Cover photo full
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrSan Francisco says “California” almost as much as Hollywood does. In fact, “The City by the Bay” is home to many of the state's most recognizable landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, the Transamerica Tower, and the city's historic cable cars. The city has been immortalized in song with such famed titles as Otis Redding's, (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay, Scott McKenzie's “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair”, “We Built This City” by Jefferson Starship, "Grace Cathedral Hill" by The Decemberists and, of course, Tony Bennett's “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” among many others. While the city is the most densely populated in California and second-most in the entire United States (after only New York City), it is also an incredibly laid back place and often tops the list as the “World's Happiest City”.
HistoryThe San Francisco area has been inhabited for thousands of years, but the city we know today did not get its start until 1776 when it was founded by Spanish explorers and named after Saint Francis of Assisi. The city remained under Spanish and Mexican control until it was given to the United States as part of the settlement reached at the end of the Mexican-American War .
The city's greatest asset is its bay, and in 1849 the California Gold Rush turned it into a boom town. It became the largest city in the west almost overnight as the population increase by 2,500% in less than one year. The discovery of silver during the next decade further increased the city's population and importance.
The infamous 1906 earthquake and fire changed the city's destiny forever, as it was almost entirely destroyed as quickly as it erupted. Through a massive rebuilding project, the city was not only rebuilt, but modernized with the greatest advancements of the new century including opulent hotels like Hotel Whitcome and renovations to the landmark Fairmont Hotel, cable cars made the city's transportation immensely safer, and “skyscrapers” were built.
The city hit the front pages again in the 1960s as it became the staging grounds for much of the hippie culture, sexual revolution, peace movements and the famed “Summer of Love”. The city continues to be a hotspot for artists and those of the liberal mindset.
LocationSan Francisco is located on the western coast of northern California at the top of the San Francisco Peninsula. It is connected to the mainland by highways that traverse the peninsula and the by Bay Bridge and iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
The city has dozens and dozens of hills. The neighborhoods on those hills often share a name with them such as Nob Hill or Russian Hill. The city also has hundreds of distinct neighborhoods such as The Presidio, Chinatown, Mission Bay, and The Western Addition.
DiversitySan Francisco is what is known as a minority-majority with the composition of minority populations comprising the largest percent of the people. Only 41.9% of San Francisco residents are non-Hispanic white with 58.1% coming from other races. One-third of the population is Asian with the Chinese constituting the majority of the Asian races. During the 2010 census, it was found that less than 55% of residents 5 years old and older spoke English at home and over 45% had a primary language other than English.
Historic SitesThe city of San Francisco has some of the most iconic monuments in the country. A few of them are:
The Golden Gate BridgeThe 1.9 kilometers Golden Gate Bridge has accommodated more than 2 billion people since its opening in 1927. It has been named one of the Wonders of the Modern World, and the Frommers Travel Guide says it is one of the most beautiful bridges in the world and “certainly the most photographed bridge in the world.” You can even walk or bike across its entire span.
Cable CarsGetting their start in 1873, San Francisco's cable cars are the world's only remaining manually operated cable cars in the world that are still in operation. They are listed in the United State's National Register of Historic Places. While they used to be the main form of transportation in the extremely hilly city, today, they are used predominately by tourists and rank among the main tourist attractions in the city.
AlcatrazAlcatraz, often called "The Rock" is a 22-acre island one and half miles off the coast of San Francisco in San Francisco Bay. The island has been a lighthouse, military base, and protest site though it is best known as the infamous maximum security prison that held many of the country's most notorious criminals. It is one of the top tourist attractions in northern California.
Fisherman's WharfFisherman's Wharf is one of the best known and busiest tourist attractions in San Francisco and perhaps the entire western United States. Not technically a “site”, Fisherman's Wharf is actually an entire neighborhood that runs from the city's Ghirardelli Square to Pier 35. Known for its seafood, and the famed restaurants at Pier 39, the wharf also provides magnificent views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge and Angel Island.
