San Francisco, California

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San Francisco redirects here. For other uses, see San Francisco (disambiguation).
The downtown San Francisco skyline, looking east from the central part of the city.  The hills in the background are across the bay in Berkeley.
The downtown San Francisco skyline, looking east from the central part of the city. The hills in the background are across the bay in Berkeley.
City and County of San Francisco
Official flag of San Francisco, California Official seal of San Francisco, California
City flag City seal
City nickname: "The City by the Bay"
Location of San Francisco, California
Location of the
City and County of San Francisco
City-County San Francisco
Mayor Gavin Newsom
231.9 mi² / 600.7 km²
46.7 mi² / 121.0 km²
185.2 mi² / 479.7 km²
  –Total (2004)
7,533,384 (metro area)
744,230 (city proper)
Time zone
  –Summer (DST)
37°46' N
122°26' W
Official website:

The City and County of San Francisco (2004 estimated population 744,230) is the fourth-largest city in the state of California, United States.

A consolidated city-county, mainland San Francisco is located on the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula. Insular San Francisco includes several islands in the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Strait, notably Alcatraz, Treasure Island, and the Farallon Islands 27 miles offshore in the Pacific Ocean and also most of the privately owned Red Rock Island near the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. (See Islands of San Francisco Bay)

The city is a focal point of the San Francisco Bay Area, and part of the greater San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland Combined Statistical Area (CSA), whose population is over 7 million. U.S. census data show that San Francisco has the highest population density of any major U.S. city aside from New York City.

The first Europeans to settle in San Francisco were the Spanish, in 1776. With the advent of the California gold rush in 1848 the city entered a period of rapid growth.

Devastated by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the city was quickly rebuilt. The phoenix on the city's flag represents San Francisco's "rebirth" from the ashes of the fire that resulted from the quake. Long enjoying a bohemian reputation the city became a counterculture magnet in the second half of the 20th century. It was a center of the dot-com boom and explosive growth of the internet at the end of the century.

San Francisco has unique characteristics when compared to other major cities in the U.S., including its steep rolling hills, an eclectic mix of architecture including both Victorian style houses and modern skyscrapers, and unmatched physical beauty, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. San Francisco's famous hallmarks include its cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge, which are recognized worldwide.



European visitors to the Bay Area were preceded 10,000 to 20,000 years earlier by Native Americans. When Europeans arrived, they found the area inhabited by the Yelamu tribe, belonging to a linguistic grouping later called the Ohlone (a Miwok Indian word meaning "western people") living in the coastal area between Point Sur and the San Francisco Bay.

San Francisco's characteristic foggy weather and geography led early European explorers, including Juan Cabrillo and Sir Francis Drake (who would instead land a few miles north in Point Reyes), to pass by the Golden Gate and miss the San Francisco Bay. It was only in 1770 when a Spanish party, led by Don Gaspar de Portolà, discovered the bay, claiming it in the name of Spain, and recording it on official maps. In 1776, Juan Bautista de Anza arrived and established the sites for the Presidio of San Francisco and Mission San Francisco de Asis (named for Saint Francis of Assisi and now popularly known as "Mission Dolores").

In 1792 British explorer George Vancouver set up a small settlement near the village of Yerba Buena (later downtown San Francisco) which became a small base for English, Russian, and other European fur traders, explorers, and settlers.

Due to its distance from Mexico City and the decline of Spanish power, the area became isolated, remaining sparsely populated and undeveloped. It became part of an independent Mexico in 1821. Following the passing of the Secularization Act of 1833, effectively ending the Mission period, Mission San Francisco de Asis was abandoned. The local indigenous tribes of Ohlone and Miwok had became virtually extinct by this time due to disease and warfare with the European settlers.

Contact with Russian colonists is reported. Russia colonized an area from 1770 to 1841 that ranged from Alaska to as far south as Fort Ross in Sonoma County, California. The name of San Francisco's Russian Hill neighborhood is attributed to the remains of Russian fur-traders and sailors found there.

Serious development by non-Spanish speakers began in 1822, when William Richardson, an English whaler redeveloped a section of Yerba Buena in what is now Portsmouth Square in Chinatown. Yerba Buena remained a small town until the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846. A naval force under Commodore John D. Sloat claimed it in the name of the United States and renamed it "San Francisco" on January 30, 1847.

Situated at the tip of a windswept peninsula without water or firewood, San Francisco lacked most of the basic facilities for a nineteenth century settlement. These natural disadvantages forced the town's residents to bring water, fuel and food to the site. The first of many environmental transformations was the city's reliance on filled marshlands for real estate. Much of the present downtown is built over the former Yerba Buena Cove, granted to the city by military governor Stephen Watts Kearny in 1847.

San Francisco in 1855.
San Francisco in 1855.

The California gold rush starting in 1848 led to a large boom in population, including considerable immigration. Between January 1848 and December 1849, the population of San Francisco increased from 1,000 to 25,000. This included many workers from China who came to work in the gold mines and later on the Transcontinental Railroad. The Chinatown district of the city became and is still one of the largest in the country; the city as a whole is roughly one-third Chinese, one of the largest concentrations outside of China. Many businesses founded to service the growing population exist today, notably Levi Strauss & Co. clothing, Ghirardelli chocolate, and Wells Fargo bank. Many famous railroad, banking, and mining tycoons or "robber barons" such as Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, and Leland Stanford settled in the city in its Nob Hill neighborhood. The sites of their mansions are now famous and expensive San Francisco hotels (Mark Hopkins Hotel and the Huntington Hotel).

Charles Cora and James Casey are lynched by the Committee of Vigilance, 1856.
Charles Cora and James Casey are lynched by the Committee of Vigilance, 1856.

