Learn About San Francisco
San Francisco is a city in the US state of California and the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area. It's the fourth largest city in California after San Diego, Los Angeles and San Jose. It is also the only city in California that coincides with a county: officially called City and County of San Francisco.
The city, which has 805,235 inhabitants, is located on the San Francisco peninsula to the Pacific Ocean. The San Francisco metropolitan area is comprised of the cities of San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. With over 7 million inhabitants it is the fifth largest metropolitan area in the United States. Only New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington DC-Baltimore are larger.
San Francisco is a spectacular peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water. It's characterized by its steep hills, the fresh summers and fog. This modern city has become one of the favorite cities in America and is visually spectacular. The best-known symbol of the city is of course the stunning Golden Gate Bridge (above). This bridge was opened in 1937 and is the longest suspension bridge in the world, and connects the San Francisco Peninsula to Marin County, where you'll find the famous picturesque town of Sausalito, famous for it's many gorgeous houseboats.
Further San Francisco icons are Alcatraz, Chinatown, and the Transamerica Pyramid...
The Transamerica Pyramid
A bit of history
Archaeological excavations show that the area of the Bay of San Francisco was already inhabited around 3000 BC. The first European mention of the place was in the year 1769 when San Francisco was founded and colonized by the Spaniards. San Francisco in 1821 was considered a part of Mexico. The Englishman William Richardson later rebuilt the city in European style and many American settlers flocked to the area.
As a result of the Gold Rush, the population grew and treasure hunters from all over the world came to the port city. The Gold Rush and the establishment of the fort on Alcatraz ensured that San Francisco officially and definitively came under American control. The population increased further with the discovery of silver in 1859. These developments brought businesses to the city that led to the creation of the first transcontinental railroad. The Port of San Francisco made the city an important trading center.
San Francisco is located on the San Andreas Fault, which has caused regular (large and small) earthquakes and was hit by a particularly severe earthquake in 1906. There were probably a few thousand dead and many buildings were destroyed. After the disaster the city was rapidly and extensively rebuilt.
In the second half of the twentieth century, San Francisco developed into a city with alternative cultures. In the 1960's the city was seen as a the hippie capital of the world. The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in particular was the focus of the hippie movement and was jokingly called Hashbury by the locals. In the 70's, councillor Harvey Milk was one of the first openly gay city officials. Even now, San Francisco is considered a paradise for homosexuals in the United States because it is relatively tolerant of sexual preferences.
San Francisco's climate is strongly influenced by the Pacific Ocean. The weather is therefore moderate for the major part of the year and can be classified as Mediterranean. You can visit San Francisco in every season. The summers are cool and pleasant, while winters are relatively warm. In the summer the temperatures vary between 15°C and 24°C, in the winter between 10°C and 15°C. In the summer it hardly rains in San Francisco, in stark contrast to the winter. A special feature of the weather in San Francisco is the fog.
The ethnic composition of the population in 2010 was as follows: 48.1% white, 33.3% Asian, 6.1% African American, 0.5% Native American, and 0.4% came from the islands of the Pacific. In addition 11.3% belong to another race. As a percentage of the total population, 15.1% are Hispanics and Latinos. Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 41.9% of the population, therefore San Francisco is a city where minorities are in the majority, although whites still make up the largest population group. The largest ethnic minority are the Chinese (21.4%).
In the sixties, the city has developed into a universal city where discussion of subjects like drugs and sex has become normal. That is reflected, for example, in the work of Armistead Maupin in his daily San Francisco Chronicle column. The metropolitan area is the birthplace of the Beatnik movement and then in the 70's, the Hippies. Smoking policy in public areas is very strict. In 2005, smoking was even banned in parks.
San Francisco's ties with Asia are important to understanding the city. The Chinese community is one of the largest in North America. After New York, San Francisco has the largest Chinatown in the United States. The city has a sister relationship with Shanghai and has developed ties with Asian culture. The Museum of Asian Art and the Japanese Garden are among the most interesting in the West. In 1975 a temporary exhibition of Chinese archaeological finds attracted 800,000 visitors in two months.
Built on not less than 43 hills, San Francisco offers many attractions:
- The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension spectacular bridge to the peninsula on which San Francisco is connected to the North. The bridge is high enough so big ships can enter and leave the port of San Francisco without any problem.
- The Presidio of San Francisco is now a park and was a military area. On the property is also located Fort Point directly under the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Twin Peaks, after Mount Davidson the two highest hills in San Francisco, with panoramic views across the city.
