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San Francisco is the cultural, commercial, and financial center of Northern California and second-most densely populated major city in the United States.



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San Francisco is the oldest major U.S. community on America's West Coast. Situated on a narrow peninsula that separates the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean, the city was the center of California's Gold Rush and the state's first capital. Although decades ago surpassed in both size and economy by Los Angeles, and in more recent years by its neighbor to the south San Jose, San Francisco still regards itself as the center of the West Coast culture and California's first city. It seems a brilliant jewel surrounded on three sides by water and bordered by mountains on the south. Measuring slightly less than seven by seven miles, and with a population that hovers around 700,000, the city's reputation and history far exceed it's physical size.

Although the city is recognized as the center of the area, many other communities line the shores of the bay. To the east lie the city of Berkeley and the University of California, and Oakland with its working seaport and economic woes. At the south end of the bay is San Jose... Silicon Valley. To the north lies Marin, perhaps the wealthiest county in the U.S.

The entire bay area is surrounded by steep hills and mountain ranges, effectively cutting it off from the rest of the state. Bay area residents like to refer to anything beyond the hills above Berkeley and Oakland as "back east." The bay area has a well-deserved reputation for liberal politics. Berkeley was a hotbed of radicalism in the mid- and late 1960s, and San Francisco has always enjoyed a reputation as a city where "anything goes." Although much of California is firmly conservative Republican, bay area politics have long favored liberal Democrats.

San Francisco appears in numerous game supplements and works of fiction in the pre-Revised Edition-era of the Classic World of Darkness. It was the titular city in the short story anthology City of Darkness: Unseen and the reprint anthology World of Darkness: Strange City. In the Revised era, its main appearance was in the Kindred of the East/Vampire: The Masquerade sourcebook San Francisco by Night.



Geologists disagree as to when the bay itself was actually formed. However, they do agree that it once stood above water, before the land subsided and the melting ice cap raised the ocean level. The Sacramento River poured down from the central plateau of California, cutting a canyon through the rocks separating Marin from the peninsula and forming what is now the entrance to the bay: The Golden Gate.

The Ohlone

The Ohlone were among the first peoples to settle around the bay and were part of the Pleistocene migration of Asian peoples crossing over to North America via the land bridge between Asia and Alaska. The huge shell mounds found around the bay are silent testimony to their long occupation. The largest of these mounds, found near Fremont, is 30 feet high, 600 feet long, and 200 feet wide. The oldest layers of these mounds are presently below water level, indicating that the bay has risen markedly since the Ohlone first arrived.

The Ohlone were not really a tribe, but a cultural group; numerous tribelets inhabited the area. It is estimated that at their peak, they numbered some 10,000 and the neighboring Miwok another 3000.


In 1542, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sailed north from Mexico in the San Salvador to become the first European to explore the California coast. Searching for “the Strait of Anian” (the fabled Northwest Passage), he finally made it as far north as the Russian River before finally turning back. Spotting Point Reyes on his return, he named it Cabo de Piños, but missed the entrance to the Bay.

The year 1579 found English privateer Sir Francis Drake in the area. Having spent his voyage raiding Spanish ships, he landed the Golden Hind just north of the Golden Gate in what is now called Drake’s Bay (named by George Vancouver in 1792). He called the land Nova Albion and claimed it for the queen, supposedly leaving a bronze plaque on the shore. After six weeks, he and his crew sailed out and, like Cabrillo, failed to notice the entrance to the bay. 

Some have claimed that Drake actually did discover the bay and landed in Marin county. A bronze plaque was found here in 1936 by a department store clerk on a picnic near San Quentin Prison. Presently at the Bancroft Library in UC Berkeley, it has since been deemed a forgery.

In 1595, Sebastián Cermeño, a Portuguese captain sailing out of the Philippines, landed the San Augustin in Drake’s Bay. A storm sunk the ship and the survivors were forced to set out for home in a small launch. They finally reached Acapulco safely but, like so many others, missed the entrance to the bay. Before leaving the area, Cermeño renamed the area Punta de los Reyes: King’s Point.

In 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno, one of Cermeño’s officers, sailed north with the hope of salvaging the cargo of the San Augustin. He carefully explored the California coast and discovered Monterey Bay but he, too, failed to discover the entrance to the bay.

As the Spanish empire began to contract, trade with Manila in the Philippines decreased and Alta California was left more or less untouched for the next two centuries.


By 1769 the Russians were beginning to explore the North American coat in search of furs. The Spanish, alarmed by their intrusions, decided to reinforce “their” coast. Gaspar de Portolá, a Mexican dragoon captain, was mad governor of both Alta and Baja California and sent north with approximately sixty men. Among other things, he was expected to install Franciscan friars in the Spanish missions, replacing the Jesuits who had been ordered home after being expelled from Spanish dominions in 1767 by King Don Carlos III. Portolá’s objective was Monterey Bay, discovered 160 years earlier by Vizcaíno. Portolá’s ship passed Monterey on September 30, but failed to spot the bay. By the end of October they had made their way far up the coast and were in the area of Pacifica, just south of San Francisco.

Finally landing, Portolá sent Sergeant José Ortega north, accompanied by a small band of men, while the captain and his chosen group climbed the western ridge of Montara Mountain. From here they could see the Farralone Islands in the west and Drake’s Bay to the north, but were thoroughly confused as to their whereabouts.