As in many mining towns, the social climate in early San Francisco was chaotic. This was exacerbated by squabbling in the United States Senate, where the Compromise of 1850 was igniting a fierce fight over slavery. Committees of Vigilance were formed in 1851, and again in 1856, in response to crime and government corruption, but also had a strong element of anti-immigrant violence, and arguably created more lawlessness than they eliminated. This popular militia movement lynched 12 people, kidnapped hundreds of Irishmen and government militia members, and forced several elected officials to resign. The Committee of Vigilance relinquished power both times after it decided the city had been "cleaned up." This mob activity later focused on Chinese immigrants, creating many race riots. These riots culminated in the creation of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 that aimed to reduce Chinese immigration to the United States by limiting immigration to males and reducing numbers of immigrants allowed in the city. The law was not repealed until 1943.

Market Street, early 20th century
Market Street, early 20th century

San Francisco County was one of the original counties of California, created in 1850 at the time of statehood. The parts of the county not in the city limits were split off to form San Mateo County in 1856. San Francisco became America's largest city west of the Mississippi River. It was also briefly the state capital in 1851, until San José received the title. (Sacramento is the current capital.)

In autumn of 1855, a ship bearing refugees from an ongoing cholera epidemic in the far east (authorities disagree as to whether this was the S.S. Sam or the S.S. Carolina) docked in San Francisco. As the city's rapid gold-rush area population growth had significantly outstripped the development of infrastructure, including sanitation, a serious cholera epidemic quickly broke out. The responsibility for caring for the indigent sick had previously rested on the state, but faced with the San Francisco cholera epidemic, the state legislature devolved this responsibility to the counties, setting the precedent for California's system of county hospitals for the poor still in effect today. The Sisters of Mercy were contracted to run San Francisco's first county hospital at the height of the cholera epidemic, and in 1857, the order opened its own charity hospital, Mercy Hospital of San Francisco, which is still in operation today at its original location on Stanyan Street.

By the 1890s, San Francisco was suffering from Boss politics and corruption, and was ripe for political reform. Adolph Sutro ran for mayor in 1894 under the auspices of the Populist Party and won handily without campaigning. Unfortunately, except for the Sutro Baths, Mayor Sutro substantially failed in his efforts to improve the city.

The next mayor, James D. Phelan elected in 1896, was more successful, pushing through a new city charter that allowed for the ability to raise funds through bond issues. He was able to get bonds passed to construct a new sewer system, seventeen new schools, two parks, a hospital, and a main library. After leaving office in 1901, Phelan became interested in remaking San Francisco into a grand and modern Paris of the West. When the San Francisco Art Association asked him to draft a plan for the beautification of the city, he hired famed architect Daniel Burnham. Burnham and Phelan's plan was ambitious, envisioning a 50-year effort to transform the city with wide diagonal boulevards creating open spaces and squares as they crossed the orthogonal grid of existing streets. Some parts of the plan were eventually implemented, including an Opera house to the north of City Hall, a subway under Market Street, and a waterfront boulevard (The Embarcadero) circling the city.[1]

In 1900, a ship from China brought with it rats infected with bubonic plague. Mistakenly believing that interred corpses contributed to the transmission of plague, and possibly also motivated by the opportunity for profitable land speculation, city leaders banned all burials within the city. Cemeteries moved to the undeveloped area just south of the city limit, now the town of Colma, California. A fifteen-block section of Chinatown was quarantined while city leaders squabbled over the proper course to take, but the outbreak was finally eradicated by 1905. However, the problem of existing cemeteries and the shortage of land in the city remained. In 1912 (with fights extending until 1942), all remaining cemeteries in the city were evicted to Colma, where the dead now outnumber the living by more than a thousand to one. The above-ground Columbarium of San Francisco was allowed to remain, as well as the historic cemetery at the Mission Dolores Church and The San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio of San Francisco.[2]

On April 18, 1906, a devastating earthquake resulted from the rupture of over 270 miles of the San Andreas Fault, from San Juan Bautista to Eureka, centered immediately offshore of San Francisco. The quake is estimated by the USGS to have had a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale. Water mains ruptured throughout San Francisco, and the fires that followed burned out of control for days, destroying approximately 80% of the city, including almost all of the downtown core. Many residents were trapped between the water on three sides and the approaching fire, and a mass evacuation (similar to that of the later Battle of Dunkirk) across the Bay saved thousands. Refugee camps were also set up in Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, and other undeveloped sections of the city. The official death toll at the time was 478, although it was officially revised in 2005 to 3,000+. The initial low death toll was concocted by civic, state, and federal officials who felt that reporting the actual numbers would hurt rebuilding and redevelopment efforts, as well as city and national morale.

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of San Francisco's most well-known landmarks, recognized internationally.
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of San Francisco's most well-known landmarks, recognized internationally.

In 1915, the city hosted the Panama-Pacific Exposition, officially to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, but also as a showcase of the vibrant completely rebuilt city less than a decade after the Earthquake. After the exposition ended, all of its grand buildings were demolished except for the Palace of Fine Arts which survives today in an abbreviated form.

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was opened in 1936 and the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937. During World War II, San Francisco was the major mainland supply point and port of embarkation for the war in the Pacific.

The War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco has been the site of some significant post World War II history. In 1945, the conference that formed the United Nations was held there, with the UN Charter being signed on June 26. Additionally the Treaty of San Francisco which formally ended war with Japan and established peaceful relations, was drafted and signed here six years later in 1951.

After World War II, many American military personnel who fell in love with the city during leaving to or returning from the Pacific, settled in the city prompting the creation of the Sunset District and Visitacion Valley. During this period, Caltrans commenced an aggressive freeway construction program in the Bay Area. However, Caltrans soon encountered strong resistance in San Francisco, for the city's high population density meant that virtually any right-of-way would displace a large number of people. Caltrans tried to minimize displacement (and its land acquisition costs) by building double-decker freeways, but the crude state of civil engineering at that time resulted in construction of some embarrassingly ugly freeways which ultimately turned out to be seismically unsafe. In 1959, the Board of Supervisors voted to halt construction of any more freeways in the city, an event known as the Freeway Revolt. Although some minor modifications have been allowed to the ends of existing freeways, the city's anti-freeway policy has remained in place ever since. In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake destroyed the Embarcadero Freeway and portions of the so-called Central Freeway. Over the course of several referenda, San Francisco's residents elected not to rebuild either structure. The neighborhoods once covered by these freeways have been rebuilt, and the restoration of the Embarcadero, San Francisco's historic bay waterfront, as a public space has been especially successful.