Transamerica TowerThe tallest skyscraper in San Francisco is the iconic Transamerica Pyramid. When completed in 1972 it was not just the tallest building in San Francisco, but the 8th tallest in the world. At 260 meter, the tower boasts 48 floors and a 210 foot spire. Hundreds of modifications through the years have made it one of the “greenest” buildings in the country. On special days such as Christmas and the 4th of July, the top of the Pyramid is lit up creating a beacon called the “Crown Jewel”.
Yosemite National ParkA short and extremely scenic 4-hour drive outside of the city, Yosemite National Park is one of the most famous national parks in the United States. Set just east of the San Francisco Bay, the gem of the Sierra Nevada Mountains features some of the most beautiful mountain vistas and rock formations in the world. It is also home to the iconic granite beast and mountaineer's dream, El Capitan .
DistrictsThere are over 100 different neighborhoods in San Francisco and each has something special to offer. Some are quite noteworthy, while others remain in relative obscurity beyond the city's residents.
Mission and PresidioThe Mission neighborhood has over 80 high-end restaurants and the Presidio is home to a national park with towering, aromatic eucalyptus trees, magnificent architecture, a national cemetery, historic airfield along with forests and beaches.
RichmondNature enthusiasts should head to the Richmond neighborhood, near the Pacific Ocean, where you will find Land’s End and Eagle’s Point for hiking, golf and stunning views. Richmond also boasts a major arts museums, a major city park, and the historic, recently reinvented Cliff House restaurant. It is also known for dim sum, Korean and Thai restaurants and is home to some of the city’s best places to eat on a dime.
Nob HillNob Hill has arguably the best views of San Francisco Bay in the city, especially when observed from a California Street cable car. It is home to Grace Cathedral, a replica of Notre Dame in Paris; Huntington Park, site of many art shows and graced by a replica of a 16th century Roman fountain, the Cable Car Barn, where the cable cars are stored when not in service, and several grand hotels including the Fairmont.
Haight-AshburyThis is the very place where the “Summer of Love” was birthed. On the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets is one of the most avidly collected photos in San Francisco: a street sign marking the heart of the 1960s “Flower Power” neighborhood. It is also the home of one of the world’s top medical schools and the famous "postcard row" at Hayes and Steiner street. You can still find plenty of tie-dyed clothing and plenty of “love”.
SunsetSunset neighborhood is home to the city's biggest park and dozens of well-known attractions. From pastel-colored row houses to Ocean Beach, the area is framed by the Golden Gate Park, home of the California Academy of Sciences, de Young Museum, Conservatory of Flowers and San Francisco Botanical Garden. The San Francisco Zoo is the largest in northern California and there are plenty of free summer concerts.
BeachesDon't come to San Francisco for the balmy weather and warm water, but do spend time at the beach. There are occasionally hot days, and if you have a wetsuit the waves are perfect for surfing and body boarding. If you have a family, the kids will love making sand castles and the views of the Bay at sunset are breathtaking.
Museums and EntertainmentSan Francisco is known for its vibrant arts scene. Some of the better known sites are listed:
War Memorial and Performing Arts Center /Opera House – known for its great performing arts companies. The home of the San Francisco Opera, the 2nd largest in the United States, and the San Francisco Ballet.
The Fillmore – this is the place where famed musicians like Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane got their start.
Theatre District with the Curran , Orpheum and Golden Gate Theater s – these theaters have been around for nearly 100 years and still have the old-world craftsmanship and luxury that are just not found in modern buildings. This is where you go to see Broadway plays.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art holds over 29,000 pieces of 20th century art.
Palace of the Legion of Honor – more than 6,000 years of European art housed within a piece of art itself, a ¾ scale replica of the 1772 Palais de la Legion d'Honneur in Paris.