On November 2nd, a band of men returned from a deer-hunting trip with reports of a vast, marshy estuary to the east. The next day Ortega returned from his trip north, having discovered the bay and its entrance from the sea. He had explored as far as the tip of the peninsula overlooking the Golden Gate. On November 4th, Portolá crossed Montara Mountain’s “Sweeney Ridge” and descended the eastern side, sighting the bay for himself. He ordered Ortega to explore south along the bay and up the eastern side in an attempt to reach Point Reyes; but the sergeant and his men were turned back by swamps and unfriendly natives. After a council, the group decided to leave the area and sailed away south. They missed Monterey again, finally arriving in San Diego in January, 1770. Soldiers rather than sailors, they did not recognize the importance of the immense bay they had discovered and, in their report, decreased its significance.

Five years later, on August 5, 1775, Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala anchored his ship San Carlos at what is now Fort Point, becoming the first to sail through the Golden Gate. Ayala’s expedition spent the next forty-four days in the bay, anchored off Angel Island. While Ayala recovered from an accidental gunshot to the foot, two of his officers explored the bay in launches. Ayala meanwhile christened such places as Angel Island, Sausalito, and Alcatraz (the latter name given to what is now known as Yerba Buena Island, misidentified by an English sea captain in 1826). Upon Ayala’s return, the decision was made to establish a Presidion and mission in the area.

On March 28th, 1776, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza and Lieutenant José Moraga arrived in the area with a band of men. Anchoring at the northern tip of the peninsula, the drove a cross into the ground and established what is now known as Fort Point. The next day they travelled southeast to a small pond and creek. Here they drove a second cross into the ground, marking the spot as the site of a mission they would call Laguna se los Dolores. Leaving men to guard the two sites, de Anza returned to Mexico while Moraga traveled to Monterey to collect Franciscan father, Junipero Serra, and the two hundred or so colonists being sent to the area.

Mission Dolores was dedicated on June 29th, 1776, just five days before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The Native Americans were soon rounded up and baptized, housed in barracks, and set to work gardening and weaving cloth, all of which quickly destroyed their culture.

While the mission was “civilizing” the locals, the small band of soldiers at the Presidio languished. Unpaid, nearly forgotten, they depended on the holy fathers of the mission for a good deal of their food and provisions. The Presidio was built on an inland bluff, and at first no fort was erected to protect the Gate. When Englishman George Vancouver visited in 1792, the Spanish government criticized the Presidio for allowing him to note the lack of adequate defenses. An adobe fort was then built on the cliff and garrisoned by seven soldiers. So poor was the garrison that when a Russian ship entered the harbor in 1806 and fired a salute, a contingent of soldiers had to row out to the ship and borrow enough gunpowder for the fort to properly return the fire. Isolated and nearly forgotten, San Francisco would prove to be Spain’s most northern colony on the West Coast.

The first adobe mission was replaced by a larger one constructed in 1794. This building still stands today in the heart of the City’s Mission District.

The Californios

By 1810, Mexico was in open revolt against Spain. San Francisco’s Presidio and mission, isolated as they were, were more or less forgotten by both contestants as the struggle raged on. The garrison, without shipments of supplies from Mexico, went into serious decline, the soldiers more and more forced to rely on the priests at the mission for everything they needed.

In 1821, Mexico finally declared its independence. Word of this only reached San Francisco the next year. In 1834, Mexico passed the Secularization Act, stripping the almost feudal missions of their land and power. Attempting to enforce their claim to Alta California, the Mexican government handed out huge grants of land, some as large as 48,000 acres, to favored individuals. Mariano Vallejo was among the best known of the Californios, managing to amass 175,000 acres that included most of what is now Napa and Sonoma counties.

Soon the bay area was divided into huge, sprawling cattle ranches that provided an active trade in hides and tallow, most of which was shipped out of the bay. San Francisco also became a convenient port for whalers working the Pacific Ocean. The Indians, having been turned out of the missions, either returned to the wilderness or went to work on the vast ranchos.

By 1835, the first structure was erected in what was to eventually become the village of Yerba Buena (and later San Francisco) by William A. Richardson, a British seaman who had remained in the area after his ship sailed back to England in 1822. Married to the Presidio commander’s daughter, he established himself as the Bay’s first harbormaster and pilot, later serving as a trade broker for the many English and American ships visiting the region. His first home was a mere sail stretched between poles, soon replaced by a wooden shanty and later, a two-story adobe structure named Casa Grande. Although now several blocks from the bay, before the filling in of Yerba Buena cove the waterfront was nearly at Richardson’s front door.

The Americans

By the mid-1840s, Americans were moving over the Sierra Nevada mountains into California. In 1846, Fremont led a band of 60 armed men into California, only to be turned back by the Mexicans. He returned a few weeks later on June 14th, and this time he and his men stormed General Mariano Vallejo’s Sonoma estate. Vallejo surrendered without resistance and later, over numerous brandies served by the polite general, Fremont and his men announced the formation of the California Republic, sewing together a rather rude flag decorated with a grizzly bear and raising it over the Sonoma Plaza.

