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Bay Lights on the San Francisco Bay Bridge

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The Bay Lights
bay bridge lights video

The Bay Bridge Lights in Action

© 2013 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

With the flick of a switch on March 4, 2013, the San Francisco Bay Bridge went from being San Francisco's second-fiddle span - a plain little sibling of the more famous Golden Gate - to a shimmering, mesmerizing night time light sculpture, a monumental project eight times the scale of the Eiffel Tower’s 100th Anniversary lighting.

Traditionally, a 75th wedding anniversary is the diamond anniversary and to celebrate the Bay Bridge reaching that milestone, artist Leo Villareal has turned it into world’s largest LED light sculpture. Known internationally for his light sculptures and site-specific architectural works, he installed 1.8 miles of sparkling, white, energy-efficient lights on the bridge’s vertical cables.

That alone would have been pretty enough, but this light sculpture is dynamic, computer-controlled to create patterns and variations of patterns, so many of them that you're unlikely to ever see it doing exactly the same thing twice. One minute, the lighted pattern may bring to mind fish swimming, then it transforms into the look of falling raindrops. It's a mesmerizing show, to say the least.

The initial permit to operate the art installation expires after two years, but the San Francisco Chronicle reported that San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee predicts a longer life for the lights. We hope he's right and along as it lasts, we think it's one of the best things to do in San Francisco at night.

Seeing the Bay Lights

Known internationally for his light sculptures and site-specific architectural, he installed 1.8 miles of sparkling, white, energy-efficient lights on the bridge’s vertical cables. If you can't see them in person, the Bay Lights website runs a nightly live streaming video.

For an in-person look, these are some of the best places to see them:

  • The Embarcadero between the Ferry Building and the bridge, especially from the end of Pier 13
  • The end of Pier 39
  • Top of Telegraph Hill at Coit Tower
  • Treasure Island
  • Top of the Mark restaurant and bar at the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel
  • The Marin Headlands, where you can see the Golden Gate Bridge at the same time
  • Twin Peaks for a view of the whole city, too
You'll find more information at The Bay Lights website and a behind-the-scenes look at CNET.

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