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History of San Francisco: A Quick Refresher

History of San Francisco: A Quick Refresher

View of San Francisco and the greater Bay Area from Mount Tamalpais.

People from around the world come to live in and visit San Francisco for its breathtaking beauty and storied past. But how much of San Francisco’s history do you actually know?

Here’s quick history lesson.

The Spanish Colonization of Yerba Buena

In 1769, Sergeant José Francisco Ortega’s expedition of San Francisco ended when he reached an impassable strait — the Golden Gate. Today, the strait is crossed by approximately 112,000 vehicles per day via the Golden Gate Bridge.

Seven years later, on June 29, 1776, Spanish colonists founded Mission San Francisco de Asís and began to settle what was then called Yerba Buena, or “good herb.” In September of the same year, the Presidio, a Spanish military base which still stands today, was founded.

The Gold Rush

After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, the mission system slowly ended. Land began to pass into the hands of private owners, and Americans began moving westward into the area. On January 30, 1847, amid the Mexican-American War, California was officially ceded to the United States and Yerba Buena was renamed, San Francisco.

In 1849, the discovery of gold in California led to an explosion in population in the small village of San Francisco. Between 1848 and December 1849, the population grew exponentially from 1,000 to 25,000 San Franciscans.

The Rebirth and Re-emergence of San Francisco

On April 18, 1906, a 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck San Francisco, sparking fires across the city. More than 75% of the city laid in ruin and more than half of the city’s 400,000 inhabitants were left homeless. San Francisco got to work, rebuilding the city in time to host the 1915 World’s Fair, which celebrated the re-emergence and rebirth of San Francisco.

During the height of the Great Depression, construction of the Golden Gate Bridge and Oakland-Bay Bridge commenced, helping to stabilize the Bay Area’s economy throughout the decade.

Rise of the Counterculture in San Francisco

In the 1950s, Beat Generation writers such as Jack Kerouac flocked to North Beach, inspiring a new generation of Americans and the rise of the counterculture. And in 1967, 100,000 hippies packed the streets of Haight Ashbury for the Summer of Love, sparking a cultural and political shift in the United States, and around the world.

The counterculture left a permanent mark on the city, putting it at the forefront of liberal activism, ranging from the Summer of Love to the ongoing LGBTQ+ rights movement today.

San Francisco Today

Between the 1970s and 80s, extensive construction of high-rise buildings, including the Transamerica Pyramid, “Manhattanized” the city. The city is again in a state of Manhattanization, with new skyscrapers rising across South Beach, South of Market, and Yerba Buena. In 2018, Salesforce Tower opened as the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. In the late 90s, the Dot-com Boom fueled the economy, until the bubble burst in 2001. However, San Francisco’s high-tech industry persisted, rising again in the early 2010s. Big Tech dominates the professional landscape with companies like Salesforce, Pinterest, Uber, Slack, and more calling San Francisco home.

Today, San Francisco remains an international cultural and innovation center and a global destination, known for its landmarks, food, fog, and hills. While it’s a great place to visit, San Francisco is also an incredible place to call home, ranking 17th on National Geographic’s list of the United States’ 25 Happiest Places.

Whether you’ve recently moved to the Bay Area, or you’re a native San Franciscan, you’ll always be able to find new beauty within these 49 miles. From high-rise condos in the heart of the city to secluded hillside retreats, San Francisco truly has a little something for everyone. With a unique topography, innovative architectural styles can be found throughout the 7×7. 44 famous hills offer spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay, Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Bridge, and, of course, San Francisco’s iconic and ever-changing skyline.

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