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are composed of the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor Museum. Together they make one of the largest museums in California. The Museum holds over 150,000 objects in the permanent collection and has an exchange arrangement with the Louvre in Paris.
California Academy of Sciences – a natural history museum that also hosts the Morrison Planetarium and Steinhart Aquarium . It has a living roof as part of something called “sustainable architecture”.
Cable Car Museum – set on Nob Hill, you can look back through the history of the city's cable cars as well as seeing the operational side of the ones in use today including the actual, operational cable car machinery and paths of cables entering and leaving the building.
Naval Museum – at the end of Fisherman's Wharf the Naval Museum hosts the historic SS Jeremiah O'Brian a Liberty ship that took place in the landings at Normandy, and the USS Pampanito , a decorated WWII-era submarine.
FoodSan Francisco is not called the “City on the Bay” for nothing. It literally sits on San Francisco Bay, so it stands to reason that seafood is an important part of the San Franciscan gastronomical experience. Fisherman's Wharf and the renown Pier 39 are known for their Dungeness Crab and chowder in sourdough bowls. From top-ranked Aliotos to amazing fish shacks you will get delicious seafood here.
San Francisco is also home to an elite group of sushi restaurants. Some of the local favorites are Noboru in Japantown, Iiji in the Castro district, Yum Yum Fish in Outer Sunset, Ichi Sushi and Ni Bar in Bernal Heights, Pabu in the Financial district, Koo in Inner Sunset, and the very high end joints Kusakabe and Maruya.
If seafood is not your thing, don't worry. This city has an entire spectrum of culinary delights from authentic dim sum to Michelin stars. From elite, and expensive, restaurants like Spruce, Coi, and Ame (funny how the more you pay the shorter the name is), to classic 50's burger joints like Mo's Yerba Buena Gardens, you will find something to your liking. A few of the top-ranked restaurants, many nationally ranked, are Gary Danko (perhaps the best in the city, all around), The House, State Bird Provisions, Chapeau!, Delfina, Acquerello. Chez Panisse is rated internationally and Fringale is perhaps the best French restaurants in San Francisco.
For steaks, try Birks, Harris', or the old staple, Ruth's Chris.
San Francisco also has its share of granola-lovers, and if it is all natural fare you are after, try Cool Eatz for food that is natural, organic and sustainable. The Blue Plate offers food and wine prepared from all local produce and meats.
HotelsSan Francisco has a pair of historic landmark hotels: the Fairmont Hotel, barely completed when it was ravaged by fire during the great quake of 1906, but reopened just one year later and the Hotel Whitcomb which was designed as a vintage Austrian castle. The Fairmont Hotel is located on top of Nob Hill and has undergone restorations to help preserve its historic beauty. It has served as the San Franciscan “home” of top stars, royalty and every US President since the end of the 19th century. Hotel Whitcome was built in 1910, but did not start its service as a hotel until 1917 as it served as the seat of the government while San Francisco was rebuilt after the 1906 quake. Not only does the hotel hold its ornate beauty to this day, it is rumored that the hotel is haunted.
In addition to historic boutiques, San Francisco has over 360 hotels ranging from 1 star overnighters to the top-ranked Hotel Drisco. You can find rooms that you might negotiate for the change in your pocket to the Penthouse at the Fairmont that will run you upwards of $15,000 per night, as well as an assortment of every national chain in between.
SportsThe San Francisco Bay area has 7 professional sports teams and several dozen college teams, six of which are NCAA Division I schools (the top level of college sports in the country).
The San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League have won the second most Super Bowls in NFL history, second only to the New England Patriots. Across the bay, the Oakland Raiders have won 3 Super Bowls while playing in 2 more. Of the 49 Super Bowls that have been played, 10 have had a Bay-area team playing.