In the 1950s San Francisco hired Harvard graduate Justin Herman to head the redevelopment agency for the city and county. Justin Herman began an aggressive campaign to renew blighted areas of the city. Enacting eminent domain whenever necessary, he set upon a plan to tear down huge areas of the city and replace them with modern construction. Critics accused Herman of racism for what was perceived as attempts to create segregation and displacement of African-Americans. Many African-Americans were forced to move from their homes near the Fillmore jazz district to newly constructed projects such as the near the naval base Hunter's Point or even to cities such as Oakland. He began leveling entire areas in San Francisco's Western Addition and Japantown neighborhoods. His planning led to the creation of Embarcadero Center, the Embarcadero Freeway, Japantown, the Geary Street superblocks, and Yerba Buena Gardens.

San Francisco has often been a magnet for America's counterculture. During the 1950s, City Lights Bookstore in the North Beach neighborhood was an important publisher of Beat Generation literature. Some of the story of the evolving arts scene of the 1950s is told in the article San Francisco Renaissance. During the latter half of the following decade, the 1960s, San Francisco was the center of hippie and other alternative culture. In 1966 the Church Of Satan opened their headquarters, and in 1967 thousands of young people poured into the Haight-Ashbury district during what became known as the Summer of Love. At this time, the "San Francisco sound" emerged as an influential force in rock music, with such acts as the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead achieving international prominence, blurring the boundaries between folk, rock and jazz traditions and further developing the lyrical content of rock.

During the 1980s and 1990s San Francisco became a major focal point in the North American--and international-- punk, thrash metal, and rave scenes. On the rave scene, the city was the first to host the Love Parade outside its birthplace of Berlin, Germany in 2004. It was also a hot spot during the 1980's for comedians like Ellen DeGeneres and Robin Williams who got major career boosts thanks to the presence of the city's popular comedy clubs.

San Francisco's frontier spirit and wild and ribald character caused it to become known as a gay mecca beginning in the nineteenth century. This reputation was enforced greatly during World War II, when thousands of gay male soldiers spent time in the City, while en route to and from the Pacific theater. The late 1960s also brought in a new wave of lesbians and gays who were more radical and less mainstream and who had flocked to San Francisco not only for its gay-friendly reputation, but for its reputation as a radical, left-wing epicenter. These new residents were the prime movers of Gay Liberation and often lived communally, buying decrepit Victorians in the Haight and fixing them up. When drugs and violence began to become a serious problem in the Haight, many lesbians and gays simply moved "over the hill", to the Castro replacing Irish-Americans who had moved to the more affluent and culturally homogenous suburbs. The Castro became known as a Gay Mecca, and its gay population swelled as significant numbers of gay people moved to San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s. The growth of the gay population caused tensions with some of the established ethnic groups in the western part of the city. On November 27, 1978 Dan White, a former member of the Board of Supervisors and former police officer, assassinated the city's mayor George Moscone and San Francisco's first openly gay elected official, Supervisor Harvey Milk (see "Twinkie Defense"). The murders and the subsequent trial were marked both by candlelight vigils and riots within the gay community. In the 1980s, the AIDS virus wreaked havoc on the gay male community there. Today, the gay population of the city is estimated to be approximately 15%, and gays remain an important force in the city's life. San Francisco has a higher percentage of gays and lesbians than any other major US city.

During the administration of Mayor Dianne Feinstein (1978-1988), San Francisco saw a development boom referred to as "Manhattanization." Many large skyscrapers were built — primarily in the Financial District — but the boom also included high-rise condominiums in some residential neighborhoods. An opposition movement gained traction among those who felt the skyscrapers ruined views and destroyed San Francisco's unique character. Similar to the freeway revolt in the city decades earlier, a "skyscraper revolt" forced the city to embed height restrictions in the planning code. For many years, the limits slowed construction of new skyscrapers, but recent (2000-2005) housing pressures have led to master plan changes which will allow new construction of high-rise structures along The Embarcadero and in the South of Market district.

On an otherwise upscale section of Church Street, a homeless person takes refuge in front of a constructions site.  Chronic homelessness was a major issue in the 2003 mayoral campaign.
On an otherwise upscale section of Church Street, a homeless person takes refuge in front of a constructions site. Chronic homelessness was a major issue in the 2003 mayoral campaign.

During the 1980s, homeless people began appearing in large numbers in the city, the result of multiple factors including the closing of state institutions for the mentally ill, and social changes which increased the availability of addictive drugs. Combined with San Francisco's attractive environment and generous welfare policies the problem soon became endemic. Mayor Art Agnos (1988-92) was the first to attack the problem, and not the last; it is a top issue for San Franciscans even today. Agnos allowed the homeless to camp in the Civic Center park, which led to its title of "Camp Agnos." The failure of this policy led to his losing the election to Frank Jordan in 1991. Jordan launched the "MATRIX" program the next year, which aimed to displace the homeless through aggressive police action. And it did displace them - to the rest of the city. His successor, Willie Brown, was able to largely ignore the problem, riding on the strong economy into a second term. Present mayor Gavin Newsom's policy on the homeless is the controversial "Care Not Cash" program, which calls for ending the city's generous welfare policies towards the homeless and instead placing them in affordable housing and requiring them to attend city funded drug rehabilitation and job training programs.

