San Francisco: General Information



San Francisco is a city in northern California, located at the north end of the San Francisco Peninsula surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. It is known for its diverse and open-minded cultural scene, hilly landscape, year-round fog, iconic views, cable cars and colorful Victorian houses.

San Francisco has several nicknames, including "The City by the Bay", "Fog City", "San Fran", and "Frisco", as well as antiquated ones like "The City that Knows How," "Baghdad by the Bay," and "The Paris of the West”.

The City owes much of its special character to its isolation at the tip of a hill-studded peninsula. The city’s many hills, and the bay and the ocean that surround it have a great influence on how San Francisco developed.

There are more than 50 hills within city limits. Some neighborhoods are named after the hill on which they are situated, including Nob Hill, Russian Hill, and Potrero Hill. San Francisco's shoreline has grown beyond its natural limits. Entire neighborhoods such as the Marina, Mission Bay, and Hunter’s Point, as well as large sections of the Embarcadero, sit on areas of landfill.


San Francisco's climate is generally characterized by moist mild winters and dry summers with the coolest daily mean, maximum, and minimum temperatures for June, July, and August among major U.S. cities. Its weather is strongly influenced by the cool currents of the Pacific Ocean, which moderate temperature swings produce a remarkably mild year-round climate with little seasonal temperature variation. Fog is a regular feature of San Francisco summers but is less pronounced in eastern neighborhoods and during the late summer and early fall, which is the warmest time of the year. Because of its sharp topography and maritime influences, San Francisco exhibits a multitude of distinct microclimates. The high hills in the geographic center of the city are responsible for a 20% variance in annual rainfall between different parts of the city.


Starting around 10,000 BC, the ocean came to today’s level and surrounded what is now San Francisco on three sides. Between 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, the Bay Area’s first human inhabitants were Indians, comprising of the four distinct tribes: the Coast Miwoks, the Wintun, the Yokuts, and the Costanoans or Ohlone. San Francisco at that time was primarily sand dunes.

Despite the fact that starting from the mid-16th century Spanish explorers started navigating along California coast, San Francisco remained undiscovered until 1769 due to its unique geographic location and weather conditions. Ironically, it was first sighted during an overland expedition in the area.

The city that later became known as San Francisco was founded on June 29, 1776 when colonists from Spain celebrated a mass near present-day Mission Dolores. At that time, it was a territory of the Spanish empire (along with the rest of California). In 1821 California became a Mexican territory once Mexico declared its independence from Spain. The San Francisco Bay Area was then nothing more than a backwater at the northern end of the new republic of Mexico.

On July 9, 1846, during Mexican-American war, American naval forces led by Captain John B. Montgomery, raised the American flag over the main plaza of the city and claimed San Francisco for the United States. On January 23, 1847 the city obtained its current name - until then it was known as “Yerba Buena”.

The discovery of gold in early 1848 and the subsequent California Gold Rush of 1849 brought rapid growth, making San Francisco the largest city on the West Coast at the time. The promise of great riches was so strong that crews on arriving vessels deserted and rushed off to the gold fields, leaving behind a forest of masts in San Francisco harbor. Gambling, prostitution, and other entertainments flourished. Construction boomed and real estate skyrocketed in value.

Following the Gold Rush, San Francisco continued its rapid development for several reasons. In the 1860s, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, and Collis P. Huntington (who later became known as the “Big Four” and became fabulously wealthy) founded the Central Pacific Railroad which connected California to the rest of the country.

The discovery of silver in western Nevada led to other fortunes being amassed in 1860s and 1870s. William Ralston and Darius O. Mills, who founded the Bank of California in 1864, were the initial beneficiaries of what was called the Big Bonanza – the richest silver discovery ever. These bankers were later superseded by a quartet known as the Bonanza or Silver Kings – James Fair, James Flood, John MacKay and William O’Brien.

