Great American Cities – San Francisco Posted by on Mar 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

After visiting a handful of east coast cities (Washington D.C., New York, Philadelphia, and Boston), our journey around the great cities of America moves out west to the Golden State – California. Today, we pay a visit to San Francisco.

Name: The name San Francisco is Spanish for “Saint Francis.” This is because the city was founded around a Spanish mission dedicated to Francis of Assisi.

A view of San Francisco.

A view of San Francisco.

Location: The city is located in northern California at the north end of the San Francisco Peninsula. Within its boundaries lie parts of the Pacific Ocean, the San Francisco Bay, and several islands. There are also over fifty hills in the city, with many neighborhoods getting their name from the hill they’re located on. Two fault lines lie nearby, making earthquakes a constant threat here.

Nicknames: A lot of the nicknames for San Francisco are simple abbreviations – SF, San Fran, and Frisco. It’s also often referred to as the City by the Bay thanks to its location, and the Fog City thanks to its funky weather.

Colorful homes in San Francisco.

Colorful homes in San Francisco.

Year Founded: Spanish explorers established Mission San Francisco de Asís (also known as Mission Dolores) here in June 1776. In 1821, the area won independence from Spain and became a part of Mexico. At the time, it was called Yerba Buena after a plant that was abundant in the area. During the Mexican-American War, California was claimed for the US in 1846. The city’s name was changed to San Francisco the next year, and in 1848 it and the state of California officially became part of the United States.

Population: The 2013 estimate of SF’s population was 837,442, making it the 14th-most populous city in the country. Although its population isn’t very high, its relatively small area makes it the second-most densely populated city, after New York. San Francisco has a minority-majority population, as non-Hispanic whites only account for 42% of the city’s residents. Asians make up 33% of the population, with Chinese being the largest minority group at around 21%.

Transportation: San Francisco has an excellent public transportation system, if you can figure it out. Three major systems are in operation here, but they are all separate organizations – the Muni, BART, and Caltrain. Do a little research before you go and figure out which forms of transport you’ll be using the most in order to figure out the best pass to buy. When it comes to getting around SF, the city’s street and cable cars are world famous. It’s also a biker-friendly city, and there are plenty of places to rent wheels if you’re just visiting. Whatever you do, try to avoid driving in San Fran – the hilly roads, one way streets, and expensive parking make it a less than desirable option.

Take public transport!

Take public transport!

Famous Places: Perhaps the most famous symbol of San Francisco is the Golden Gate Bridge, named one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World. You can also visit Golden Gate Park in the city, a massive green space with plenty to see and do.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

A nice walk in Golden Gate Park.

A nice walk in Golden Gate Park.

Near the park, you’ll find the Haight-Ashbury district. Home to the hippie movement of the 1960s and bands such as the Grateful Dead, this neighborhood has an important part in recent American culture and history. These days it’s more of a tourist trap, but it’s still an interesting place to visit.

Hangin' in the Haight.

Hangin’ in the Haight.

In addition to the Haight, San Francisco has many other interesting neighborhoods, each unique in their own way. One of the most famous is Fisherman’s Wharf, which is home to many excellent restaurants and plenty of entertainers.

Yummy seafood at Fisherman's Wharf.

Yummy seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf.

It’s also possible to take a cruise out to the defunct Alcatraz Prison, nicknamed “The Rock” and scene for an action movie starring Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage.

Welcome to the Rock!

Welcome to the Rock!

Culture: San Francisco has a diverse and vibrant culture, with an abundance of museums, theaters, music venues, and so much more. Whether you want to see the ballet or a heavy metal band, you can find it in SF. There are countless events and festivals going on throughout the year, so check the calendar before you go. The city is also home to the oldest and one of the largest Chinatowns in the US, and it holds the biggest Chinese New Year celebration in the country. San Francisco is famous for its exuberant LGBT community, which is celebrated in one of the biggest gay pride parades and festivals every June.

Chinatown in SF.

Chinatown in SF.

Sports Teams: Sports are a big part of the Bay Area culture, but there are actually only two professional teams in San Francisco:

  • NFL: San Francisco 49ers
  • MLB: San Francisco Giants

The 49ers are one of the most successful football teams in NFL history, boasting five Super Bowl titles. The Giants have also been on a hot streak, with World Series wins in 2010, ’12, and ’14. There are other pro teams spread out in the Bay Area, such as the Golden State Warriors (NBA) in Oakland and the San Jose Sharks (NHL) in San Jose.

Travel Experience: I’ve had the pleasure of visiting San Francisco twice, both times to see my favorite band – Phish. The first trip came in the summer of 2009, and it was short and sweet. We stayed in a cheap Chinatown hotel, enjoyed a delicious dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf, explored the Haight-Ashbury district (where we took the obligatory hippie photo in front of the old Grateful Dead house), and caught a concert at the nearby Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View.

710 - former home of the Grateful Dead.

710 – former home of the Grateful Dead.

Fast forward a few years, and we were once again headed back to SF to catch some Phish shows. This time, however, we got to stay a bit longer as the band had three nights booked at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

Come to San Fran for the Phish.

Come to San Fran for the Phish.

Jet-lagged after a long flight from Beijing, we were up at 5 AM and unable to get back to sleep. As such, we decided to seize the day and walk all the way through Golden Gate Park to the Haight-Ashbury district to meet friends.

Freakin' hippies.

Freakin’ hippies.

In the Haight, we sat down for a nice brunch, explored the area’s quirky shops, and started the party with Happy Hour. Not surprisingly, the early start, busy day, and jet-lag all combined to wear us out. After the first show, we made a beeline for the train and took it back to our friend’s place to crash.

Burritos and sandwiches... mmm...

Burritos and sandwiches… mmm…

Aside from hanging out with friends and catching the shows, we didn’t do a whole lot else. We did, however manage to finally make it to see the famed Golden Gate Bridge and take some photos. Although my two trips to San Francisco have been short and have both been specifically for concerts, I’d love to make it back there some day with more time to explore all that the city has to offer.

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


  1. Javi:

    it would be a great idea to have another series about UK cities in this same fashion. Great blogs and a lot of interest information. Thanks