The village of Yerba Buena became part of the states less than a month later when, on July 9th, 1846, the ship Portsmouth unloaded 70 American soldiers and marines. Led by captain Montgomery, they marched ashore and raised the American flag over the town plaza, soon after renamed Portsmouth Square in honor of then event.

In January, 1847, the town’s name was officially changed to San Francisco, a move intended to emphasize the town’s relationship with San Francisco Bay. To avoid confusion, the small town of Francisca on the North Bay was persuaded to change its name to Benicia.

The Gold Rush

On the site of present-day Sacramento stood the fort of John Sutter, formerly an officer in the Swiss army. He called his 50,000 acres of land New Helvetia, and ruled it as a benevolent despot. Sutter’s fort was often the first civilization seen by travelers crossing over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was here, in a stream near a sawmill, that Sutter’s employee, James Marshall, first discovered gold on January 24th, 1848. Sutter realized what a gold rush might do to his plans and tried to keep the discovery a secret, but rumors kept spreading. The floodgates opened in May when Sam Brannan marched through the streets announcing the discovery of gold along the American River, making his point by brandishing a bottle filled with gold nuggets. Brannan, always astute, had wisely prepared himself for the public announcement by making sure his hardware store was fully stocked with mining and other necessary equipment.

In a flash, the town nearly emptied of able-bodied men as the flight to the gold fields began. Merchants quickly sold out mining equipment and calls went out to South America, Hawaii, and the Pacific Rim in search of shovels, pans, rope, and other goods. Alerted by the sudden demand, prospectors from Peru, Chile, China, Hawaii, and Australia were soon landing in the city. By December, a small chest of gold nuggets had found its way to Washington D.C. President Polk made the gold strike official when he announced it to the public. San Francisco was soon the gateway to the gold fields.

By the end of 1849, the city’s population stood near 20,000, over ninety percent male. Inflation was sky-high. Breakfast cost six dollars and bottle of whiskey, thirty. The favorite pastimes were gambling, drinking, and whoring. Describing the City in El Dorado, Bayard Taylor wrote: “Hundreds of tents and houses… scattered all over the heights and along the shore for over a mile. Yankees of every possible variety, native Californians in sarapes and sombreros, Chileans, Sonorians, Kanakas from Hawaii, Chinese with long tails, Malays armed with their everlasting cresses, and others in whose embronzed and bearded visages it was impossible to recognize any especial nationality.”

Golden Gate Park

With the intent of raising San Francisco’s image in the eyes of the world, community leaders like Sam Brannan and William Ralston began campaigning for a city park. William Hammond Hall was chosen to design it and work began in 1870. Reclaiming the land from the shifting sand dunes proved no easy task but, despite doubts voiced by some newspapers, the project progressed. In 1890 it was handed over to John McClaren, a crusty Scotsman. Forbidding such things as Keep Off the Grass” signs, he worked tirelessly for years creating one of the world’s great urban parks. Dedicated to keeping the park as natural as possible, it was only over his vehement objections that statues and other such monuments were erected in the park, and then only allowed in the most obscure and hidden places.

Nevertheless, the eastern end of the park was to see additional development. The first building erected was the Conservatory of Flowers, put up in 1879. James Lick, who intended it for his San Jose estate, had shipped it in crates from Dublin. When Lick died, Crocker and others bought it for $2600 and donated it to the city. In 1916 the California Academy of Sciences’ North American Hall was opened and, in 1919, the M.H. de Young Memorial Art Museum followed.

The Mid-Winter Fair of 1894

San Francisco hosted California’s first World Fair, the Mid-Winter Exposition of 1894. Over park superintendent McClaren’s objections, it was staged in Golden Gate Park. Held during a depression year, the fair was nonetheless a success, running from January to July and counting over 2.5 million visitors. The exotically flavored fair featured major buildings designed in Egyptian and East Indian styles. Attractions included a Hawaiian village, a Cairo street scene, and an Eskimo village complete with fur-clad “Eskimos” paddling kayaks about a small pond. A favorite sideshow attraction was Boone’s Arena, featuring trained animal acts. Attendance at Boone’s increased dramatically after a lion killed one of the trainers during a performance.

Electricity was the exciting new discovery of the age and San Francisco’s fair was dominated by the lofty, centrally located Tower of Electricity. At night a revolving shaft of light, visible for miles, was beamed from the top of the tower. Although most of the structures were torn down at the conclusion of the fair, the Music Concourse and the Japanese Tea Garden were spared and still stand today.

The Earthquake & Fire

San Francisco’s Great Quake struck at 5:12 AM, April 18th, 1906. The first tremor rattled the city for forty seconds. After a ten-second pause, a second tremor began, stronger than the first and lasting twenty-five seconds. The San Andreas Fault, only discovered in 1893 running offshore of San Francisco, has shifted. The epicenter was at Point Reyes on the coast where a locomotive was toppled from its tracks. It is estimated that the quake would have measured 8.3 on the Richter Scale.

Although the city was hard hit, Santa Rosa to the north and San Jose to the south, where over 100 people were killed, suffered the worst damage. Conversely, Oakland and Berkeley across the Bay felt only a small tremor. Stanford University, down the peninsula, suffered tremendous damage to its campus and buildings.