On October 17, 1989, an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter magnitude scale struck on the San Andreas Fault near Loma Prieta Peak in the Santa Cruz mountains, approximately 70 miles south of San Francisco, a few minutes before game 3 of the 1989 World Series. The quake severely damaged many of the city's freeway's including the Embarcadero Freeway and the Central Freeway. The damage to these freeways was so extensive that they were eventually demolished. The quake also caused extensive damage in the Marina District and the South of Market. Known in most of the United States as the "World Series Quake," but in California and by seismologists as the Loma Prieta earthquake, it caused significant destruction and loss of life throughout the greater Bay Area.

During the dot-com boom of the 1990s, large numbers of entrepreneurs and computer software professionals moved into the city, followed by marketing and sales professionals, and changed the social landscape as once poorer neighborhoods became gentrified. The rising rents forced many people and businesses to leave, and this caused considerable tension in the city's politics. The resulting backlash resulted in a progressive majority winning control of the Board of Supervisors in the 2000 election.

By 2001, the boom was over, and many people left San Francisco. South of Market, where many dot-com companies were located, had been bustling and crowded with few vacancies, but by 2002 was a virtual wasteland of empty offices and for-rent signs. Much of the boom was blamed for the city's "fastest shrinking population", reducing the city's population by a quarter of a million in just a few years. While the boom has helped put an ease on the city's apartment rents, the city remains expensive nonetheless.

In February 2004, San Francisco became the first city in the United States to grant marriage to gay couples when Mayor Gavin Newsom, elected the previous year, ordered the City Clerks office to issue same-sex marriage licenses. The California Supreme Court later invalidated these licenses, holding that Newsom had acted without proper authority.

In 2005 San Francisco hosted the United Nations annual World Environment Day conference, the first in the United States, and banned outdoor smoking in all city-owned parks, plazas and public sports venues.

Geography and climate

San Francisco and northern San Mateo County, from NASA Landsat 7
San Francisco and northern San Mateo County, from NASA Landsat 7

San Francisco lies near the San Andreas Fault; a major source of earthquake activity in California. The most serious earthquake, in 1906, is mentioned above. Earlier significant quakes rocked the city in 1851, 1858, 1865, and 1868. The Daly City Earthquake of 1957 caused some damage. The Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, which also did significant damage to parts of the city, is also famous for having interrupted a World Series baseball game between the Bay Area's two Major League Baseball teams, the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics.

The threat of another major earthquake like the 1906 one plays a major role in the city's infrastructure development. New buildings must be built to very high structural standards, while many dollars must be spent to retrofit the city's older buildings and bridges.

Entire neighborhoods of the city such as the Marina and Hunters Point were created and sit on man made landfill (made up of mud, sand, and rubble from past earthquakes) and other reclamation projects over the San Francisco Bay when flatland became scarce. Such land is extremely unstable during earthquakes; the resultant liquefaction during earthquakes causes extensive damage to property built upon it, as was evidenced in the Marina district during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

The most impressive example of an "infill neighborhood" is Treasure Island. It was constructed from material dredged from the bay as well as material resulting from tunnelling through Yerba Buena Island in the construction of the Bay Bridge. It was a site for the 1939 San Francisco World's Fair, and it was originally envisioned that Treasure Island would serve as the site for San Francisco's municipal airport, but it became a Navy base at the start of World War II. In 1997 Treasure Island was returned to the city and it provides a unique vantage point to view the San Francisco skyline.

San Francisco is famous for its hills. A "Hill" in San Francisco, is an elevation that is over 100 ft (30 Meters). There are a total of 42 hills within city limits. Some of these hills are neighborhoods such as Nob Hill, Pacific Heights, Russian Hill, and Telegraph Hill, while some of these hills are public parks and open space such as Twin Peaks, Mt. Sutro, Mount Davidson, and Buena Vista Park.

Near the geographic center of the city and away from the downtown area are a series of less populated hills. Dominating this area is Mount Sutro, which is the site of Sutro Tower, a large red and white radio transmission tower, that is a well known landmark to city residents. Nearby are the equally well known Twin Peaks, which are a pair of hills resting at one of the city's highest points. About 1.2km (1 mile) south of Mount Sutro is San Francisco's highest mountain, Mount Davidson, which is over 282 meters (over 925 feet) high. On top of Mount Davidson is a 31.4 meter (103 foot) tall cross built in 1934.

A San Francisco cable car
A San Francisco cable car

Not to be missed are the beautiful homes and area of the city known as Pacific Heights as well as victorians in the Haight-Ashbury and the "painted ladies" of Alamo Square and the Castro. San Francisco is also famous for its Cable cars (narrow gauge, 1067 mm (3'6")), which were designed to carry residents up those steep hills. It is still possible to take a cable car ride up and down Nob and Russian Hills. Along with New Orleans' streetcars, San Francisco's cable cars are one of only two mobile United States National Monuments. Coit Tower, a notable landmark dedicated to San Francisco's firefighters, is located at the top of Telegraph Hill.


Surrounded on three sides by water, San Francisco's climate is strongly influenced by the cool currents of the Pacific Ocean. The weather is remarkably mild all year round, with a so-called Mediterranean climate characterized by cool, foggy summers and relatively warm winters; average daily high temperatures in the summer typically range from the upper 60's to mid 70's (15-22 degrees Celsius), while in the winter it virtually never reaches freezing. Rain in the summer is quite rare, but winters are very rainy. Snow is very rare. The Pacific Ocean off the west coast of the city is particularly cold year round. The combination of cold ocean water and the high heat of the California mainland creates the city's characteristic foggy weather that covers the western half of the city in fog all day during the summer and early fall, as well as the rest of the San Francisco metropolitan area as far as 35-50 miles inland in overcast and fog. Thus, the summer temperatures are significantly lower in San Francisco than in other parts of inland California. The fog is less pronounced during the months of September & October and during the late spring, which is generally the warmest, most summer-like months of the year.