The wealthy lived in splendor up on the heights but down below near the waterfront the bottom of the heap existed in an area known as Barbary Coast, infamous for being a hangout for criminals of all kinds who profited from prostitution and shanghaiing for the forced sea duty. It was not until 1917, when the Red Light Abatement Act was passed to close down the brothels that this raucous district faded away.

The 19th century left behind two institutions that are still going strong today – the Golden Gate Park (where planting started in 1870) and the cable cars (first launched in 1873) which largely contributed to the City’s expansion through its steep hills and extended 112 miles all over San Francisco by the late 1880s (today, a reduced back system covers 10.5 miles in the northeast corner of town).

A radical change in San Francisco history took place on April 18, 1906 when the city was struck by one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded in North America. While damage was initially comparatively moderate, the shaking left the city’s water lines broken, this later led to an inability to extinguish a number of small earthquake-related fires. An enormous conflagration resulted and destroyed almost the entire downtown as well South of Market and parts of Mission District areas over the course of three days.

Once the debris was cleared, San Francisco was quickly rebuilt and subsequently hosted a Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in 1915. A new grand plan of the city was proposed by the leading urban planner of the day, Daniel H. Burnham who had drawn his inspiration from the “City Beautiful” movement, known for incorporating its classically inspired public buildings into city plans featuring parks and boulevards.

As the 20th century progressed, San Francisco continued to grow. Despite the Great Depression, both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge were erected. The decade ended with San Francisco hosting a world’s fair, the Golden Gate International Exposition (more commonly referred to as Treasure Island).

By the time the United States entered into World War II in 1941, San Francisco started its transformation into the highly diverse and open society it has become today. The war brought a huge influx of newcomers to the City as soldiers were drafted to service many military bases in the Bay Area. African Americans came in large numbers from the South to work in defense plants and settled in Japantown / Fillmore areas – replacing the Japanese Americans who were unjustly removed from the neighborhoods on suspicion of being enemy aliens.

After World War II, a counterculture revolution started in North Beach in 1950s, which followed by the flowering of the hippies in Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s. The Haight Ashbury phenomenon left a legacy of increased tolerance: it was one of the influences that led to gains by gays, women, and ethnic minorities during the 1970s and 1980s. Today, San Francisco continues to build an enduring reputation as a city of diversity of all kinds: racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual.

On October 17, 1989, northern California was hit with by a 6.8 earthquake, the biggest since 1906. Amongst top sites of destructions were upper decks of the Bay Bridge and the dramatic damage and fire in the Marina district. The quake severely damaged many of the city's freeways including the Embarcadero Freeway and the Central Freeway but the damaged areas were quickly restored.

The 1990s saw the demolition of the earthquake damaged Embarcadero and Central Freeway, restoring the once blighted Hayes Valley as well as the city's waterfront promenade, the Embarcadero. In 1996, the city elected its first and to date only African American mayor, former Speaker of the California State Assembly, Willie Brown.

During the dot-com boom of the late 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. In 2001, the markets crashed, the boom ended, and many left San Francisco.  By 2003, the city's economy had recovered from the dot-com crash thanks to a resurgent international tourist industry and the Web 2.0 boom which saw the creation of many new internet and software start-up companies in the city, attracting white-collar workers, recent University graduates, and young adults from all over the world.   Residential demand as well as rents rose again, and as a result city officials relaxed building height restrictions and zoning codes to construct high-rise residential condominiums in South of Market neighborhood.

San Francisco Today

Today, San Francisco is the cultural, commercial, and business center of Northern California. At approximately 50 square miles, it is the smallest and the most densely populated county in California and the second-most densely populated major city in the United States after New York City. It has a diversified service economy, with employment spread across a wide range of professional services, including financial services, tourism, and high technology. San Francisco is also the headquarters of five major banking institutions and various other companies such as Levi Strauss & Co., Gap, Inc.,,, Reddit, Square, Inc., Airbnb, Twitter, Uber, Mozilla, Craigslist and many others.

The international character that San Francisco has enjoyed since its founding is continued today by large numbers of immigrants from Asia and Latin America. San Francisco has a minority-majority population, as non-Hispanic whites comprise less than half of the population.