San Francisco’s sidewalks buckled and water and gas lines broke. Brick facades were shaken from building fronts while structures unfortunate enough to have been built on loose landfill sank and slid off of their foundations. Interiors collapsed and many people died asleep in their beds. In the city’s cemeteries, 500 tombstones toppled over, all of them falling east.

Unfortunately for the city, among the first casualties was Fire Chief Dennis T. Sullivan, fatally injured when his unreinforced brick firehouse collapsed on him. Most of San Francisco’s firehouses suffered similar fates, paralyzing these facilities while at the same time more than 50 fires were breaking out across the city. By early afternoon these fires had grown into three major conflagrations. One major blaze was out of control south of Market Street, while another raged north of Market near the waterfront. A third fire ravaged an area known as Hayes Valley, just west of City Hall. Communications within the city were wiped out and the aqueduct carrying San Francisco’s water supply up the peninsula broke. The winds were easterly that day, the reverse of the usual, and hot winds from the inland valleys quickly fanned the flames into firestorms that lifted smoke five miles into the air. Scorched sheet music from an incinerated Market Street music store came down in Marin, across the bay.

The U.S. Army piled out of the Presidio to join the fight, which soon came under the command of Brigadier General Frederick Funston. For three days the fires burned out of control despite the use of such desperate tactics as the dynamiting of buildings in an attempt to create firebreaks. Despite all efforts, the fire destroyed almost all of the city west of Van Ness Avenue before finally being brought under control.

Some refugees ferried over to Oakland but most stayed in the city, moving to the Presidio and Golden Gate Park where tent cities were quickly set up. Over 250,000 were left homeless, roughly two-thirds of the city’s population. Although the extent of the disaster was played down as much as possible, it is now believed that 3000 or more perished in the earthquake and subsequent fires. Earlier reports, intended to sway insures and future investors, lowered the death rates and claimed most of the damage was the result of fires, and not the quake.

Although most of the banks chose to abandon their cash, trusting their heavy, airtight vaults to protect it, A.P. Giannini, founder of the Bank of Italy, managed to get his capital out of the burning city hidden in a wagon. After the fire, while others had to wait weeks before the red-hot vaults cooled and could be safely opened, Giannini was one of the few resources of ready cash. With this boost, his bank rose in prominence, eventually renaming itself the Bank of America and becoming one of the leading banks on the West Coast.

Rebuilding the City

Within three years the city was springing back to life. Of the 28,000 residences destroyed in the flames, over 19,000 had already been replaced. Downtown, new office buildings were being erected on the burned-out blocks, larger and grander than before. In 1912 work began on a new Civic Center, designed to replace the lost City Hall. Meanwhile, plans for a world’s fair called the Panama-Pacific Exposition to be held in 1915 went on unabated.

The Panama-Pacific Exposition

Celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal, the Exposition opened on February 20th, 1925, and, despite a war then raging in Europe, was a grand success. 600 acres of bay-shore tidal land on the north side of the city, stretching from Fort Mason to the Golden Gate, were walled off and filled in to provide a site for the fair. The fair was graced by a grand rotunda called The Palace of Fine Arts and dominated by the 432-foot tall Tower of Jewels. This tower, encrusted with 50,000 pieces of colored glass, was nightly washed by 36 independent tinted spotlights.

Building Bridges

San Francisco had long stood isolated in the center of the bay, reached only by ferry or the long drive up the peninsula. But in the 1930s the city would relinquish its isolation for the increased prosperity promised by two major bridge projects.

The Bay Bridge, linking downtown with Oakland across the bay, was begun in May of 1933. It involved the relatively easy bridging of Oakland to Yerba Buena Island by means of a low truss bridge, and the more difficult span from the Island to San Francisco with a double suspension bridge. A huge tunnel was bored through Yerba Buena Island to connect the two bridges. Double-decked, seventy-six feet, and fifty-eight feet wide, this tunnel is still the largest bore of its type in the world. Rincon Hill on the city side was partially leveled to form the anchor point for the bridge’s main pier. Originally equipped with rail lines on the lower deck, it was opened to traffic in November of 1936.

The Golden Gate Bridge was begun just a few months earlier, in January of 1933. Twin 746-foot towers were sunk amidst the swirling tides of the Golden Gate and huge cables hoisted, from which the rest of the bridge would hang. The longest suspension bridge ever attempted, it was to take its toll in human life. In February, 1937, ten men were killed when their scaffolding suddenly gave way. This single level bridge, featuring pedestrian walkways, was opened on May 27th, 1937.

See also Doctor Marstell 

The Golden Gate International Exposition

Most people called this fair “Treasure Island,” after the artificial island on which the fair was held. Located o the shoals of the north face of Yerba Buena Island, the rectangular, 400-acre Treasure Island required three years of dredging and filling.

The fair was meant to celebrate the completion of the two great bridges, but its theme was “A Pageant of the Pacific” and a particular style (dubbed Pacific Basin) was named the official design approach. Highlights of the fair included the giant statue of the goddess Pacifica, the Court of the Moon, the Tower of the Sun, and the ninety-foot Arch of Triumph. Opened in February of 1939 and closed in the winter of 1940, the exposition hosted over 17 million visitors. More commercial than earlier expositions, it featured many popular entertainers of the day including Sally Rand and her “Nude Beach.” By the time the fair closed its gates, World War II was at hand.

