The City and County of San Francisco is the fourth most populous city in California and the fourteenth-most populous in the United States, with a 2006 estimated population of 744,041. San Francisco is the second most densely populated major city in the U.S. San Francisco is located on the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula, with the Pacific Ocean to the west, the San Francisco Bay to the east, and the Golden Gate to the north.
In 1776, the Spanish settled the tip of the peninsula, establishing a fort at the Golden Gate and a mission named for Francis of Assisi. The California Gold Rush in 1848 propelled the city into a period of rapid growth. After being devastated by the 1906 earthquake and fire, San Francisco was quickly rebuilt.
San Francisco is a popular international tourist destination renowned for its chilly summer fog, steep rolling hills, an eclectic mix of Victorian and modern architecture, its large LGBT population, and its peninsular location. Famous landmarks include the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, the cable cars, Coit Tower, and Chinatown.
The earliest archaeological evidence of inhabitation of the territory of the city of San Francisco dates to 3000 BC. The Yelamu group of the Ohlone people resided in several small villages when a Spanish exploration party, led by Don Gaspar de Portolŕ arrived on November 2, 1769, the first documented European discovery of San Francisco Bay. Seven years later, on March 28, 1776 the Spanish established a fort, followed by a mission, Mission San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores).
Upon independence from Spain in 1821, the area became part of Mexico. In 1835, Englishman William Richardson erected the first significant homestead outside the immediate vicinity of the Mission Dolores, near a boat anchorage around what is today Portsmouth Square. Together with Mission Alcalde Francisco de Haro, he laid out a street plan for the expanded settlement, and the town, named Yerba Buena, began to attract American settlers. Commodore John D. Sloat claimed California for the United States on July 7, 1846, during the Mexican-American War, and Captain John B. Montgomery arrived to claim Yerba Buena two days later. Yerba Buena was renamed San Francisco the next year. Despite its attractive location as a port and naval base, San Francisco was still a small settlement with inhospitable geography.
The California Gold Rush brought a flood of treasure seekers. With their sourdough bread in tow, prospectors accumulated in San Francisco over rival Benicia, raising the population from 1,000 in 1848 to 25,000 by December 1849. The promise of fabulous riches was so strong that crews on arriving vessels deserted and rushed off to the gold fields, leaving behind a forest of masts in San Francisco harbor. California was quickly granted statehood and the U.S. military built Fort Point at the Golden Gate and a fort on Alcatraz island to secure the San Francisco Bay. Silver discoveries, including the Comstock Lode in 1859, further drove rapid population growth. With hordes of fortune seekers streaming through the city, lawlessness was common, and the Barbary Coast section of town gained notoriety as a haven for criminals, prostitution, and gambling.
Entrepreneurs sought to capitalize on the wealth generated by the Gold Rush. Early winners were the banking industry, which saw the founding of Wells Fargo in 1852, and the railroad industry, as the magnates of the Big Four, led by Leland Stanford, collaborated in the building of the First Transcontinental Railroad. The development of the Port of San Francisco established the city as a center of trade. Catering to the needs and tastes of the growing population, Levi Strauss opened a dry goods business and Domingo Ghirardelli began manufacturing chocolate. Immigrant laborers made the city a polyglot culture, with Chinese railroad workers creating the city's Chinatown quarter. The first cable cars carried San Franciscans up Clay Street in 1873. The city's sea of Victorian houses began to take shape, and civic leaders campaigned for a spacious public park, resulting in plans for Golden Gate Park. San Franciscans built schools, churches, theaters, and all the hallmarks of civic life. The Presidio developed into the most important American military installation on the Pacific coast. By the turn of the century, San Francisco was a major city known for its flamboyant style, stately hotels, ostentatious mansions on Nob Hill, and a thriving arts scene.
At 5:12 AM on the morning of April 18, 1906, a major earthquake struck San Francisco and northern California. As buildings collapsed from the shaking, ruptured gas lines ignited fires that would spread across the city and burn out of control for several days. With water mains out of service, the Presidio Artillery Corps attempted to contain the inferno by dynamiting blocks of buildings to create firebreaks. More than three-quarters of the city lay in ruins, including almost all of the downtown core. Contemporary accounts reported that 498 people lost their lives, though modern estimates put the number in the several thousands. More than half the city's population of 400,000 were left homeless. Refugees settled temporarily in makeshift tent villages in Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, on the beaches, and elsewhere. Many fled permanently to the East Bay.
Rebuilding was rapid and performed on a grand scale. Rejecting calls to completely remake the street grid, San Franciscans opted for speed. Amadeo Giannini's Bank of Italy, later to become Bank of America, provided loans for many of those whose livelihoods had been devastated. The destroyed mansions of Nob Hill became grand hotels. City Hall rose once again in splendorous Beaux Arts style, and the city celebrated its rebirth at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915.