In January, morning lows average 46 °F (8 °C) and afternoon highs average 58 °F (14 °C). In August, lows average 56 °F (13 °C) and highs average 72 °F (22 °C). San Francisco receives an average of 22.28 inches (56.6 cm) of precipitation annually with July and August being almost completely free of precipitation.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city and county has a total area of 600.7 km² (231.9 mi²). 120.9 km² (46.7 mi²) of it is land and 479.7 km² (185.2 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 79.86% water. The city proper is often reputed to be roughly a seven mile square, and in fact is only slightly smaller.

The geographical center of the city is on the east side of Grandview Avenue between Alvarado and Twenty-third Streets.

Downtown San Francisco as seen from Alcatraz.
Downtown San Francisco as seen from Alcatraz.

Neighborhoods in San Francisco

An intersection of Chinatown in San Francisco.
An intersection of Chinatown in San Francisco.
Main article: Neighborhoods in San Francisco, California

San Francisco has a Japantown and Chinatown; both are among the largest and oldest in the US. It also boasts a budding Vietnamese community in the Tenderloin neighborhood, Filipinos in Crocker-Amazon and South of Market, an Italian community in North Beach, a French Quarter, and Irish and Russian communities in the Richmond District.

The predominantly Hispanic Mission District is the oldest neighborhood in the city, being the site of Mission Dolores, established in 1776. Russian Hill is a residential neighborhood most famous for Lombard Street "the crookedest street in the world". Haight-Ashbury gained prominence during the "Summer of Love" 1960s for its counter-culture and concentration of hippies. The Castro neighborhood has the world's highest concentration of homosexuals. In addition to the predominantly gay Castro, there are significant concentrations of gays in NoeValley, Diamond Heights, Bernal Heights Potrero Hill, Haight-Ashbury, Hayes Valley, and SOMA. (See The Castro for more gay demographics.)

Current demographic and land use expansion is concentrated in the east and south. The South of Market neighborhood was an epicenter of the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. A new neighborhood, Mission Bay, is being redeveloped from an industrial area at the far eastern end of South of Market. The cornerstones of this development are the SBC Park baseball stadium and an extension of the University of California, San Francisco medical school.


Main article: Parks in San Francisco, California

The best-known, as well as biggest, park is Golden Gate Park which is 174 acres larger than New York's Central Park. Another notable park is The Presidio at the south edge of the Golden Gate. The Presidio is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which includes Alcatraz, and many other large local parks. Buena Vista Park located in the Haight-Ashbury, is the city's oldest, established in 1867, nearby Alamo Square is famous for its views of the city and the famous Victorian houses known as the Painted Ladies. A large fresh-water lake, Lake Merced, is located in the south west corner of the city near San Francisco State University and Fort Funston.

San Francisco also contains many public beaches such as Baker Beach and Ocean Beach.


Population of Asians in San Francisco. Note the large Asian population in the Sunset District, Richmond District, and in Chinatown.
Population of Asians in San Francisco. Note the large Asian population in the Sunset District, Richmond District, and in Chinatown.

As of the census2 of 2000, there are 776,733 people, 329,700 households, and 145,068 families residing in the city. The population density is 6,423.2/km² (16,634.4/mi²), making it the second densest city of 500,000 or more, as well as the fifth densest county, in the country [3]. . There are 346,527 housing units at an average density of 2,865.6/km² (7,421.2/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 49.66% White, 7.79% African American, 0.45% Native American, 30.84% Asian, 0.49% Pacific Islander, 6.48% from other races, and 4.28% from two or more races. 14.10% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race. The ethnic makeup is 19.6% Chinese, 8.8% Irish, 7.7% German, and 6.1% English. San Francisco has the largest Chinese population in America and the largest Asian population outside of Hawaii. The City has the highest percentage of gay families (as well as a large numbers of single gay people) of any American county or large city. Gay men outnumber lesbians, who are more concentrated in the suburban East Bay.

There are 329,700 households out of which 16.6% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 31.6% are married couples living together, 8.9% have a female head of household with no husband present, and 56.0% are non-families. 38.6% of all households are made up of individuals and 9.8% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.30 and the average family size is 3.22.

In the city the population is spread out with 14.5% under the age of 18, 9.1% from 18 to 24, 40.5% from 25 to 44, 22.3% from 45 to 64, and 13.7% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 36 years. For every 100 females there are 103.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 103.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $55,221, and the median income for a family is $63,545 one of the highest in the United States at 15th place overall and 3rd in a single large city. Males have a median income of $46,260 versus $40,049 for females. The per capita income for the city is $34,556 which is ranked as the 19th highest in the country. 11.3% of the population and 7.8% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 13.5% of those under the age of 18 and 10.5% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

Government and politics

1 Jake McGoldrick
2 Michela Alioto-Pier
3 Aaron Peskin
4 Fiona Ma
5 Ross Mirkarimi
6 Chris Daly
7 Sean Elsbernd
8 Bevan Dufty
9 Tom Ammiano
10 Sophie Maxwell
11 Gerardo Sandoval

As the official name implies, the City and County San Francisco is a metropolitan municipality, being simultaneously a charter city and charter county with a consolidated government. It is the only metropolitan municipality in California and the only California county with a mayor, who is also the county executive. San Francisco is the only California city with a board of supervisors, which is also the city council.

San Francisco's unique status also makes it a municipal corporation and an administrative division of the state. It is in the latter capacity that San Francisco exercises jurisdiction over property that would otherwise be located outside of its corporation limit. San Francisco International Airport, for example, would be located within San Mateo County but for the fact it is owned and operated by the City and County of San Francisco. Because counties are administrative divisions of the state, it is legally impossible for two counties to occupy or exercise jurisdiction over the same piece of land. Thus, the airport, which is about 15 miles south of mainland San Francisco, is legally part of San Francisco because the municipality owns it.

