What is a Name — The Golden Gate?

The strait of water flowing between the San Francisco peninsula and the headlands of Marin was formed during the last Ice Age by the waters of Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers which scoured a deep channel through the bed rock on their way to the ocean. The strait is about three miles long by one mile wide, well known for its depth, with powerful tidal Pacific Ocean currents ranging from 4.5 to 7.5 knots.

Often surrounded by fog, the strait was surprisingly elusive for the early 16th century European explorers, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and Sir Francis Drake, who encamped and careened the Golden Hind in West Marin in June 1577. The first observation of the strait occurred nearly 200 years later. In 1769, Sgt. Jose Francisco Ortega led a scouting party north along the San Mateo peninsula to the present day San Francisco, and reported he could go no further because of the strait. On August 5, 1775, Juan de Ayala and the San Carlos crew became the first Europeans to pass through the strait, anchoring in a cove behind Angel Island. Until the 1840s, the strait was called the “Boca del Puerto de San Francisco,” (mouth of the Port of San Francisco).

On July 1, 1846, two years before the discovery of gold in California U.S. Army Captain John C. Fremont gazed at the narrow strait that separates the Bay for the Pacific Ocean, and said “it is a golden gate to trade with the Orient.” The name first appeared in his Geographical Memoir, submitted to the U.S. Senate on June 5, 1948, when he wrote, “to this Gate I gave the name of “Chrysopylae” or “Golden Gate” for the same reasons that the harbor of Byzantium was called Chrysoceras, or Golden Horn.”

That same year, Congress authorized the publication of Fremont’s journal, along with Charles Preuss’ important 1848 map, the most accurate portrayal of western America between the Rockies and the Pacific. Fremont’s famous appellation “Golden Gate” for the entrance to San Francisco Bay appeared for the first time on Preuss’ map. He later dropped the Greek Chrysophylae to proclaim “I named [the strait] Golden Gate.”

John C. Fremont had distinguished himself as an engineer, geographer, scientific collector and explorer, a glamorous career that earned him the nickname “the Pathfinder.”

Fremont’s published journal officially applied the name "Golden Gate" to the entrance to San Francisco Bay. The construction of the Golden Gate Bridge certainly has added to the Golden Gate Strait's allure.