ADP-ribosylation factor (ARF) mediated recruitment of COPI to membranes plays a central role in transport between the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and the Golgi. The activation of ARFs is mediated by guanine nucleotide exchange factors (GEFs). Although several ARF-GEFs have been identified, the transport steps in which they function are still poorly understood. Here we report that GBF1, a member of the Sec7-domain family of GEFs, is responsible for the regulation of COPI-mediated events at the ER-Golgi interface. We show that GBF1 is essential for the formation, differentiation, and translocation of pre-Golgi intermediates and for the maintenance of Golgi integrity. We also show that the formation of transport-competent ER-to-Golgi intermediates proceeds in two stages: first, a COPI-independent event leads to the formation of an unstable compartment, which is rapidly reabsorbed in the absence of GBF1 activity. Second, the association of GBF1 with this compartment allows COPI recruitment and leads to its maturation into transport intermediates. The recruitment of GBF1 to this compartment is specifically inhibited by brefeldin A. Our findings imply that the continuous recruitment of GBF1 to spatially differentiated membrane domains is required for sustained membrane remodeling that underlies membrane traffic and Golgi biogenesis.