World War II

World War II meant growth for the city of San Francisco. The major staging point for the war in the Pacific, the Bay Area became a focus of shipyards, troops, and industry during the early 1940s. Many contemporary institutions have their roots in this era, including the giant Kaiser Medical Plan, originally developed by Kaiser Aluminum to provide needed medical care for the families of the vast number of workers moving into the area.


Following the war, the U.S. experienced a general economic depression while a new thing called a Cold War heated up, threatening nuclear extinction. Alienation led to separation and soon a new generation emerged that questioned the values of all that had gone before. The beat generation of Kerouac and Ginsberg was born, huddled up in the North Beach area and on Telegraph and Russian Hills. Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti opened his City Lights bookstore while Ginsberg was prosecuted for obscenity, and beat clubs like the Purple Onion and the Hungry i opened on Broadway. But by the end of the decade, “beatniks” had become fashionable and the territory was overrun by tourists.


The 1960s started off with a bang when, inspired by beatniks, the Ban the Bomb movement, and Civil Rights issues, the New Left hit the spotlight. When the House Committee on Un-American Activities tried to meet in San Francisco City Hall, they were met inside the rotunda by hundreds of angry protestors bearing placards reading “Witch Hunters Go Home!” Panicking, the city police brought in fire hoses and washed and clubbed the protestors out of the building. The scene inspired a generation of protestors and the Free Speech movement spread across the country.

By 1967 the idea had become the Free Love movement and San Francisco was the center. On Haight Street, the middle-class neighborhood was giving way to a new breed of youthful mystics. Indulging in marijuana, LSD, and other drugs, the created a cultural style that was revealed to the world during 1967’s Summer of Love. Before long, a shrewd promoter named Bill Graham had rented a creaky old auditorium on Fillmore Street and was promoting concerts featuring local acts like Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Grateful Dead. These shows featured bizarre lighting effects and seemingly endless supplies of free psychedelics.

The Haight quickly became a haven for drifters and undesirables, and the movement itself degenerated into a fashion statement and an excuse to get high, but some things were left changed forever.

The notion of free love was one destined to be interpreted broadly. A small night club on the corner of Grant and Broadway made national news when Carol Doda began performing topless. Local clubs offered competition and within a few months bottomless dancing was introduced. For several more months, Carol Doda drew customers by continually enlarging her breasts with regular injections of silicon. About this time a pair of brothers named Mitchell moved to town from nearby Antioch. Opening two adult theatres, one on each end of the Tenderloin, they began developing a local pornographic film industry that eventually went nationwide.

In October of 1966, a young woman was murdered near Riverside, the first of a series of murders committed by a killer known to this day only as “The Zodiac.” Taunting his victims and authorities with letters sent to newspapers, he would kill four more times in the next three years, his last victim a cab driver in San Francisco. Although papers were still receiving letters as late as 1978, his identity was never discovered. A retired area detective claims to know the man’s identity but, unable to produce any evidence, he refuses to name his suspect.


This decade saw increasing tensions as the Vietnam war raged on, widening the rift between opposing opinions. The radical Black Panther movement in Oakland joined with the anti-war forces in Berkeley to lash out at authority and the establishment.

Tensions spilled over when in 1973-74, a Black Muslim splinter group calling themselves the “Death Angels” randomly murdered fifteen people in San Francisco over a period of six months. Eventually arrested, four of the accused were sent to prison and four released.

The Symbionese Liberation Army also made the headlines. Kidnapping heiress Patty Hearst in broad daylight, they demanded a ransom requiring the Hearst family to distribute free food to the poor of Oakland. Hearst later joined forces with the SLA and was accused of helping commit at least one bank robbery.

The decade also saw the assassination of city mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk, San Francisco’s first openly gay elected official. He was shot down by Dan White, a former councilman refused reappointment to his office. White pleaded the infamous “Twinkie defense,” claiming that additives in fast food had made him mentally unbalanced. When White was sentenced to less than five years, San Francisco’s gay population and supporters erupted in an evening of violence now known as the White Night Riot. Released after serving his term, Dan White committed suicide a short time later.


The later part of this decade brought a new prosperity to San Francisco, and to America as a whole. Eschewing its old image as a small, low-rise town, the city’s new era actually began in the mid-1970s with construction of the massive Bank of America Tower on California Street. Soon, other high-rises were going up all over the downtown area, spurred on by the Reaganomics of the 1980s. With the construction of the city’s now trademark TransAmerica Pyramid, this unprecedented boom forever altered the skyline of the city.

The 1989 Earthquake

On October 17, 1989, at 5:04 PM, San Francisco was hit by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake, the strongest since the quake of 1906. 67 people were killed, 43 when the double-decker Cypress freeway built on Oakland’s soft Bayshore mud collapsed upon itself. A section of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge collapsed as well, resulting in the death of another driver and a massive commuter problem that would last a month or more. In the Marina district, where homes are built on uncompacted landfill, settling houses touched off a fire that consumed an entire block. Overall damage was slight, though. Cracked expressways were repaired or torn down, and after several months the temporary scaffolding erected everywhere to repair cracked masonry and stucco on hundreds of buildings began to disappear. Like the phoenix that is the city’s symbol, San Francisco is always reborn from the flames.


