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San Francisco is a unique city famous for Hollywood-style car chases, clanging cable cars, beautiful Victorian-styled buildings and a liberal, relaxed community, all set within a picturesque landscape of steep hills and bound on three sides by water.
The city is situated on a small parcel of land on the northern point of a peninsular on the west coast of California and is bound by San Francisco Bay to the East, Golden Gate strait to the North and the Pacific Ocean to the West. It has a mild climate and is comfortable to visit all year round. The overall size of San Francisco is about 11 km by 11 km (or 7 miles by 7 miles) and having a population of over 800,000 makes it one of the most densely populated cities in the US.
Traditionally the home of the Yelamu peoples, the region remained unsettled by Europeans until Spanish missionaries established a community there in 1776 and it was recognized as a Spanish colony. Subsequent to Mexico’s gaining independence from Spain in 1821 San Francisco’s governance automatically reverted to Mexico. Following their victory in the Mexican / American War of 1846-1848 America took control of the region and San Francisco became American territory. It was incorporated as a city on April 16, 1850, with California becoming part of the Union later that year.
The next three decades were a riot of gold-rush population growth, unregulated construction and a struggling urban infrastructure.
By the late 1800s city officials had reined in the chaos and construction in the city was again properly governed resulting in the beautification of San Francisco. This was all undone in the great earthquake of 1906 in which 80% of the city was leveled by the quake and ensuing fire. However, the lessons of the past had be learned well and the city was completely rebuilt and showcased in the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915.
The ‘30s were much better to San Francisco than many other parts of the US and two major bridge projects were undertaken with the Oakland Bay Bridge completed in 1933 and the Golden Gate Bridge completed in 1937.
The post war ‘40s and ‘50s were decades of prosperity with increased urban development, a continued population growth and capital investment in building resulting in a transformation of the city’s downtown skyline.
The chaotic period of the hippie and drug counterculture of the ‘60s was tempered by the influx of high tech industries into the southern Bay area which became known as Silicon Valley. The ‘70s brought with it an expanding gay community and the establishment of several ‘gay neighbourhoods’, and the advancement in microprocessor technology spurred on the computer industries in Silicon Valley which carried on through the ‘80s. Tourism became an increasingly important part of San Francisco’s economy for the ensuing decades, and the dot-com boom of the ‘90s brought even more high tech companies into the San Francisco area.
The San Francisco of today is a culmination of this rich history and continues to be a tourist drawcard while maintaining strong information technology and biotechnology industries.
There are so many things to do and see in San Francisco and they are all easily accessible. There are over 200 parks to choose from, dozens of museums and art galleries dotted around the city and hundreds of bars, restaurants and roadside stands.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a neighbourhood in north west San Francisco and is one of the most popular and famous tourist attractions in US. It has a host of restaurants and food stalls serving fresh seafood and also has Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and the San Francisco Maritime Museum. Pier 39, also part of Fisherman’s Wharf, is a popular tourist spot with the historical boardwalk containing many shops, restaurants and the Marine Mammal Centre.
Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay and named after Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel has a raised walkway around island providing great views of the Bay and its marine life. Used as a high security federal prison from 1934 - ’63, Alcatraz Island in the middle of San Francisco bay is now an historic tourist attraction and well worth visiting to get a glimpse of what prison life was like for California’s most dangerous criminals.
Probably the most famous of San Francisco’s landmarks is the Golden Gate Bridge which has a main span of 1280 metres (4200 feet) and links San Francisco and Marin County to the North. Its not unusual to see the bridge shrouded in fog before the early morning sun burns it away and the afternoon sea breeze comes in from the west. Not to be outdone the Oakland Bay Bridge (or ‘Bay Bridge’), that links San Francisco with the city of Oakland to the East and spans San Francisco Bay, has one of the longest spans in the world and carries around 270,000 vehicles a day.
San Francisco Zoo is on the West coast of the peninsular adjacent to Lake Merced. ‘Hippie Hill’ on the Haight is worth visiting if you want a fun trip back to the ‘60s counterculture. No trip to San Francisco would be complete without taking a ride on a cable car. Although they only operate in a small area of the city and are expensive, slow and noisy, they’re a quaint reminder of how life used to be. Its also a chance to ride on the last continually operating, manually-run cable car network in the world.
San Francisco has a rich history, endless things to do and places to see and friendly and tolerant communities that are true neighbourhoods that a visit to this marvelous city will give you fond memories for decades to come.
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