San Francisco exercises jurisdiction over the Hetch Hetchy Valley and watershed, in Yosemite National Park, pursuant to a perpetual leasehold granted by Act of Congress in 1913, the Raker Act.

Under the current charter, the Government of San Francisco is constituted of two co-equal branches - the executive or administrative branch, which is headed by the mayor and includes other city-wide elected and appointed officials, and the civil service; and the legislative branch, which is constituted of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which exercises general oversight over all city and county functions.

The mayor is elected every four years, in the odd-numbered year that precedes the U.S. presidential election. The current mayor, Gavin Newsom, was elected in December 2003 in a runoff competition against Matt Gonzalez (see also List of Mayors of San Francisco, California). Gonzalez was president of the Board of Supervisors, representing District 5, and Newsom was a member of the board representing District 2. If the mayor dies or resigns, the President of the Board of Supervisors assumes the office until a special election can be held.

The eleven members of the Board of Supervisors (as of January 2005) are listed in the table at right by district number[4]. The current president of the Board is Aaron Peskin, who represents District 3.

How the Board of Supervisors shall be elected has been a bone of contention in recent San Francisco history. Throughout the United States, almost all cities and counties with populations in excess of 20,000 divide the jurisdiction into electoral districts (in cities, often called "wards") to ensure proportionate representation of the whole community and to evenly distribute the community interaction workload evenly among the members of the governing body (city council, county board of supervisors, etc.) But California has always been disinclined to follow examples set by the rest of the country; and San Francisco, notwithstanding a population of 0.7 million, has been no exception.

Prior to 1977 and again from 1980 through 2000, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was elected at-large. All candidates appeared together on the ballot. The person who received the most votes was elected President of the Board of Supervisors, and the next ten were elected to seats on the board. The first district-based elections in 1977 resulted in a radical change to the composition of the Board, including the election of Harvey Milk, only the third openly gay or lesbian individual (and the first who was male) elected to public office in the United States. Following the assassinations of Supervisor Milk and Mayor George Moscone a year later, by Supervisor Dan White who had just resigned, district elections were deemed divisive and San Francisco returned to at-large elections until the current system was implemented in 2000.

Under the current system, Supervisors are elected by district to four-year terms. The terms are staggered so that only half the board is elected every two years, thereby providing continuity. Supervisors representing odd-numbered districts (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11)are elected every fourth year counted from 2000 (so, 2000, 2004, 2008, etc.). Supervisors representing even-numbered districts (2, 4, 6, 8, and 10) were elected to transitional two-year terms in 2000, thereafter to be elected every fourth year (2002, 2006, 2010, etc.).

The President of the Board of Supervisors, under the new system, is elected by the members of the Board from among their number. This is done by secret ballot, typically at the first meeting of the new session commencing after the general election.

The Mayor and members of the Board of Supervisors are subject to term limits under the San Francisco Charter. None may serve more than two consecutive terms. As part of the change to district elections, however, this provision applies to supervisors only as of the first full term of election following its implementation in 2000. Thus, Tom Ammiano, who was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1994 and 1998 under the old system, then again in 2000 under the new system, was able to run yet again in 2004 (and won).

A single vote transfer system of elections was approved by the electorate and implemented in time for the 2004 general election. This system replaced the old, expensive system of run-off elections. Under this new ranked-choice system, whenever there are more than two candidates for an office, voters rank their choices in order of preference. If a candidate does not achieve a majority of votes cast when the first choice votes are counted, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and the second choice votes on those ballots are tabulated and "transferred" to the remaining candidates. The process continues, as necessary, until one candidate achieves a majority of votes cast and is then declared the winner. Eyed warily by some and optimistically by others - in both cases owing to the belief that single-transfer voting might favour so-called "progressive" and "minority party" candidates over so-called "conservative" and "mainstream party" candidates - the 2004 general election results showed that belief to be unfounded, as all incumbent Supervisors were returned to office.

Vacancies on the Board of Supervisors are filled by mayoral appointment, subject to special election (except as the Charter permits an appointee to remain in office until the general election for the seat is held). A person appointed or elected to fill a vacancy of less than two years is not deemed to have served a full term for purposes of term limits, whereas a person who fills a vacancy with more than two years remaining in the term is deemed to serve a full term and will be able to run for a consecutive term only once.

The Mayor's 2005-2006 proposed budget forecasts general fund expenditures of $2.44 billion.

As the largest city on the west coast before World War I, San Francisco became and remains the legal hub for the western United States. The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and the Federal District Court for Northern California are headquartered in San Francisco.

The Supreme Court of California is also headquartered in San Francisco, making The City the de facto judicial capital of the state. California is the only U.S. jurisdiction whose highest court and judicial seat is not in the official state or territorial capital. The California Supreme Court also maintains branch offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. In addition, the city is the seat of the First Appellate District of the State Courts of Appeals and the San Francisco County Superior Court.

City flag

The flag depicts a rising Phoenix, symbolic of the City's recovery from the 1906 fire. Underneath the phoenix it has a motto written in Spanish: "Oro en Paz, Fierro en Guerra," which translates into: "Gold in Peace, Iron in War."

City seal

The seal, which was adopted in the 1850s, depicts two working men, on one side a miner and on the other a sailor with a sextant. Above is a rising phoenix and behind is the bay with sailing ships. The Phoenix symbolizes the city's emergence from the ashes of several devastating fires in the early 1850's.


Because of the California gold rush, San Francisco became and remains the banking and financial center of the U.S. West Coast. It is the home of the twelfth district of the U.S. Federal Reserve as well as major production facilities for the U.S. Mint. The Pacific Exchange is located in the financial district. Many major American and international banks and venture capital firms have all set up their regional headquarters in the city.

Fortune 500 rankings indicated in parenthesis.

Companies headquartered in San Francisco are:

Companies headquartered near San Francisco include:


The city is served by San Francisco Unified School District.

Despite its limited geographical space, San Francisco is home to a multitude of Universities and Colleges.