The Major League Baseball team San Francisco Giants have won eight World Series. The team across the bay, the Oakland A's have won nine. In 1989 the 2 teams faced off against each other in the World Series in what was called the “Earthquake Series”, “The Battle of the Bay” or the “Bay Bridge Series”. Oakland swept the Giants in 4 straight games. San Francisco has been rated the Best American Baseball City at least once, and consistently ranks near the top.
The Golden State Warriors represent the city in the National Basketball Association. While they have only won 1 title since 1962, they still command a faithful following.
The San Jose Sharks of the National Hockey League represent the Bay area in professional hockey. The Sharks have been in the Stanley Cup playoffs every year but six, but have never made it to the finals to compete for the cup.
The San Jose Earthquakes/Quakes started in San Jose, moved to Houston, Texas, and now a new branch of team has reappeared in San Jose. They won the United States' Major League Soccer Cup in 2001 and 2003.
San Francisco is also home to many non-professional or alternative sports such as X-games style events. The coastal surf has also made it a well-liked location for surfers with many famous breaks such as Mavericks and Bodega Bay.
SafetyWhile it may be “The World's Happiest City”, if you don't want to leave sad, there are some safety issues of which you want to be aware.
Earthquakes. San Francisco is known for its earthquakes. While there have not been any huge quakes since 1989, it is still important to know how to drop and cover, stay out of doorways, away from windows, and understand the triangle of life.
San Francisco has the coldest average summer temperatures of any major city in the nation. With the winds coming in off the bay you're bound to get a chill, but you want to wear layers because if you are going to walk up any of those hills you will surely break a sweat.
Be aware of the fog as well. It can get so thick you can barely see in front of your face. At times, it comes in and stays for days. During these times you have to be very careful when crossing roads, and go very slow if you are the driver.
Not all homeless people and panhandlers are dangerous, but there are those to avoid just like in any major city. If you are confronted and asked for money, be polite but firm and just say, “Sorry, not today.”
Use common sense and don't dress like a million dollars, flash your cash and then walk the streets at night. That's not to say you can't or shouldn't dress nice or go to nice places, just take some precautions and don't leave your possessions unattended.
There are literally millions of people that visit San Francisco every year, talk on high-end phones, photograph historic sites, attend galas and walk the streets safely without incident. The vast majority of violent crime is committed in non-touristic areas with 70 percent of occurring in the Tenderloin district known for its drug abuse, gang violence and prostitution. The Bayview-Hunters Point area also has gang issues.
The exception to the norm is pedestrian accidents. San Francisco has 70% more pedestrian injuries than other major cities. Be aware of where you are when walking, especially near cable cars and intersections, and if you are taking pictures, don't stand in the street or on the tracks.
TransportationGetting to San Francisco is very easy. Even if you aren't able to get to the closest airport (San Francisco International Airport), there are two other airports in close proximity: Oakland International Airport sits on the other side of the San Francisco Bay while Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport in San Jose is about an hour away. There are eight other airports in the area, but they are not international.
From the airport, you can take a taxi or arrange for a shuttle to take you into town. Most of the hotels in the city proper will not provide a free shuttle because of the distance. A taxi will cost at least $40 and shuttles start around $25.
The least expensive way to get into the city is through the BART line. It is incredibly reliable, on-time, and can get you where you want to go in 15-90 minutes depending on how far away you are staying. It is about 30 minutes to city center. The BART station is in the international terminal. If you flew domestic, take the Air Train (free) and then take the escalator down to the BART station. A one-way ticket is less than $9.
Once in the city, walking and biking are common. San Francisco has been rated the 2nd most walkable large city in the United States. Cable cars are primarily for tourists but are a must-do if you are visiting, the public transport system is not Paris, London, or New York, but it is easy to use and timely.
A quarter million people a year enter San Francisco by way of cruise lines. The ships dock at Pier 35 near the end of Fisherman's Wharf. Currently, Princess Cruises is the only line to offer year-round service to the port.
Do you see any omissions, errors or want to add information to this page? Sign up.
Author: koreydbeckett. Last updated: Aug 22, 2014