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Overview of San Francisco,  California

"Some information from Wikipedia"

San Francisco California Overview

San Francisco, California

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The City and County of San Francisco is the fourth-largest city in California and the fourteenth-largest in the United States, with a 2005 population of 739,426. It is located on the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula and has traditionally been the focal point of the San Francisco Bay Area. San Francisco is the second most densely populated major city in the United States.

In 1776, the Spanish became the first Europeans to settle in San Francisco, establishing a mission named for Francis of Assisi. With the advent of the California Gold Rush in 1848, the city entered a period of rapid growth. After being devastated by the 1906 earthquake and fire, San Francisco was quickly rebuilt and is today one of the most recognizable cities in the world.

San Francisco is renowned for its months-long episodes of fog, steep rolling hills, the eclectic mix of Victorian and modern architecture, and its peninsular location surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. Famous hallmarks and landmarks include the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, the cable cars, the Transamerica Pyramid, and Chinatown.


The San Francisco Peninsula was inhabited from at least 8000 BC. The Yelamu group of the Ohlone people had established several small villages in the area when a Spanish exploration party, led by Don Gaspar de Portolà arrived on November 2, 1769, claiming the first documented European visit to San Francisco Bay.[4] Six years later a Spanish mission, Mission San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores), was established with a small settlement, and an associated military fort was built in what is now the Presidio.

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 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 city of international renown, celebrated for a 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 Beaux Arts splendor, 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 returning servicemembers and civilians who had 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. The Transamerica Pyramid was completed in 1969, 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.


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 offshore in the Pacific Ocean. The land within the city limits roughly forms a seven by seven mile square, which has become a colloquialism referring to the city's shape.

San Francisco is famous for its hills, which are defined as elevations over 100 ft (30 m). There are a total of 43 hills within city limits. Some neighborhoods are named after the hill on which they are situated, including Nob Hill, Pacific Heights, Russian Hill, Potrero Hill, and Telegraph Hill.

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 goes, "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's climate is strongly influenced by the cool currents of the Pacific Ocean which tend to moderate temperature swings and produce a remarkably mild climate with little seasonal temperature variation. Average summertime high temperatures in San Francisco peak at 70F (21 C) and are 20F (9 C) lower than they are in nearby inland locations like Livermore. Winters are mild, with daytime highs near 60F (15 C), and lows almost never reach freezing temperatures. The months of May-September are quite dry, with rain a common occurrence from November-March. Snowfall is extraordinarily rare, with only 10 instances recorded since 1852.

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 summer and early fall. The fog is less pronounced in eastern neighborhoods, in late spring, and during September and October, 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 percent 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 fairly sunny, with an average of 160 clear days, and only 105 cloudy days per year.

Beaches and parks

Ocean Beach runs along the Pacific Ocean shoreline, and Baker Beach occupies a picturesque setting just west of the Golden Gate Bridge. They are not suitable for swimming because the waters off the coast are cold and have deadly rip currents. The biggest and most well-known park is Golden Gate Park, stretching from the center of the city to the 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.

Culture and contemporary life

San Francisco is characterized by a high standard of living.[74] The great wealth and opportunity generated by the internet revolution drew many highly educated and high income workers and residents to San Francisco. Poorer neighborhoods have become gentrified. At the same time, the downtown has seen a renaissance driven by the redevelopment of the Embarcadero, including the neighborhoods South Beach and Mission Bay. On the one hand, this has resulted in property values and household income being among the highest in the nation,[75][39] allowing the city to support a large restaurant and entertainment infrastructure. However, the cost of living in San Francisco is also among the highest in the nation.[76] As a result, many middle class families have decided they can no longer afford to live there and have left, moving to other cities within the San Francisco Bay Area. Although the centralized commerce and shopping districts downtown, including the Financial District and the area around Union Square, are well-known, San Francisco is also characterized by a rich street environment featuring many mixed-use neighborhoods anchored around central commercial corridors to which residents and visitors alike can walk. They feature a mix of businesses and restaurants catering to the daily needs of the community and drawing in visitors. Some are highly gentrified, dotted with boutiques, cafes and nightlife, such as Union Street in Cow Hollow, and 24th Street in Noe Valley. Others are less so, including Irving Street in the Sunset or Mission Street in the Mission. This approach has influenced the South of Market redevelopment, with businesses and neighborhood services rising alongside highrise residences. The international character San Francisco has had since its founding is witnessed today by large numbers of immigrants from Asia and Latin America. With 39% of its residents born overseas[36], San Francisco has numerous neighborhoods filled with businesses and civic institutions catering to new arrivals. In particular, the arrival of many ethnic Chinese, which accelerated beginning in the 1970s, complemented the already-established community based in Chinatown and has transformed the annual Chinese New Year Parade into the largest cultural event of its kind.[78] The writers and artists of the 1950s established a coffeehouse culture that lingers today. Following the social upheavals of the 1960s, San Francisco became one of the hypocenters of liberal activism, with Democrats, Greens, and progressives dominating city politics. Indeed, San Francisco has not given the Republican candidate for president greater than 20% of the vote since 1988.[79] The gay rights contributions and leadership the city has shown since the 1970s has resulted in the powerful presence gays and lesbians have in civic life. A popular destination for gay tourists, it hosts San Francisco Pride, the world's best known gay pride parade and festival.
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