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Encyclopedia > San Francisco
This article is about the city in California. For other meanings, see San Francisco (disambiguation).
San Francisco skyline.
San Francisco skyline.

The City and County of San Francisco (population 776,773), the fourth-largest city in the state of California, United States in terms of population, is a consolidated city-county situated at the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula that forms San Francisco Bay.

The city is the focal point of the San Francisco Bay Area metropolitan area, whose total population is about 7 million. U.S. census data shows San Francisco to have the highest population density of any city aside from New York City.

Golden Gate Bridge

The first Europeans to settle in San Francisco were the Spanish, in 1776. The city grew rapidly due to the California gold rush starting in 1848.

The city was devastated by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but was rebuilt quickly. 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 at the end of the century.

San Francisco, California
City flag City seal
City nickname: "The City by the Bay"

Location in the state of California
County City and County of San Francisco, California
 - Total
 - Water

600.7 km² (231.9 mi²)
479.7 km² (185.2 mi²) 79.86%

 - Total (2000)

 - Density


Time zone Pacific: UTC-8


37°46' N
122°26' W

Widely-recognized landmarks include the San Francisco cable car system, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Transamerica Pyramid.



European visitors to the Bay Area were preceded 10,000 to 20,000 years earlier by native people indigenous to the area. These people, later called the Ohlone (a Miwok Indian word meaning "western people"), lived in the coastal area between Point Sur and the San Francisco Bay.

European discovery and exploration of the San Francisco Bay Area began in 1542 and culminated with the mapping of the bay in 1775. A Spanish party led by Juan Bautista de Anza arrived on March 28, 1776 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"). The area first began to develop as a city under the name of Yerba Buena in 1822, when what is now the downtown area was first settled by William Richardson, an English whaler.

Yerba Buena remained a small town until the Mexican-American War broke out and a naval force under Commodore John D. Sloat took it in 1846 in the name of the United States. It was then renamed "San Francisco" on 30 January 1847.

The California gold rush starting in 1848 led to a large growth in population, including considerable immigration. Between January 1848 and December 1849, the population of San Francisco increased from 1,000 to 25,000. The Chinatown district of the city is still one of the largest in the country and is probably the largest concentration of Chinese in any single city outside of China. Many businesses started at that time to service the growing population are still present today, notably Levi Strauss & Co. clothing, Ghirardelli chocolate, and Wells Fargo bank.

Like many mining towns, the political situation 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. Disgusted by increasing corruption and crime, a group of San Franciscans formed a Committee of Vigilance in 1851, and again in 1856. This military government exiled many citizens, executed a few, and forced several elected officials to resign. The Committee of Vigilance relinquished power both times after it decided the city had been 'cleaned up'.

San Francisco became the USA's largest city west of those on the Mississippi River.

Market Street, early 20th century

San Francisco County was one of the original counties of California, created in 1850 at the time of statehood. All of the county not in the city limits was split off to form San Mateo County in 1856.

Founded in 1855, The University of San Francisco was one of the first universities in the West. The University will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2005. Located near Turk and Masonic the campus can be seen from miles around.

The most colorful figure of late 19th century San Francisco was "Emperor" Joshua A. Norton.

In 1900, a ship from China brought with it rats infected with bubonic plague. 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.

On April 18, 1906, a devastating earthquake struck the city. The quake was estimated by modern scientists to have reached 8.25 on the Richter scale. The fires that followed were even more destructive, burning out of control for days and destroying the vast majority of the buildings in the city. The official reported death toll was 478, but most historians agree the true tally was much higher, probably over 3000. With the centennial of the disaster approaching, city supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier has sponsored a resolution to amend the death toll, noting "there is evidence to show the number was suppressed for political reasons" (namely that the city's reputation would have suffered). [1] (http://www.montereyherald.com/mld/montereyherald/news/10737701.htm) See also: 1906 San Francisco earthquake

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. On July 22, 1916 a bomb exploded on Market Street during a Preparedness Day parade, killing 10 and injuring 40.

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 United Nations Charter was drafted at San Francisco in 1945.

During the early 1950s, 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. Today, San Francisco has a statewide reputation for traffic congestion second only to Los Angeles.

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 segregating circumstances 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 Hunter's Point or even to cities such as Oakland. He began levelling 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 beatnik literature. During the latter half of the following decade, the 1960s, San Francisco was the center of hippie culture. Thousands of young people poured into the Haight-Ashbury district of the city during 1967, which was 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. The Church Of Satan was founded and made its headquarters here in 1966. During the 1980s and 1990s San Francisco became a major focal point in the North American--and international-- punk and rave scene. Punk venues like the On Broadway paved the way for San Francisco's influential bands like the Dead Kennedy's, The Avengers, and later MDC. Independent, DIY punk projects and zines like Maximum Rock and Roll and Epicenter community center carried the punk ethic well into the 1990s, eventually blossoming into the East Bay scene, anchored by the 924 Gilman Street venue, Lookout records, and punks bands such as Green Day, Crimpshrine, Spitboy, Operation Ivy, and Filth. On the rave scene, the city was the first to host the Love Parade outside its birthplace of Berlin, Germany in 2004.

