European discovery and exploration of the San Francisco Bay Area began in 1542 and culminated with the mapping of the bay in 1775. Early 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.
A Spanish colonizing party arrived in 1776 and founded the Presidio, a military base on the northern tip of the peninsula, and Mission Dolores, located in what is now the Mission district. San Francisco (named after Saint Francis of Assisi) did not develop as a city until much later, in 1822, when what is now the downtown area was first settled by William Richardson, an English whaler.
San Francisco remained a small town until the California gold rush of 1849. This resulted in a large growth in population, including considerable immigration. The Chinatown district of the city is still one of the largest in the country. Many businesses started at that time to service the growing population are still present today, notably Levi Strauss clothing, Ghirardelli chocolate, and Wells Fargo bank.
San Francisco lies near the San Andreas fault, a major source of earthquake activity in California. The most serious earthquake to strike San Francisco hit on April 18, 1906. Estimated by modern scientists to have reached 8.25 on the Richter scale, this devasting earthquake and the fires that followed destroyed buildings and killed hundreds of residents (some say thousands actually died).
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 in the Haight-Ashbury district of the city during the year 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.
Later, in the 1970s, large numbers of gays moved to San Francisco's Castro district. Tensions arose in the city over the cultural changes wrought by this migration, and these tensions led to tragedy in 1979 when a conservative member of the Board of Supervisors, Dan White, murdered a gay Supervisor, Harvey Milk and mayor Dan Moscone. 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 internet boom of the 1990s, large numbers of young entrepeneurs and computer software professionals moved into the city, and changed the economic 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.
Geography and Climate
San Francisco is famous for its hills, and the streets which run straight and up and down them. The more notable hills in San Francisco are Nob Hill, Russian Hill, and Telegraph Hill, all located in or near downtown. San Francisco is also famous for its cable cars, which were designed to carry residents up those steep hills, and it is still possible today to take a cable car up and down Nob and Russian Hill. San Francisco's cable cars are the only mobile United States National Monument. Atop Telegraph Hill is located a notable landmark, Coit Tower, dedicated to San Francisco's firefighters.
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 Mediteranean climate characterized by cool, foggy summers and relatively warm winters. Rain in the summer is extremely rare, but winters can often be very rainy. High temperatures in the summer are typically the mid to upper 60s Fahrenheit, while in the summer it virtually never reaches freezing. Occasional offshore flows of air bring hot air into San Francisco during the summer, when temperatures can reach 100 degrees, but this is rare and it usually only lasts a few days, before the region's "natural air conditioning" takes over and cools the city down again.
- North Beach
- The Haight
- The Castro
- The Mission
- The Tenderloin
- Pacific Heights
- The Sunset and Richmond (the Avenues)
- Golden Gate Park
San Francisco is both a city and a county, and 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.
San Francisco is one of the most densely populated cities in the United States. The city is serviced by several public transit systems. MUNI is the city-owned public transit system which operates busses, streetcars, and cable cars. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is the regional transit system, which connects San Francisco with the East Bay and the San Mateo County communities on the San Francisco Peninsula. In addition, a commuter rail service, CalTrain, operates between San Francisco and San Jose.