The University of California, San Francisco is the sole campus of the University of California system entirely dedicated to graduate education in health and biomedical sciences. It is ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States and operates the UCSF Medical Center, ranking among the top 15 hospitals in the country.

The University of California, Hastings College of the Law, founded in Civic Center in 1878, is the oldest law school in California.

San Francisco State University is part of the California State University and has approximately 30,000 students and awards undergraduate, master's and doctoral degrees in more than 100 disciplines. The City College of San Francisco, with its main facility in the Ingleside district, is one of the largest two-year community colleges in the country.

Founded in 1855, the University of San Francisco, a private Jesuit university located on Lone Mountain, is the oldest institution of higher education in San Francisco and one of the oldest universities established west of the Mississippi River.

Golden Gate University is a private, nonsectarian, coeducational university formed in 1901 and located in the Financial District.

With an enrollment of 13,000 students, the Academy of Art University is the largest institute of art and design in the nation.

Founded in 1871, the San Francisco Art Institute is the oldest art school west of the Mississippi.

The California College of the Arts, located north of Potrero Hill, has programs in architecture, fine arts, design, and writing.

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the only independent music school on the West Coast, grants degrees in orchestral instruments, chamber music, composition, and conducting.

The California Culinary Academy, associated with the Le Cordon Bleu program, offers programs in the culinary arts, baking and pastry arts, and hospitality and restaurant management.

California Institute of Integral Studies, founded in 1968, offers a variety of graduate programs in its Schools of Professional Psychology & Health, and Consciousness and Transformation.

Cultural Scene Overview

San Francisco's entertainment scene is quite diverse as well. Its War Memorial and Performing Arts Center hosts some of the most enduring performing-arts companies in the U.S. The War Memorial Opera House houses the San Francisco Opera, the second-largest opera company in North America as well as the San Francisco Ballet, while the San Francisco Symphony plays in Davies Symphony Hall. San Francisco also has a large number of theatres and life performance venues. Local theater companies have been noted for risk taking and innovation.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) houses 20th century and contemporary works of art. It moved to its current building in the South of Market neighborhood in 1995 and now attracts more than 600,000 visitors annually. The Palace of the Legion of Honor holds primarily European antiquities and works of art at its Lincoln Park building. The de Young's museum’s collection features American decorative pieces and anthropological holdings from Africa, Oceania and the Americas. The Asian Art Museum displays artifacts from over 6,000 years of history across Asia.

California Academy of Sciences is a natural history museum that also hosts the Morrison Planetarium and Steinhart Aquarium. Located on Pier 15 on the Embarcadero, the Exploratorium is an interactive science museum founded by physicist Frank Oppenheimer in 1969. The Contemporary Jewish Museum is a non-collecting institution that curates and hosts a broad array of exhibitions each year. Two museum ships are moored near Fisherman's Wharf, the SS Jeremiah O’Brien Liberty ship and USS Pampanito submarine. On Nob Hill, the Cable Car Museum is a working museum featuring the cable car power house, which drives the cables, and the car depot.


Several of San Francisco's parks and nearly all of its beaches form part of the regional Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of the most visited units of the National Park Systemin the United States with over 13 million visitors a year.

There are more than 220 parks maintained by the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department, with Golden Gate Park being the largest and best-known city park, stretching from the center of the city west to the Pacific Ocean. Lake Merced is a fresh-water lake surrounded by parkland near the San Francisco Zoo, a city-owned park that houses more than 250 animal species.


The content displayed above was partially derived from as well as from the book by Rand Richards: “Historic San Francisco. A Concise History and Guide." 


About Kate

As a long-term resident of San Francisco, Kate is well familiar with the city’s past and present. With her professional background and deep knowledge of the local housing market, Kate is in the position to best assist with your real estate needs. Should you be looking for a recommendation on the upcoming cultural or social events and/or if you need a trusted local real estate advisor, ask Kate – San Francisco is her HOME.

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1801 Lombard Street, San Francisco, CA 94123

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