In the 1970s, large numbers of gay people moved to San Francisco's Castro district, which previous to their arrival, had been abandoned by Irish-Americans who moved enmass to the more affluent and culturally homogenous suburbs. Traditionally, the gay community had centered around the Polk Street area and was comprised largely of gay World War II veterans who sought refuge from the intolerant communities they were drafted out of. The late 1960's 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 it's gay-friendly reputation, but for it's reputation as a radical, left-wing epicenter. These lesbians and gays were the prime movers of Gay Liberation and often lived communally, buying (like their straight counterparts) decrepid 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. Because of the rise of this new population, as well as the overall change in ethnic and cultural demographics, tensions arose in the city, and these tensions led to tragedy in 1978 when a conservative member of the Board of Supervisors and a former cop, Dan White, murdered San Francisco's first openly gay elected official, Supervisor Harvey Milk and the city's mayor George Moscone on November 27 (see "Twinkie Defense"). Today, the gay population of the city is estimated to be at about 15%, and gays remain an important force in the city's politics.

During the 1980s, homeless people began appearing in large numbers in the city, the result of factors that were affecting the country at large combined with San Francisco's attractive environment and forgiving policies: economic and social changes, the popularity of new addictive drugs, and the wide dispersal of Vietnam veterans are often cited as reasons for the growth of the problem. 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 lenient policy led to his being replaced by Frank Jordan in 1992. 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.

During the dot-com boom of the 1990s, large numbers of young entrepreneurs and computer software professionals moved into the city, followed by hordes of 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 of the dot com people left in search of the next opportunity. SoMa, where many dot com companies were located, had been bustling and crowded with nearly no vacancies, but by 2002 was a virtual wasteland of empty offices and for rent signs. Craig Newmark founded the website Craigslist based in his San Francisco home. Craigslist success stands as a testament to the over production of the dot com era.

In November of 2002, three off-duty police officers (one the son of the assistant chief) reportedly assaulted two civilians over a bag of steak fajitas. The resulting scandal was dubbed "Fajitagate" after it was alleged that high-ranking officers within the Police Department had tried to cover up the incident. Though top officials were formally indicted, they were soon exonerated, but with considerable damage to their reputations, and having brought the city nationwide ridicule.

The 2003 mayoral election of Matt Gonzalez versus Gavin Newsom was notable in that it was between a candidate of the progressive left and a moderate liberal, conservative candidates having had a hard time in the city. The newly elected Mayor Newsom, who won by a close margin (thanks in part to almost unanimous support by the city's Republican voters), burst onto the national political scene when, in defiance of state law, he led San Francisco to become the first city in the U.S. to issue same-sex marriage licenses in February, 2004. Newsom also helped enact a strong new homeless policy, "Care Not Cash," in which the checks that homeless people previously received were replaced with vouchers for housing. This policy appears to be having some effect; demand for the vouchers is much weaker compared to the previous payment system.

Geography and climate

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.

San Francisco is famous for its hills and the streets which run straight up and down them. Three of San Francisco's notable hill neighborhoods are Nob Hill, Russian Hill, and Telegraph Hill, all located in or near the downtown area.

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.

Not to be missed are the beautiful homes and area of the city known as Pacific Heights. 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 60s to low 70s Fahrenheit, while in the winter it virtually never reaches freezing. Rain in the summer is extremely rare, but winters can often be very rainy. Snow is virtually unheard of. 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 mean that San Francisco's western half is often shrouded in fog during the months of July and August. Thus, the summer temperatures are significantly lower in San Francisco than in other parts of inland California. The fog is less pronounced during the month of September, which is generally the warmest, most summer-like month of the year.

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 itself is often reputed to be roughly a seven mile by seven mile square, but in fact it is slightly smaller, 46.7 mi².

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


Some 40 miles south of San Francisco is the Silicon Valley, which holds much of the computing business in the world.

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, a regional stock 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.

Companies headquartered in San Francisco

Apple Computer is based in nearby Cupertino. Electronic Arts and Oracle Corporation are based in nearby Redwood City. Yahoo! is headquartered in nearby Sunnyvale. ChevronTexaco and IPIX are based in nearby San Ramon. Safeway is based in nearby Pleasanton. Google is headquartered (at the "Googleplex") in Mountain View, as is Sun Microsystems. Cisco Systems is headquartered in nearby San Jose. ComicsOne is headquartered in Fremont.

Law and government

Jake McGoldrick
Michela Alioto-Pier
Aaron Peskin
Fiona Ma
Ross Mirkarimi
Chris Daly
Sean Elsbernd
Bevan Dufty
Tom Ammiano
Sophie Maxwell
Gerardo Sandoval

San Francisco is both a city and a county, and is the only one of California's 58 counties to possess that unique status. It is governed by a mayor, who runs the executive branch of the city, and a Board of Supervisors, who are elected to represent 11 districts in the city. The current Board of Supervisors are listed in the table on the right.