In ensuing years, the city solidified its standing as a financial capital; in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash, not a single San Francisco-based bank failed. Indeed, it was at the height of the Great Depression that San Francisco undertook two great civil engineering projects, simultaneously constructing the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, completing them in 1936 and 1937 respectively. It was in this period that the island of Alcatraz, a former military stockade, began its service as a federal maximum security prison, housing notorious inmates such as Al Capone. San Francisco later celebrated its regained grandeur with a World's Fair, the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939–40, creating Treasure Island in the middle of the bay to house it.
During World War II, the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard became a hub of activity and Fort Mason became the primary port of embarkation for service members shipping out to the Pacific theater of operations. The explosion of jobs drew many people, especially African Americans from the South, to the area. After the end of the war, many military personnel returning from service abroad and civilians who had originally come to work decided to stay. The UN Charter creating the United Nations was drafted and signed in San Francisco in 1945 and, in 1951, the Treaty of San Francisco officially ended the war with Japan.
Urban planning projects in the 1950s and 1960s saw widespread destruction and redevelopment of westside neighborhoods and the construction of new freeways, of which only a series of short segments were built before being halted by citizen-led opposition. The Transamerica Pyramid was completed in 1972, and in the 1980s the Manhattanization of San Francisco saw extensive high rise development downtown. Port activity moved to Oakland, the city began to lose industrial jobs, and San Francisco began to turn to tourism as the most important segment of its economy. The suburbs experienced rapid growth and San Francisco underwent significant demographic change, as large segments of the white population left the city, supplanted by an increasing wave of immigration from Asia and Latin America.
Over this same period, San Francisco became a magnet for America's counterculture. Beat Generation writers fueled the San Francisco Renaissance and centered on the North Beach neighborhood in the 1950s. Hippies flocked to Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s, reaching a peak with the 1967 Summer of Love. In the 1970s, the city became a center of the gay rights movement, led by investment banker John Shen, with the emergence of The Castro as an urban gay village, the election of Harvey Milk to the Board of Supervisors, and his assassination, along with that of Mayor George Moscone, in 1978.
The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused destruction and loss of life throughout the Bay Area. In San Francisco, the quake severely damaged structures in the Marina and South of Market districts and precipitated the demolition of the damaged Embarcadero Freeway and much of the damaged Central Freeway, allowing the city to reclaim its historic downtown waterfront.
During the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, startup companies invigorated the economy. Large numbers of entrepreneurs and computer application developers moved into the city, followed by marketing and sales professionals that changed the social landscape as once poorer neighborhoods became gentrified. When the bubble burst in 2001, many of these companies folded and their employees left, although high technology and entrepreneurship continued to be mainstays of the San Francisco economy.
San Francisco is located on the west coast of the U.S. at the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula and includes significant stretches of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay within its boundaries. Several islands are part of the city, notably Alcatraz, Treasure Island, and the adjacent Yerba Buena Island. Also included are the uninhabited Farallon Islands, 27 miles (43 km) offshore in the Pacific Ocean, and part of the uninhabited Red Rock Island near the San Rafael Bridge which marks the northernmost point of the city. The mainland within the city limits roughly forms a seven by seven mile square (11 by 11 km), which has become a colloquialism referring to the city's shape.
Near the geographic center of the city, southwest of the downtown area, are a series of less densely populated hills. Dominating this area is Mount Sutro, the site of Sutro Tower, a large red and white radio and television transmission tower. Nearby is Twin Peaks, a pair of hills resting at one of the city's highest points and a popular overlook spot for tour groups. San Francisco's tallest hill, Mount Davidson, is 925 feet (282 m) high, and is capped with a 103 feet (31.4 m) tall cross built in 1934.
The San Andreas and Hayward Faults are responsible for much earthquake activity, even though neither passes through the city itself. It was the San Andreas Fault which slipped and caused the earthquakes in 1906 and 1989. Minor earthquakes occur on a regular basis. The threat of major earthquakes plays a large role in the city's infrastructure development. New buildings must meet high structural standards, and older buildings and bridges must be retrofitted to comply with new building codes.
San Francisco's shoreline has grown beyond its natural limits. Entire neighborhoods such as the Marina and Hunters Point, as well as large sections of the Embarcadero sit on areas of landfill. Treasure Island was constructed from material dredged from the bay as well as material resulting from tunneling through Yerba Buena Island during the construction of the Bay Bridge. Such land tends to be unstable during earthquakes; the resultant liquefaction causes extensive damage to property built upon it, as was evidenced in the Marina district during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.
A quotation incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain says, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." San Francisco benefits from California’s Mediterranean climate, characterized by mild wet winters and warm dry summers. However, surrounded on three sides by water, San Francisco has a climate strongly influenced by the cool currents of the Pacific Ocean which tends to moderate temperature swings and produce a remarkably mild climate with little seasonal temperature variation. Average summertime high temperatures in San Francisco peak at 70 °F (21 °C) and are 20 °F (9 °C) lower than in nearby inland locations like Livermore. The highest temperature ever recorded in San Francisco was 103 °F (39 °C) on June 14, 2000. Winters are mild, with daytime highs near 60 °F (15 °C). Lows almost never reach freezing temperatures, though the lowest temperature ever recorded in San Francisco was 27 °F (-3 °C) on December 11, 1932. May through September are quite dry, and rain is a common occurrence from November through March. Snow is extraordinarily rare, with only 10 instances recorded since 1852. The greatest snowfall on record was 3.7 inches (9.4 cm) in downtown San Francisco, and up to 7 inches (17.8 cm) elsewhere, on February 5, 1887. The last measurable snowfall in San Francisco was on February 5, 1976, when most of the city received an inch (2.5 cm) of snow.