Public universities include:

Private universities:

The two most notable universities in the metropolitan area but outside of city limits are:


Main article: Culture of San Francisco, California

Some of the most notable landmarks are the Transamerica Pyramid and Golden Gate Bridge.

Contemporary life

In the years following World War II, San Francisco accelerated its transformation into a center of alternative culture and lifestyles. Movements instrumental in this change include the beat generation or beatniks, the San Francisco Renaissance in the 1950s, hippie culture, women's liberation, gay civil rights, the Summer of Love in the Haight Ashbury, the rise of a substantial punk scene in the 1970s and 1980s, and the rave culture of the 1990s. In 2004, it became the new home of the Loveparade that used to be held in Berlin.

The high concentration of Gays in the Castro and Noe Valley, coupled with the city's historical contributions to Gay Rights, has earned San Francisco the reputation of the "Gay Mecca". It is the world's most popular destination for gay tourists and hosts the world's largest gay pride parade and festival in June.

Because of its beauty, San Francisco is a favorite location for movies. The movies regarded as showing the city at its best include Bullitt, Dirty Harry, and Vertigo.

Famous fictional works set in San Francisco include The Joy Luck Club, The Maltese Falcon, and Tales of the City.

Through the years San Francisco has been the subject of popular songs the most famous being I Left My Heart in San Francisco by Tony Bennett.

Museums and performing arts

Notable San Francisco Museums include the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), the Palace of the Legion of Honor, the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, and the Asian Art Museum.

In terms of performing arts, San Francisco boasts the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Ballet. San Francisco's Ballet and Opera are some of the oldest continuing performing arts companies in the United States. The city is also home to the American Conservatory Theater, also known as A.C.T., which has been a leading force in Bay Area performing arts since its founding in 1965.

In addition to professional, mainstream performing arts, The City is home to the 200 member San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, the world's first, as well as the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, the world's first gay marching band. Two additional gay choruses, the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco and Golden Gate Men's Chorus, also perform throughout the year.


San Francisco also has great nightlife ranging from bars to lounges to clubs. Major areas of nightlife in San Francisco are North Beach, the Mission District, the Marina, the Castro, and South of Market. San Francisco also boasts of legendary pop music venues such as The Fillmore and The Warfield.


Club Sport League Venue Logo
San Francisco 49ers NFL National Football Conference Monster Park San Francisco 49ers Logo
Oakland Raiders NFL American Football Conference McAfee Coliseum Oakland Raiders Logo
San Francisco Giants Major League Baseball National League SBC Park San Francisco Giants Logo
Oakland Athletics Major League Baseball American League McAfee Coliseum Oakland Athletics Logo
Golden State Warriors Basketball National Basketball Association Oakland Arena Golden State Warriors Logo
San Jose Sharks Ice Hockey National Hockey League HP Pavilion San Jose Sharks Logo
San Jose Earthquakes Soccer Major League Soccer Spartan Stadium San Jose Earthquakes Logo
San Jose SaberCats Football Arena Football League HP Pavilion San Jose SaberCats Logo

San Francisco is the home of the San Francisco 49ers National Football League team, who play at Monster Park and the San Francisco Giants Major League Baseball team, who play at SBC Park. MLB's Oakland Athletics, NFL's Oakland Raiders, and the National Basketball Association's Golden State Warriors play across the bay in Oakland. The regional National Hockey League team, the San Jose Sharks play in San Jose. The Warriors and Sharks were once based just south of San Francisco, at the Cow Palace, located several yards south of San Francisco, in Daly City.

College sports include the University of San Francisco Dons. Other Regional College Sports team includes the Stanford Cardinal, the San Jose Spartans and the California Golden Bears. The NCAA football Emerald Bowl is held in San Francisco each December.

The city is also the home of the annual Bay to Breakers footrace, which holds the world records for greatest number of participants in a footrace (110K in 1986) as well as longest consecutively running footrace (annually since 1912). Records aside, the race is best known for its colorful costumes and celebratory community spirit (it was initiated after the disastrous 1906 earthquake as a way to boost the city's spirits).

The city is also home to some famous golf courses, including the Harding Park Golf Course and the courses of the Olympic Club. In 2004 San Francisco and New York City were the two finalists chosen by the U.S. Olympic committee to represent the U.S. in the International bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Ultimately, New York won the U.S. bid but eventually lost to London to host the XXII Olympiad. However, San Francisco Bay Area Sport Officials are showing interest in yet another bid, for the 2016 games.


Roads and highways

The Bay Bridge connects San Francisco with Oakland and the East Bay.
The Bay Bridge connects San Francisco with Oakland and the East Bay.

Because of its unique geography —making "beltways" somewhat impractical— and the "Freeway Revolt" of the late 1950's, San Francisco is one of the few cities in the US including Boston and New York City that has opted for European style arterial thoroughfares instead of a large network of major highways.

The Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco with Marin County
The Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco with Marin County

From San Francisco, the Bay Bridge is the only direct automobile link to the East Bay. Similarly, the Golden Gate Bridge is the only direct road access to Marin County.

The major highways in San Francisco are Interstate 80 which begins at the Bay Bridge and goes eastbound; US 101 which extends Interstate 80 to the south towards Silicon Valley. Northbound, US 101 uses arterial streets, Van Ness Avenue and Lombard Street to the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County. Interstate 280 runs from South of Market to the west, and then south towards Silicon Valley and Highway 1 which bisects the westside of the city as a arterial thoroughfare.

Public transportation

A cable car on the Powell & Market turntable.
A cable car on the Powell & Market turntable.

San Francisco has the most extensive public transit system on the West Coast and one of the most diverse in the country.

Muni is the city-owned public transit system which operates the Muni Metro light rail system, the F Market heritage streetcar line and the famous San Francisco cable car system (see above), together with buses and trolleybuses. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is the regional transit system, which connects San Francisco with the East Bay through an underwater tunnel (the Transbay Tube), and Northern San Mateo County, California communities and San Francisco International Airport on the San Francisco Peninsula.