This decade saw a leveling off of the bay area’s population, and that of California as a whole. The state apparently “full,” people started leaving California in favor of the northern coast, particularly Portland and Seattle. The growing number of homeless in the streets was a continuing problem and a depressed economy with no obvious means of recovery left a state that had known only constant growth, a state containing 1/8 of the U.S. population, in search of a future.

Always the land of spectacular disasters, California grabbed the national news again in October of 1991 when a firestorm swept through the East Bay hills, killing several people and destroying more than 3000 home. Fed by the same hot, dry, inland winds that spread the 1906 fire through San Francisco, it was one of the most destructive urban fires on record.

When the acquittal of four policeman accused of beating Rodney King touched off protests around the country, the still politically conscious downtown San Francisco was no exception. Several different groups of protestors marched down Market Street and over Nob Hill. Looters broke store windows and emptied shops and stores on Market Street and around Union Square. 



Climatically, the bay area is isolated. The hills surrounding the area trap breezes from the Pacific Ocean, providing the area with one of the most stable climates in the world. Daily temperatures rarely vary more than five degrees from an annual mean temperature of 60 degrees F. Pacific currents warm the coast in the winter and provide cooling fog banks in the summer. While the bay area enjoys moderate temperatures, just 20 miles east, past the ring of hills, the inland valleys suffer through freezing winters and summers with temperatures frequently soaring over 100 degrees.

The bay area is comparatively arid, receiving around 15 inches of rainfall a year. Thunderstorms are almost nonexistent and skies most often cloudless… the hot, bright sun cooled by the hazy traces of fog that hang in the air year-round. A few hot spells occur, usually in May, June, September, or October, but temperatures in the hottest part of the city rarely exceed the high 80s, and only on the rarest of occasions do temperatures dip below freezing on the coldest winter night. Rain is a wintertime phenomenon, beginning usually in November with periodic rainfalls through January, February, and March. Although daytime downpours are not uncommon, a good deal of the rain seems to fall in the early morning hours while most people are asleep. Summers bring almost no rainfall at all. The lack of true seasons results in a general greening of the area over the winter, with wildflowers blooming in November, followed by a gradual browning through the whole of the summer… the most dangerous period for fires. Though the arid climate makes for relatively sparse vegetation, flora is a mixed bag of eucalyptus, pine trees, palms, cacti, and exotic foliage like jade plants, birds of paradise, and towering century plants. Few of these are native to the area, but were long ago imported from Australia, the Canary Islands, and other places.


The fog is truly the bay area’s most active weather. Forming a couple of miles offshore, the fog usually rises 800 to 2000 feet above the ground, passing over the city like scudding gray clouds running on fast forward. The fog rarely hugs the ground as one would expect, but drifts overhead, making for gray days… “milky skies,” as local weathermen describe them. Fog is heaviest in the summer when the cool ocean currents react with the warm air. The fog usually burns off in the early morning, returning in the late afternoon or evening, but the western portions of the city, the Richmond and the Sunset, dwell under a near-continuous blanket of gray for most of the summer, receiving at best a few hours of sunshine in the afternoon. Conversely, the East Bay gets less fog and the daytime temperature is usually five to eight degrees higher than San Francisco. The temperature of the city itself varies as much as ten or twelve degrees depending on the neighborhood.

But the fog is unpredictable, sometimes gathering itself into a 2000-foot rolling wall rising above the city’s central mountain range, other times flowing through the lower passes in spectral wisps that pour down into the lower streets of the city. The fog also visits the bay, passing in and out through the narrow Golden Gate, following the currents of the shifting tides. Often a gigantic column of fog can be seen rolling up through the Gate, engulfing the bridge and Alcatraz Island, and continuing across the bay to eventually crash into Albany Hill on the far shore.  All the while, the city itself is bathed in sunlight.

People & Economics

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The residents of the area are as diverse as any found elsewhere in the United States. The Anglo, African-American, Hispanic, and Chinese populations are perhaps the largest, though sizeable Japanese, Russian, Samoan, Filipino, Vietnamese, Indian, and many other ethnic communities exist. The city itself has no racial majority.

California has, for more than a century, enjoyed the reputation of a boom state and, with a continually growing population and constant expansion, steady economic growth has long been taken for granted. In the last few years, though, both population and economy have stabilized, leading to a recession and the highest rates of unemployment that state has ever known. The computer and software industries are still strong, but almost all other areas of development are down. Oakland remains an active international port, but the area has lost the major portion of its shipping to Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, and Seattle. The financial boom of the 1980s has given way to the bust of the 90s. Many downtown offices in San Francisco stand unoccupied. A fragile ecology already strained by the sprawling expansion, and the scheduled closing of several local military bases has further fueled fears of a serious recession. For the first time ever, recent years have seen more people moving out of the state than moving in.

Only the homeless population continues to grow. Drawn to the area by a friendly climate and tolerant populace, their numbers seem always on the increase. In the city the homeless inhabit parks and squares by day and night, sleeping in doorways and panhandling for food. Various proposals have been made to solve the problem, but none seem effective.

