Destination guide: San Francisco, United States

San Francisco is in the state of California, on the Pacific coast of the western United States. Its main attractions are the Golden Gate Bridge, the trams that go up and down the city’s hills, Chinatown, Silicon Valley, Alcatraz and the Sierra Nevada mountains.

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  • San Francisco - History Overview

    Oysters and acorns would have been your main dinner options in the Mexico-run Ohlone settlement of San Francisco circa 1847; however, a year and some gold nuggets later, beer and steak were the order of the day. By 1849, gold found in the nearby Sierra Nevada foothills had turned a waterfront village of 800 into a port city of 100,000 prospectors, card sharks, con men, prostitutes and honest folk trying to make an honest living -. By 1850, California had been nabbed from Mexico and fast-tracked for US statehood, presenting San Francisco with the problem of introducing public order to 200 saloons and an untold number of brothels and gambling dens. Panic struck when Australia glutted the market with gold in 1854, and ire turned irrationally on the city's Chinese community, who from 1877 to 1945 were restricted to living and working in Chinatown by anti-Chinese laws and periodic race riots. The main way out of debt was dangerous work building railroads for the city's robber barons, who dynamited, mined and clear-cut their way across the Golden West, and built grand Nob Hill mansions towering above Chinatown.

    The city's lofty ambitions and 20-plus theaters came crashing down in 1906, when earthquake and fire left 3000 dead, 100,000 homeless and much of the city reduced to rubble - including almost every mansion on Nob Hill. Theater troupes and opera divas performed for free amid smoldering ruins downtown, reviving a performing arts tradition that continues to this day.

    Ambitious public works projects continued through the 1930s, when Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and federally funded muralists began the tradition of leftist politics in paint visible in 250-plus Mission murals.

    WWII brought seismic shifts to San Francisco's community as women and African Americans working in San Francisco shipyards created a new economic boom, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 mandated the internment of the city's historic Japanese American community. A 40-year court battle ensued, ending in an unprecedented apology from the US government. San Francisco became a testing ground for civil rights and free speech, with Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights Bookstore winning a landmark 1957 ruling against book banning, with the publication of Allen Ginsberg's splendid, incendiary Howl.

    The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) hoped an experimental drug called LSD might turn San Francisco test subject Ken Kesey into the ultimate fighting machine, but instead the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest served it up in Kool-Aid and kicked off the psychedelic '60s. The Summer of Love brought free food, love and music to the Haight - an out and proud gay community to the Castro - and back-to-nature California cuisine to natural food co-ops and restaurants nationwide.

    The 1980s meant bloated stock market gains and devastating losses from AIDS, but the city rallied from recession in the early '90s to become a model for disease treatment and prevention. When other California cities systematically shut out homeless people by closing clinics and forbidding sitting on sidewalks, San Francisco absorbed homeless Vietnam veterans, runaways and addicts, and continues the work of repairing shattered lives today.

    The city's arty cyberpunk crowd introduced wild ideas to Silicon Valley in the 1990s, spawning a dot-com boom that abruptly changed San Francisco's public image from grungy downtown bike messengers to slick South of Market venture capitalists. Then just as suddenly, the bubble popped in 2000. But rents and hopes were never entirely deflated, and San Francisco's quintessential bohemians are clutching their rent-controlled leases for dear life as the recession hits, social media takes off and a biotech boom begins. This is where you come in, just in time for San Francisco's next wild ride.