While most cities in California are General Law Cities, San Francisco in one of a few Charter Cities, theoretically giving the city's voters additional control over governmental structures and allowing the city to exercise considerable control over some lands not located in the city such as those associated with San Francisco International Airport and the Hetch Hetchy water and power system.

A recent electoral innovation that was to be implemented for the November 2003 elections, but was not prepared in time, is the use of ranked preference voting, also known as instant runoff voting. This should be ready by the next electoral cycle and will be closely watched by other Californians, as it is believed to offer the potential for third party candidates to effectively compete within the current two party dominated system. (Although the city offices are, by state law, non-partisan, there are still considerable political differences among candidates that may generally be identified as being aligned with various parties.)

The current mayor is Gavin Newsom. The current President of the Board of Supervisors is Aaron Peskin.

The headquarters of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Supreme Court of California, and the First Appelate District of the California Courts of Appeal are in San Francisco.

See also: List of Mayors of San Francisco, California


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 fifth most dense city in the country [2] (http://gislounge.com/features/aa041101c.shtml). . 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.

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 householder 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. Males have a median income of $46,260 versus $40,049 for females. The per capita income for the city is $34,556. 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.

Contemporary life

The city is serviced by several public transit systems. Muni is the city-owned public transit system which operates buses, electric trolleybuses, streetcars and the famous Cable cars (see above). BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is the regional transit system, which connects San Francisco with the East Bay (California) and the San Mateo County, California communities on the San Francisco Peninsula. In addition, a commuter rail service, Caltrain, operates between San Francisco, San Jose, California and Gilroy, California.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) opened in 1995.

San Francisco is the home of the San Francisco 49ers National Football League team and the San Francisco Giants Major League Baseball team.

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). San Francisco also has great nightlife, ranging from bars to lounges to clubs. The three party areas in SF are: in the North Beach Area, the Marina area, and the SoMa (South of Market) area.

See also: Golden Gate Bridge, Northern California, San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley


See main article: Neighborhoods in San Francisco, California

Like many large cities in the US, San Francisco has a Japantown and Chinatown; both are among the biggest in the US. The Mission District is one of the oldest neighborhoods, as it was the site of one of the sixth mission in California. Russian Hill is probably most noted for the top end of that portion of Lombard Street that is sometimes referred to as "the crookedest (most winding) street in the world". Haight-Ashbury gained prominence during the 1960s as one of the prominent concentrations of hippies.


See main article: Parks in San Francisco, California

The best-known, as well as biggest, park is Golden Gate Park. Another notable park is The Presidio, which is just one part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which also includes Alcatraz. Buena Vista Park is the city's oldest, established in 1867


See main article: Culture of San Francisco, California

Some of the most notable landmarks are the Transamerica Pyramid and Golden Gate Bridge. Museums include San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Cable Car Museum, along with offbeat museums such as Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum and the Tattoo Art Museum.

San Francisco has been the setting for numerous television programs, such as Dharma & Greg, The Streets of San Francisco, and, more recently, Monk.

Movies set in the city include Basic Instinct, Edtv, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Pacific Heights, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, The Presidio, and Vertigo.

Other fictional works set in San Francisco include The Joy Luck Club and The Maltese Falcon.

City flag

The flag depicts an arising Phoenix, symbolic of the City's recovery from the 1906 fire.

City seal

The seal depicts two workingmen, on one side a miner and on the other a sailor with a sextant. Above is a rising phoenix and behind the bay with sailing ships.




  • Local
    • Port of San Francisco, administers entire waterfront, most northern piers are now limited to cruise boats and ferries while modern container traffic goes through India Basin in the southeast corner of the city
  • Further Away
    • Port of Oakland, 15 miles away from San Francisco, the primary cargo port for Northern California

Famous San Franciscans

See also: List of famous San Franciscans

There have been many notable people from, or residents in, San Francisco. In the arts and literature, this includes photographer Ansel Adams, comedian Gracie Allen, actor and director Clint Eastwood, "mother" of Modern Dance Isadora Duncan, poet Robert Frost, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, author Jack London, singer Tony Bennett, and actor Robin Williams.

In sports, there's baseball player Barry Bonds, American football legend O.J. Simpson, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, and another American football legend, Joe Montana.

In politics and government, there's US Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, former Governors of California Jerry Brown and Pat Brown, US Senator Dianne Feinstein, and former US Secretaries of Defense Robert McNamaraand Caspar Weinberger.

In other fields there's oil philanthropist Gordon Getty, publisher William Randolph Hearst, and co-founder of Intel Corporation and the author of Moore's law Gordon E. Moore.

External links

  • Maps and aerial photos
    • Street map from Mapquest (http://www.mapquest.com/maps/map.adp?latlongtype=decimal&latitude=37.759881&longitude=-122.437392&zoom=6)
    • Topographic map from Topozone (http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?lat=37.759881&lon=-122.437392&s=200&size=m&layer=DRG100)
    • Aerial photograph from Terraserver (http://terraservice.net/map.aspx?t=1&s=14&lon=-122.437392&lat=37.759881&w=75

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