Overview and History
San Francisco was inhabited as early as 3000B.C. The Ohlone Indians were the ones living there when the Europeans started to arrive. Francis Drake landed off the coast of what is now California in the 1500's and planted a British flag, which was soon forgotten.
Modern history really begins in 1769 when Spanish explorers arrived and established the Presidio of Saint Francis, whereby the location got its name.
The area became part of Mexico when it was liberated from Spain in 1821. For a few decades it was basically a Christian mission called Yerba Buena. After the Mexican War with the U.S. San Francisco became a city, officially named as of 1847.
The next big thing was not long in coming. Gold was discovered in 1848 and the California Gold Rush began!
In a few months the population grew from two to twenty thousand and San Francisco became the unofficial capital of the American West. The San Franciso 49'ers are named after the people who came in 1849 to dig for gold, get rich or die trying.
California became a state in 1850, a telegraph line connected it to the East coast in 1860, and ten years later the New York-San Francisco railroad was completed. Chinese laborers who built the railroad made SF's Chinatown district.
Development continued through the end of the nineteenth century with cable cars, luxury hotels, and the San Francisco stock exchange, which was the first one on the west coast. Across the narrow straits of water, Golden Gate Park was built with U.S. Fort Point holding it together. Then the earthquake hit.
Nineteen Oh Shit. I mean Oh six. The city was completely flattened and then burned in 1906. In a matter of 48 seconds an earthquake of magnitude 8.6 on the Richter scale broke open buildings and gas mains, which caught fire and took apart the dry structures. Two hundred and fifty thousand people instantly became homeless and took refuge in tent cities.
Rebuilding was enthusiastic and rapid. The Ferry Building became one of the busiest transportation terminals in the world, with one hundred and seventy landings per day. The early part of the twentieth century saw great strides in organized labor, prostitution control, corruption pandemics, and the birth of the American Conservation movement with John Muir.
San Francisco survived the economic crash of 1929 with ZERO bank failures, and initiated several public works construction projects to make its way to the other side. The Golden Gate Bridge was one of them, along with the Oakland-Bay Bridge and the decoration of the Coit tower.
During World War Two, San Francisco's Hunters Point Naval Shipyard was the major point of departure for servicemen headed to war in the South Pacific ocean.
Soon after the end of WWII, the Beat Generation appeared and began laying what would eventually turn into the Hippie Movement, with SF's Haight Street as its epicenter. Today you can buy jeans at the Gap on Haight Street, but it wasn't always like that.
Vietnam anti-war protests were huge in the 1970's, with gay culture taking a major part of it. The Castro is the gay neighborhood, although the entire city is very open and gay-friendly.
The dot-com boom and crash is the most recent news in San Francisco. It's still techie but not as much as it was. Neighborhoods are still getting more expensive. For the number of people who want to live there, it's a really small city. Artists and DJ's beware!
The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is about thirteen miles from downtown.
The airport has an internal Airtrain system connecting its terminals with the city's public transportation system (Bay Area Rapid Transit). Airtrain is free, BART will cost you about $6 to get into downtown.
There are also buses, taxis and the usual car rental agencies available to get around.
Public transportation in San Francisco consists of a metro that people call the Muni, after "Municipal Railway." Ride the historic cable cars when you get sick of scooting around the hills on a boring old bus. Fares go for $1.50.
Biking is huge in San Fran, despite the serious hills you have to climb to get around.
People and Culture
There is a huge Asian population, a strong gay community, tolerance for everybody and everything, amazing food, wine, architecture, and then music and every type of colorful art all over the place. Like we already talked about, the Beats, the Hippies, a dense population in a small space -- it all adds up to a city that feels like a party.
Neighborhoods to visit first:
Things to do & Recommendations
Run and do not walk to the famed Mission District and get yourself a burrito. Order it with no sour cream or cheese, because it's going to be so big that you're only going to be able to eat half of it, and you want to save the other half for later without it turning kind of rank on you. That's a true SFCA tradition. Man, I could go for one of those myself right now. With extra guacamole. Do you have any iced tea? Two large iced teas. I should like a basket of chips. What's the asada taco?
Try La Taqueria when you're ready to give your so-called mexican home cooking a major inferiority complex for life.
Another good side trip is to visit Alcatraz prison, once home to notorious gangster criminal mastermind Al Capone, who got nabbed for tax evasion. Escape from Alcatraz was said to be impossible and if anyone ever did, the official reports still state that they drowned in the cold waters of the San Francisco Bay. Thank you and Good Night.
Speaking of night time, let's go clubbing! House music is bangin' in San Francisco! Go to Mighty to get your fix of bass and the Oom-Chick, then look up Om Records and go to whatever events they're doing.
No matter how you slice it, San Franciso is awesome and deserves more space and time than we can give it, even with our amazing presentations. As always, keep your eyes open and enjoy!
Text by Steve Smith.