmond)

Quick Facts:
Span (length): 29,040ft (5.5 miles)
Height at Highest Point: 185ft
Material: Steel
Constructed: 1956

A double decked steel cantilever bridge, the original design reflected a steel suspension bridge similar to the Golden Gate, but was later book-shelved for a more economical design. Considered by many designers (including Frank Lloyd Wright) and the general public to be one of the most hideous bridges in the State, many wanted to bridge to be demolished and replaced. 

I find there's something interesting about having different kinds of structures in proximity with each other, variety is welcomed. The above image makes the San Mateo bridge appear like a industrial serpent, weaving the sky like a paper dragon, this is thanks to the vertical undulation used to allow ships to pass underneath the cantilever spans. To this day, the bridge is criticized for its brutal industrial presence and marks a lesson learned on the history of bridge design and reflecting aesthetic attitudes of the accompanying environment.

Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge

Quick Facts:
Span (length): 750ft
Height at Highest Point: 200ft
Material: Redwood
Constructed: 1919

Located in the brutal Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, a mere fifteen miles from the Mexico border stands the world's largest wood trestle bridge. I haven't done the hike yet, but I have colleagues who caution the brutality. Be warned, you'll need a four-wheel drive vehicle to get to the trailhead, then you're in store for a ton of class III rock scrambling through treacherous canyon talice. Almost nobody visits the trestle and there's a good chance if you decide to make the trip, you'll be the only ones out there. Bring tons of water and know how to use your GPS unit.  

This history of the trestle, it was originally part of the Southern Pacific railroad, linking San Diego with El Centro. The line incidentally ran for decades until the mid-1970s, when a torrential storm came through damaging adjacent bridges, tunnels and essentially pushing the Southern Pacific to abandon the line altogether. Now all that remains is a mostly intact, well designed and mightily impressive testament to civil engineering and timber construction. See it before it retires into the epilogue of entropy.