The combination of cold ocean water and the high heat of the California mainland creates the city's characteristic fog that can cover the western half of the city all day during the spring and early summer. The fog is less pronounced in eastern neighborhoods, in the late summer, and during the fall, which are the warmest months of the year. Due to its sharp topography and maritime influences, San Francisco exhibits a multitude of distinct microclimates. The high hills in the geographic center of the city are responsible for a 20% variance in annual rainfall between different parts of the city. They also protect neighborhoods directly to their east from the foggy and cool conditions experienced in the Sunset District; for those who live on the eastern side of the city, San Francisco is sunnier, with an average of 160 clear days, and only 105 cloudy days per year.
The historic center of San Francisco is the northeast quadrant of the city bordered by Market Street to the south. It is here that the Financial District is centered, with Union Square, the principal shopping and hotel district, nearby. Cable cars carry residents and tourists alike up steep inclines to the summit of Nob Hill, once the home of the city's business tycoons, and down to Fisherman's Wharf, a tourist area featuring Dungeness crab from a still-active fishing industry. Also in this quadrant are Russian Hill, a residential neighborhood with the famously crooked Lombard Street, North Beach, the city's version of Little Italy, and Telegraph Hill, which features Coit Tower. Nearby is San Francisco's Chinatown, established in the 1860s. The Tenderloin is often seen as the crime-infested underbelly of the city.
The Mission District is predominantly working-class and populated by immigrants from Mexico and Central America, but is also gentrifying. Haight-Ashbury, famously associated with 1960s hippie culture, is now heavily gentrified, although it still retains some bohemian character. The Castro is the center of gay life in the city.
The city's Japantown district suffered when its Japanese American residents were forcibly removed and interned during World War II. The nearby Western Addition became established with a large African American population at the same time. The "Painted Ladies," a row of well-restored Victorian homes, stand alongside Alamo Square, and the mansions built by the San Francisco business elite in the wake of the 1906 earthquake can be found in Pacific Heights. The Marina to the north is a lively area with many young urban professionals.
The Richmond, the vast region north of Golden Gate Park that extends to the Pacific Ocean, today has a portion called "New Chinatown," but also attracts immigrants from other parts of Asia and Russia. South of Golden Gate Park lies the Sunset with an Asian majority population. The Richmond and the Sunset are largely middle class and, together, are known as The Avenues. Bayview-Hunter's Point in the southeast section of the city is one of the poorest neighborhoods and suffers from a high rate of crime, though the area has been the focus of plans for urban renewal. The other southern neighborhoods of the city are ethnically diverse and populated primarily with students and working-class San Franciscans.
The South of Market, once filled with decaying remnants of San Francisco's industrial past, has seen significant redevelopment. The locus of the dot-com boom during the late 1990s, by 2004 South of Market began to see skyscrapers and condominiums dot the area (see Manhattanization). Following the success of nearby South Beach, another neighborhood, Mission Bay, underwent redevelopment, anchored by a second campus of the University of California, San Francisco.
Ocean Beach runs along the Pacific Ocean shoreline, but is not suitable for swimming because the waters off the coast are cold and have deadly rip currents. Baker Beach occupies a picturesque setting just west of the Golden Gate Bridge and is where one of the few existing colonies of Hesperolinon congestum, the threatened Marin Dwarf Flax, can be found. The biggest and most well-known park is Golden Gate Park, stretching from the center of the city to the Pacific Ocean. Once covered only in grass and sand dunes, the park is planted with thousands of non-native trees and plants and is rich with attractions including the Conservatory of Flowers, the Japanese Tea Garden, and Strybing Arboretum. The Presidio, a former military base, and its Crissy Field section, restored to its natural salt marsh condition, are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which includes Alcatraz, and other regional parks. Buena Vista Park is the city's oldest, established in 1867. Lake Merced is a fresh-water lake surrounded by parkland.
San Francisco is characterized by a high standard of living. The great wealth and opportunity generated by the Internet revolution drew many highly educated and high income workers and residents to San Francisco. Many poorer neighborhoods have become gentrified. The downtown has seen a renaissance driven by the redevelopment of the Embarcadero, including the neighborhoods South Beach and Mission Bay. Property values and household income have escalated to among the highest in the nation, allowing the city to support a large restaurant and entertainment infrastructure. Because the cost of living in San Francisco is exceptionally high, many middle class families have decided they can no longer afford to live within the city and have left to the suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area.
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