- Fisherman's Wharf has many shops, arcades, fish restaurants, cafes, amusement rides, street vendors, rides and a nice view of the ocean. You can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Angel Island. Pier 39 is the number one tourist attraction. Hundreds of sea lions are lazing in the California sun around Pier 39.
- Union Square is a 2.6acre public plaza bordered by Geary, Powell, Post and Stockton Streets in downtown San Francisco
- Alamo Square, known for its Victorian houses.
- Chinatown, San Francisco has the second largest Chinatown in North America. These days this richly decorated district is one of the top attractions of the city.
- Alcatraz, was once a prison for the most dangerous criminals in America. Nowadays it's no longer in use as a prison, but is part of a national park. A visit to this prison is reliving the past and a must in your itinerary. Guided tours on Alcatraz are very popular and should be booked in advance. The film 'Escape from Alcatraz' is all about this prison. The island is now a popular museum.
- Mission San Francisco de Asís, or Mission Dolores, is the oldest building in San Francisco.
- The San Francisco Ferry Building is a terminal for ferries that travel across the San Francisco Bay, a food hall and an office building. It's located on The Embarcadero in San Francisco
- The California Academy of Sciences located in Golden Gate Park. The museum was founded in the mid-19th century and moved to its present location in 2008. The cost was more than $500 million and the building was praised for it's environmentally sustainable architecture. The big attractions are the Kimball Natural History Museum, the African Hall, the Morrison Planetarium and Steinhart Aquarium.
- The Hall of San Francisco with its huge dome was built between 1913 and 1915 during the period of the PanamaPacific International Exposition. The building is beautiful and designed by two famous French architects. In this town hall Marilyn Monroe married in 1954 and also over 100 gay and lesbian couples got married here.
- The Coit Tower, also called the Lillian Coit Memorial Tower, is 210 feet tall and located in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood.
- The Transamerica Pyramid is the tallest skyscraper in San Francisco.
- Lombard Street is one of the most crooked streets in the world.
- The San Francisco Jazz Festival has taken place in the fall since 1982.
The rich cultural life of San Francisco, among others due to its museums. There is the Exploratorium, a science museum. Since 2013, the Exploratorium is located at Pier 15 and 17, but the original location was at the Palace of Fine Arts. This building, in the style of an ancient Roman dome, is one of the few remnants of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915.
The California Academy of Sciences is located in Golden Gate Park. This is a museum and research institute with an international reputation, where aquariums, natural history collections and a planetarium are located. It has a "living roof" that absorbs rainwater.
The civic center, in a building that was inaugurated in 1966, houses the Museum of Asian Art. The museum houses about 15,000 artifacts from Asia. The largest part of the collection comes from the millionaire Avery Brundage, who died in 1975. In 1989 a department of Korean art was added to the collection. As of March 20, 2003, after a thorough renovation under the direction of Italian architect Gae Aulenti, the museum offers its collection in a new context. Finally, there are other museums, including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (which consists of the MH De Young Museum and the Legion of Honor) and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
A wonderful way to discover the center of San Francisco is by bicycle. Unlike many other American cities, the bicycle is a well established means of transportation in the busy traffic of San Francisco. The city has a large number of providers that rent bicycles, both city bikes and mountain bikes. Take for sure the frequently traveled route which is over the Golden Gate Bridge! It is a unique experience to ride on this magnificent piece of art and it gives you the opportunity to stop whenever you want - by car this isn't possible. If you cross the bridge, just continue several more kilometers to the picturesque town of Sausalito. With the busy shopping streets and fine restaurants this town is very nice to stay a while and have a good rest.
The ferry can take you back to San Francisco including your bicycle. On the way you'll pass Alcatraz and you have a great view of the skyline of San Francisco. Tip: buy your ticket for the ferry already before you start. This will save you queuing in Sausalito.
Unlike Los Angeles, is San Francisco a city which can be explored by foot and by public transportation. The public transport company SF Muni operates a network of metro and trams, supplemented by a bus network. The Hop On/Hop Off buses are a fun and easy way to reach the famous sights. You can get on and off whenever you want and you do not have to worry about the route.
The hills of San Francisco are too steep for a normal tram. Therefore there are cable cars connected to wires that move underground through a slot between the rails.
In San Mateo County, 21 km south of the city, is the San Francisco International Airport. The airport is a reclamation area in the bay, just above sea level.
San Francisco, then, is a great city with a pleasant, welcoming atmosphere, where almost everyone gets that feeling of being at home.
Watch this video to learn more...