The authorization for this issue was originally intended to commemorate the completion of two famous bridges in the San Francisco Bay area; the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. However, by the time the authorization was signed on June 26th 1936 the act only mentioned the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The original authorization called for the minting of not more than 200,000 half dollars at a single facility, but the “Coin Committee of the San Francisco-Oakland Bridge Celebration” realized that with all of the competition from the other 15 coins authorized for issue in 1936 not to mention the 5 multi-year programs that were still running there would be little hope of selling out a 200,000 coin issue. The initial (and ultimately only) order placed with the mint was for only 100,000 coins with an additional 55 made and held for assay. Eventually 28,631 coins went unsold and were return to the mint for melting leaving a net mintage of 71,424
The design was executed by local artist Jacques Schnier who prepared the models which then were sent to the Medallic Arts Company of New York to prepare the dies (as with many of the commemoratives of that era). The obverse of the coin is dominated by a Grizzly Bear, standing slightly askew and looking directly at the viewer. Inscriptions include; “United States of America” Along the upper half of the rim with words separated by dots , "Liberty" just below the bears feat in a straight line, while “Half Dollar” is at the bottom, along the rim with one star to the left and three stars to the right and finally “In God we Trust” in three lines to the left of the bear. A stylized "J S" monogram (the designer's initals) are in the field to the right of the bear just below center and the mint mark "S" is located just to the left of the Bear's forepaws.
In contrast to the very simple obverse, the reverse is very busy, but well balanced. In fact, the only flat field on the entire reverse is the small crescent of space below the design on which the date sits. The scene on the back shows the San Francisco end of the bridge looking east towards Oakland over the ferry terminal (complete with tower) in the bottom foreground. Two ships, one large and one small are transiting from left to right under the bridge in the mid-ground with Yerba Buena Island in the left background and the Oakland Hills in the right background. The bridge structure itself (the west end of the bridge between the island and San Francisco) includes the four towers, three spans and the central pier. The surface of the water is depicted with a uniform wave pattern, and the island is covered in uniform evergreen trees. The eastern half of the bridge is visible behind the island and the development on the east side of the bay is depicted by simple cross-hatching. The only inscription, “ San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge” runs along the rim from about 8 O’clock to 4 O’clock, and as mentioned earlier the date “1936” is at the bottom.