Traveling to the Bay Area

Most visitors to the Bay Area arrive by air. The largest airport is San Francisco International, located a few miles down the peninsula. Oakland operates a smaller, but rapidly growing facility almost directly across the bay. San Jose International Airport serves the South Bay. San Francisco operates the most non-stop flights to the U.S. and Canada as well as select European and Asian destinations. An hourly shuttle flies to Los Angeles around the clock, a trip lasting 59 minutes.

For those driving in from the east, the most common route is I-80, a federal highway that passes through Sacramento after crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains at the Donner Pass, near Lake Tahoe and Reno, Nevada. During the winter months, this highway is often snowbound, and travelers need tire chains to make the crossing. Heavy snowstorms and small avalanches occasionally close stretches of the highway for a day or more at a time. Weekend skiers visiting the Sierras often happily find themselves trapped and forced to spend a couple extra days in the mountains before returning to work. Overland bus lines running into the area follow the same route, as does the Amtrak passenger line. The Amtrak station is located in Oakland.

Sea travel is limited. Despite San Francisco’s long history as a port city, few passenger ships dock here, save the cruise lines that run in and out of Fishermen’s Wharf. Oakland, though, still services many freighters unloading shipments from South America and the Far East. Richmond, to the north, is the site of Endron’s major oil refineries and receives many tankers at its docks.

Getting Around the Bay Area

The communities around the bay are linked by an extensive network of expressways, but traffic is heavy most of the day and night, and frequently jammed during peak hours of travel. Public parking, particularly in the city, is difficult to find and often very expensive.

BART is the Bay Area Rapid Transit System, a modern subway and elevated rail system constructed in the mid-70s. This system links San Francisco to the rest of the area via a submarine tube running under the bay. Three separate lines run north to Richmond, west to Concord, and south to Fremont. Additional spur lines are currently under construction, but the long-range dream of a system linking to San Jose in the South and Marin County and Napa Valley in the north, seems a long way away. The system offers regular trains between 5 AM and 1 AM, with reduced service in the evenings. Fares are charged by distance traveled and deducted from a computer ticket.

Additionally, various counties offer fairly efficient bus services, and taxis are found most everywhere. A number of ferries give smooth, scenic rides to points around the bay.


One of the city’s major industries is tourism. San Francisco, even as far back as the late 19th century, has proven itself a popular spot with visitors. Although some early guests of the city found it rude, brash, and devoid of attractions, many found its weather and exuberant population charming. Located thousands of miles from the population centers of the East, San Francisco feels less restraint and has developed its own code of mores and standards. Although more conservative than the days when sailors were shanghaied on the Barbary Coast and tourists ventured giggling into the opium dens of Chinatown, it still enjoys a reputation as an “adult city” offering a vast variety of entertainments. Restaurants abound, as do clubs and theatres. Chinatown is a standard attraction, as are rides on antique cable cars and shopping around Union Square. Fishermen’s Wharf, on the northern edge of the city, is the most popular attraction, annually drawing more tourists than any other place in the U.S. save Disney World.


Festivals and parades are popular in the city, many of them offering a diversion for the tourists. The most famous and most popular is the Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day Parade, held the last Sunday of June. Staged down the main thoroughfare of Market Street, the parade draws a quarter of a million spectators who madly cheer the various floats, costumes, and displays. Unlike similar events in many other cities, gay pride in San Francisco is a cause for celebration, not confrontation.

But any excuse to dress up and parade around the streets seems good enough for San Franciscans. The annual parades and festivals begin in late January or early February with the celebration of the Chinese New Year and the Golden Dragon Parade winding its way up Stockton street from Market. The downtown next hosts St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th, celebrated in a manner common to most U.S. cities… with a parade and lots of green-dyed beer. April Fool’s Day sees the unofficial St. Stupid’s Day parade staged through the financial center, finishing up with a penny toss at the sculpted “Banker’s Heart” in front of the Bank of America Tower. Japantown’s Cherry Blossom Festival also takes place in April, followed by Cinco de Mayo, celebrated in the Mission District on the weekend nearest May 5th. June is host to the Haight and North Beach Street Fairs, as well as the lengthy Carnival parade staged in the Mission. Across the Bay, Oakland stages a music festival called Festival at the Lake, fittingly enough, on the shores of Lake Merritt.

The Fourth of July is celebrated at Crissy Field north of the Presidio with an all-day picnic and free rock concerts, climaxed by evening fireworks. The end of the month finds the annual Polk Street Art and Music Fair. August is host to Fleet Week, when the U.S. Navy puts carriers and submarines on public display while the Blue Angels buzz the city. Early October is the time of the Castro Street Fair, followed by a grand turnout for Halloween at the end of the month. The Exotic Erotic Ball is held every year about this time. Originally The Hooker’s Ball, those attending wear only the most daring outfits and cameras are welcomed. Additionally, there are any number of charity events and free concerts staged in Golden Gate Park, Crissy Field, Union Square, and other places. Guest artists at these concerts often include well-known bay area musicians like Carlos Santana, Paul Kantner, Jerry Garcia, and Grace Slick.

