In this paper we present a detailed comparison between measured features of the Golden Gate sand wave field and the results of a nonlinear sand wave model. Because the Golden Gate sand waves exhibit large variation in their characteristics and in their environmental physics, this area gives us the opportunity to study sand wave variation between locations, within one well-measured, large area. The nonlinear model used in this paper is presently the only tool that provides information on the nonlinear evolution of large-amplitude sand waves. The model is used to increase our understanding of the coupling between the variability in environmental conditions and the sand wave characteristics. Results show that the model is able to describe the variation in the Golden Gate sand waves well when both the local oscillating tidal current and the residual current are taken into account. Current and water depth seem to be the most important factors influencing sand wave characteristics. The simulation results give further confidence in the underlying model hypothesis and assumptions.