San Francisco runs a series of refurbished vintage streetcars down its main thoroughfare Market Street
San Francisco runs a series of refurbished vintage streetcars down its main thoroughfare Market Street

In addition, a frequent commuter rail service, Caltrain, operates between San Francisco, San Jose, California and Gilroy, California. A small fleet of commuter ferries operate from the Embarcadero to points in Marin County, Oakland, and north to Vallejo in Solano County.


San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is located 12.9 km (8 miles) south of the city in San Mateo County on a landfill extension into the San Francisco Bay. It is the only major international hub airport in California other than LAX in Los Angeles. During the late 1990s economic boom, SFO was the sixth busiest international airport in the world, but has since fallen off of the top ten during the economic depression of 2000-2001. Rail extensions there include BART and Caltrain via BART at nearby Millbrae, California.

Other large airports in the region include Oakland International Airport (OAK), 32.2 km (20 miles) east of San Francisco and Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC), 70.8 km (44 miles) southwest of San Francisco.


Historic wharves near Fort Mason
Historic wharves near Fort Mason

The Port of San Francisco was once the largest and busiest seaport on the west coast. The advent of container shipping made San Francisco's pier based port obsolete, as much of the city's container traffic is now limited to a small port in the south-east corner of the city, or sent across the bay to the Port of Oakland. Many of the piers remained derelict for years until recently, when the port converted many of the piers to office space and sold them. Most of the port's activities are now mostly for commuter ferries that leave from the Ferry Building, cruise ship docking, and tourism. There are now plans in the works to build a major cruise ship terminal/mall similar to Pier 39.

Sister cities

San Francisco has fourteen sister cities, as designated by Sister Cities International, Inc. (SCI): Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Assisi (Italy), Sydney (Australia), Thessaloniki (Greece), Taipei (Taiwan), Zurich (Switzerland), Caracas (Venezuela), Cork (Ireland), Haifa (Israel), Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Manila (Philippines), Osaka (Japan), Seoul (South Korea), and Shanghai (China).

Famous San Franciscans

Many notable people have grown up in, or have lived, or currently live in the city as adults in San Francisco. Photographers Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange, writer Anne Rice, comedian Gracie Allen, actor and director Clint Eastwood, "mother" of Modern Dance Isadora Duncan, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, author Armistead Maupin, author Danielle Steel, musician Carlos Santana, pianist Vanessa Carlton, Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett, musician Chris Isaak, personality Courtney Love, radio talk show host Michael Savage, 19th century authors, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Jack London, Oscar Wilde, film directors Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Chris Columbus and Phillip Kaufman, pioneering stripper Carol Doda and actors Robin Williams, Danny Glover and Cheech Marin are examples of notable arts and entertainment figures who were born, have lived, or currently live in the city.

Baseball player Barry Bonds, American football legend O.J. Simpson, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and Olympic gold medallist and Football Hall-of-famer Ollie Matson are all sportspeople with San Francisco connections.

US Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, former Governors of California Jerry Brown and Pat Brown, US Senator Dianne Feinstein, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, former US Secretaries of Defense Robert McNamara and Caspar Weinberger, current FBI director Robert Mueller and gay rights activists Harvey Milk and Jose Sarria were or are San Franciscans who made names for themselves in politics.

Other famous San Franciscans include philanthropist Gordon Getty, publisher William Randolph Hearst, journalist Ambrose Bierce, and co-founder of Intel Corporation and the author of Moore's law, Gordon E. Moore and actors Sean Penn and Rob Schneider.


  • Some Dexter's Laboratory fans have identified San Francisco as the city where the show takes place, while Orchid Bay City where The Life and Times of Juniper Lee takes place is based on San Francisco. Other television shows that use San Francisco as a setting include Nash Bridges and Disney's That's So Raven. See also: List of television shows set in San Francisco.
  • San Francisco is a location in RPG Fallout 2.
  • In the Star Trek fictional universe, Starfleet Headquarters and Academy are located on what is currently the Presidio of San Francisco. Additionally, Captain Kirk's U.S.S. Enterprise was San Francisco-class but was later changed by script writers to a more appropriate (following United States Navy warship naming conventions) Constitution-class.
  • Three streets in San Francisco, Stockton, Broadway and Geary, have two sets of sidewalks, because the tunnels have sidewalks and so do the streets above.
  • Opera Tenor Enrico Caruso who was in town during the 1906 Earthquake & fire swore to never return to San Francisco. Later in his life, he reneged on that vow, although he died before he was able to do it.
  • The first reinforced concrete bridge in America, Lake Alvord Bridge, was constructed in 1889. But the 116-year-old prototype still arches strongly today over a pedestrian entrance to San Francisco's Golden Gate park, welcoming visitors to the Children's Quarters.

Known as the Lake Alvord Bridge, it was built in 1889 by Ernest L. Ransome, the great 19th century innovator in reinforced concrete design, mixing equipment, and construction systems. The bridge was constructed as a single arch 64-feet wide with a 20-foot span. Ransome is believed to have used his patented cold-twisted square steel bar for reinforcement, placed longitudinally in the arch and curved in the same arc. The face of the bridge was scored and hammered to resemble sandstone.

E.L. Ransome left San Francisco a few years later, frustrated and bitter at the building community's indifference to concrete construction. Ironically, the city's few reinforced concrete structures, including the Lake Alvord Bridge, survived the 1906 earthquake and fire in remarkable shape, vindicating Ransome's faith in the method.

The Lake Alvord Bridge was designated a civil engineering landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in the 1970's.


  1. ^  Wiley, Peter Booth (2000). National Trust Guide San Francisco, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. ISBN 0-471-19120-5
  2. ^  "San Francisco Cemeteries." Accessed July 12, 2005.


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