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San Francisco History, California

Tracing the history of San Francisco entails going back more than 400 years. However, before that time the land was inhabited by the Ohlone people.

The race between England and Spain

It was the explorations of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo during the middle 1500’s that would establish the interests of the Spaniards in the Californian region. However, in 1579, English privateer Sir Francis Drake landed off the present-day Point Reyes and unceremoniously claimed the land for Queen Victoria naming it Nova Albion. The area is now known as Drake’s Bay, however, Francis Drake’s “discovery” failed to amount to anything favorable for England.

By 1595, Sebastian Rodriguez Cermeno on board the galleon San Agustin was shipwrecked near Point Reyes. He claimed the lands for Spain calling it Puerto de San Francisco, presumably named after Saint Francis of Assisi. Nevertheless, it won’t be for another 175 years before the Spaniards actually colonize San Francisco.

Eight years later, Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino was tasked to map out the Californian coastline in 1603. Vizcaino however missed San Francisco altogether most likely because the bay area is almost always under heavy fog.

The Golden Gate

The aggressive Spanish colonial expansion during the 18th century finally reached the shores of San Francisco Bay in 1769. An expedition led by Don Gaspar de Portola was credited for discovering San Francisco Bay, sighting it atop Sweeney Ridge, now a National Historic Landmark. A member of his crew, Sgt. Jose Francisco Ortega would later be identified as having discovered the strait now popularly known as the Golden Gate.

The ship sailed by  Don Juan Manuel de Ayala was the first to enter San Francisco Bay in 1775 via the Golden Gate. The area where they landed, just off Angel Island, is now known as Ayala Cove.

The following year, 1776, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza came into San Francisco Bay and established the fort Presidio de San Francisco de Asis. In that same year, the La Mision de Nuestro Padre San Francisco de Asis was also built. The church was also called Mission Dolores because of a nearby creek named after Nuestra Señora de los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows). Both the Presidio and the Mission still stand today.

The Gold Rush

By the time Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821, the settlement found on this area became known as Yerba Buena. In 1847, the year after the Mexican-American war ended and California was ceded to the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Yerba Buena was renamed San Francisco.

The following year, gold was discovered in Coloma, California and by 1849, settlers came to San Francisco by the thousands hoping to strike it rich. These “forty miners” as they were called congregated in San Francisco forever changing the fortunes of the once idyllic village to one of the most well-known cities in the United States. Thus, the California Gold Rush was enormously instrumental in transforming San Francisco into the cosmopolitan center that it is today.

 

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Read our members' reviews about San Francisco


  • adamSan Francisco
    review by adam posted more then 30 days ago
    San Francisco generally is considered one of the most charming cities in the US, and I totally agree with that. It's a very popular tourist destination, with same reasons. I've found the city appealing, since it's quite liberal, prosperous, multiculturally diverse with picturesque...
  • MadSuhShort visit in San Francisco
    review by MadSuh posted more then 30 days ago
    We drove up to San Francisco, which is usually a really boring drive. Driving up the 5 is just terribly slow and the landscape never changes, yikes. We did stop the first time while still on the 101 to pump some gas, and I don't know how, but apparently we never ended up pumping. Probably the...
  • MadSuhWhat to do in San Francisco
    review by MadSuh posted more then 30 days ago
    We stayed in San Francisco for another half day, we drove down towards Fisherman's Wharf and grabbed breakfast at this really nice little place. I can't remember the name, but the coffee was good and they had some really fresh sandwiches. Fisherman's Wharf is nice and give you a little bit...
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Read our members' travel tips about San Francisco


  • MyguytripBalmy Street Murals
    travel tip by Myguytrip posted more then 30 days ago
    Located in the heart of the latino district of San Francisco is a little gem of a street where the houses are painted with latin-american centric murals. These murals, which are painted on the garages, each have some sort of meaning and...
  • zdankoAlcatraz Island
    travel tip by zdanko posted more then 30 days ago
    Probably one of the most famous jails in the world and home to many myths and movies, this used to be a high security federal prison in 1934. Originally the Island was home to many pelicans and for that reason it was called "Isla de los...
  • eratoMuseum of Asian Art
    travel tip by erato posted more then 30 days ago
    This museum is amazing, you simply cannot miss it. It was first opened when a factory owner from Chicago gave his Asian art collection to San Francisco to open a museum with it. The museum has more than 17, 000 objects, from...
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San Francisco City Ratings

  • Rating89%
    City Rank89
     
  • History & Culture: rated for 93%
  • Night Life & Entertainment: rated for 97%
  • Family & Fun: rated for 80%
  • Outdoors Activities: rated for 70%
  • Food: rated for 97%
  • Sightseeing: rated for 97%
  • Shopping: rated for 95%
  • Public Transportation: rated for 87%
  • Must visit this place: rated for 95%
  
 
 
 
  
 
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