SAN FRANCISCO -- A colorful fireworks and laser display elated and dazzled thousands of spectators Sunday night capping the 75th birthday party for the Golden Gate Bridge.
"The fireworks coming off the span were amazing," said Maeve Metzger of Sausalito as rockets exploded over the bay. "This is the most incredible thing I've ever seen."
The Golden Gate's notorious fog stayed away allowing for clear viewing for the pyrotechnics, which ended the 12-hour lovefest for the adored bridge.
Earlier in day, morning steel-gray skies gave way to a bright afternoon sun as thousands came to fete the Golden Gate Bridge, arguably the most iconic structure in all of California.
On both the day it opened and 25 years ago on its 50th anniversary, the bridge allowed thousands of giddy pilgrims to walk its span and glory in its height, length and majestic ability to literally cross a piece of ocean and connect the Golden State.
This time, because of safety concerns resulting from 1987's flattening of the span by the crowd's weight, the bridge put in a regular workday while massive crowds of admirers milled beneath the behemoth and gazed upon its ageless glory.
"We have never walked across the bridge, so we thought we should do it today," said Gilroy native Janis Filice, who was at the famous international orange structure with her husband, Greg. They were doing double duty by celebrating their wedding anniversary. "We wanted to come and experience this."
In the bay below the span cruised the Jeremiah O'Brien -- the World War II Liberty ship that was part of the D-Day invasion. It was joined by a fireboat sending jets of water into the air, as well as numerous motorboats and sailboats. The USS Nimitz also arrived on the bay with a crew of more than 3,000 sailors.
"I came all the way from Denver for this," said Becky Kaitz, as she gazed at the bridge from Crissy Field, where another mass of happy humanity smiled up at the 1.7-mile-long metal miracle. "I have a true love of this bridge. It's majestic to me. I get strength from the bridge and the sea. I'm a landlocked girl and I need to get to my sea. This is the place to do that."
Kaitz poetically noted that it is a bridge to many things.
"It gets you into San Francisco, but it can also take you away to the coast and far, far away," she said. "It's about freedom and represents this area where you can do whatever and be whatever you are."
Emily Puffy of El Cerrito looked at the bridge and summed up what was on many minds Sunday: "It is so elegant."
All day, anniversary activities percolated along the waterfront in San Francisco, with the bridge serving as a breathtaking backdrop for events ranging from a classic car show to musical performances and finally the fireworks show that went off at 9:30 p.m.
Early in the day at Crissy Field a few thousand people milled about, fewer than officials had expected. But more people arrived as the day wore on, most by foot or bike as parking was nonexistent at the party site.
Traffic was slow, but the bridge kept cars moving across it smoothly all day. Only the one-hour fireworks show was expected to give the bridge pause in its work of connecting the San Francisco Bay Area to parts north.
By the day's end, tens of thousands flocked through the section of waterfront stretching from Fort Point south of the bridge to Pier 39 along The Embarcadero.
"Everyone is biking and walking and looks very happy," said Mary Currie, public affairs director for the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District.
Many who came Sunday marveled at the entire event -- even locals who see the bridge all the time.
San Francisco resident Daniel Sutphin and his family enjoyed the bridge and the celebrants with the fervor of visitors. "It is such an iconic structure. Depending on the day or the hour, it just looks like it changes continuously," Sutphin said as he walked through the Fort Point area with his wife and their three young children.
"We came out for the (battleship) Iowa Saturday and stayed overnight and we are here for the bridge today," said Tim Wells of Palo Alto -- whose dyed green hair was in sharp contrast to the famous orange span behind him. "This is the thing to do today. The bridge is amazing."
Daniel Aller, a happenstance visitor on Sunday from Buenos Aires, was stunned to see the actual structure for the first time. "It's fantastic," he said, looking over the arched span just before planning to run across it. "What a piece of engineering."
A dark side
While the day was filled with smiles and laughter, in one area of Crissy Field there were more than many hundreds of pairs of shoes belonging to some of the 1,500 people who have jumped to their deaths from the bridge.
Kevin Hines, who jumped from the span in 2000 in a suicide attempt and survived, spoke about his experience and the bridge.
"It is gorgeous, it will never not be gorgeous to me," Hines said as he looked up at the mighty crossing from the Warming Hut building at Crissy Field. "It is beautiful, but it is a harbinger of death for the 75 years it has been open." Hines is now advocating for a suicide barrier.
"Those shoes, they represent people who are gone," he said. "They are dead. Their families are grieving still. That is not a beautiful thing."
Despite that nod to death, the day was mostly about experiences, adventures, life in more intimate terms.
Born and raised in San Rafael, one celebrant -- Tre' Taylor -- talked about her very human connection to the Golden Gate, as her father worked on the span as a construction manager for 29 years.
"It has a lot of meaning for me," said Taylor, who now lives in Pacifica and attended the span's 50th anniversary. "I would give my dad little notes in bottles and have him drop them from the bridge. He would tell me stories about working here. The bridge is part of my family."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.