Even sporting events are an excuse for San Franciscans to get into costume and strut their stuff. The annual Bay to Breakers Run is a world-class, professional event drawing runners from all over the world; but by far the most entries are the locals who, dressed in the most outlandish costumes imaginable, stagger their way through the seven mile race across the city from the bay to the Pacific Ocean. Clown suits, leather straps, bathtubs, business suits, wetsuits with flippers, and almost anything else one can imagine: all are considered proper attire.


Most tourists are Americans, usually from the East, but San Francisco is also the favorite American city of European vacationers. The most popular hotel locations are around Union Square and on Nob Hill. Accommodations in the center of the city average about $100 a night minimum for two-person occupancy, the rates gradually declining as one gets nearer the Tenderloin or heads south of Market Street. Restaurants number in the thousands, catering to nearly every taste and ethnic variety. It is said that one could dine out every night for 10 years and never visit the same restaurant twice. Dining out is a favorite pastime of San Franciscans and relatively cheap, although one wishing to spend large amounts of money encounters no difficulty. Theatres are bountiful, favoring the small, avant-garde productions but also hosting major shows from New York. There is a credible symphony and a grand-style opera house. Bars and nightclubs of all types abound.


The cost of bay area living is one of the highest in the nation. Skyrocketing real estate values in the 1980s have resulted in a situation where less than ten percent of the local residents can now afford to own their own homes. Rental rates also increased and, until limited by various forms of rent control, threatened to drive most residents out of the city.

With a recession on, steady employment is scarce, though skilled office workers and anyone with computer industry skills can usually find a job. Blue-collar workers and unskilled teens find things far more difficult.

Nonetheless, many find the sunny, mild climate and scenic splendor enough to make up for the difficulties. Despite the mounting problems, the bay area and the city specifically enjoy an optimistic, if sometimes unrealistic, outlook. Locals prop open front doors of department stores, restaurants, markets, and even banks in the morning, allowing the fresh, cool breezes to circulate freely. Glass partitions dividing the costumer from the storekeeper, or even the bank teller, are rarely seen in the city. Taxicabs use no shields to protect drivers from their passengers. Disasters such as the 1989 earthquake are met with a positive resolution unfamiliar in the East.

Hard Facts 

Utility service is provided by Pacific Gas & Electric, known as PG&E. Pacific Bell (commonly PacBell) is the telephone company. Because of the sudden proliferation of fax machines and shortage of numbers, the bay area has recently changed area codes. San Francisco, Marin, and the peninsula retain the old 415 number while the East Bay changed to 510.

The city provides water. The bay area lacks local supplies of fresh water and gets most of what it needs from the inland valleys or the Sierra Nevada mountains. San Francisco makes use of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, pumping the water for nearly two hundred miles through aqueducts that run up the peninsula. A seven-year drought which was becoming a serious threat was broken the last two winters when rainfalls returned to normal levels.

Trash collection is provided by private “scavenger” companies contracted by the communities and licensed to serve specific areas. Bay area residents have a “garbage” bill among their other utilities, and most communities have instituted comprehensive recycling programs.

Two major newspapers serve the city: the San Francisco Chronicle, published mornings and afternoons, and the San Francisco Examiner (the Hearst paper), published in the afternoon. The two papers publish a joint Sunday edition. Herb Caen, a columnist with the Chronicle, has been a journalist in the city for decades. Many eagerly seek the opinions and political support of this well-known celebrity.

The largest and best-known banks are Bank of America (“B of A”), Great Western, and Wells Fargo. The supermarket business is dominated by Safeway, and Walgreens is the most common franchise drug store. The usual fast food franchises and 7-11s are common as well, but not so much within the city.

Mood & Atmosphere

San Francisco is the perfect stage for any drama, comedy, or tragedy. If you wish to change the mood, simply change the weather. On the darker side, the fog rolling in can cause a sense of despair, isolation, and ennui to fall over the city. The toll of the AIDS epidemic has been sorely felt in the city’s wild heart, and death lingers in the air. Oakland, Richmond, and large sections of Berkeley are ecological wastelands, where drive-by shootings are common. There are many places no one would want to go. On the lighter side, it is a city of freedom, of wild pleasure, and of a passion for the arts and culture. Cold, hard reality takes its toll, but there are moments of transcendent beauty as well.

The Bay Area

The Bay Area is comprised of San Francisco Bay, San Pablo Bay to the north, and the many communities surrounding them. Although San Francisco is the best known city, and the heart of the area, its population amounts to less than 10% of the area's total of nearly seven and a half million. Many cities, some almost as old as San Francisco itself, line the shores, each unique unto itself. The bay area can be likened to a miniature Mediterranean surrounded by a multitude of different counties and cultures.

Marin County

Marin County lies directly north of the city, connected to San Francisco by the famous Golden Gate Bridge spanning the narrow strait between the bay and the Pacific. Generally thought to be the wealthiest county in the United States, Marin is the center of New Age thinking, crystal magic, and modern shamanism. Comparatively underdeveloped, much of the county is brown, rolling hills and valleys.

Marin is the home to any number of small bedroom communities such as Mill Valley and Novato, people by middle-class and better, usually those seeking a place to raise their children away from the hectic pace of city life or the East Bay. San Rafael is the county's largest city and the site of the San Quentin maximum security prison housing some of the state's most dangerous criminals, including Charles Manson. China Camp State Park to the north is an abandoned, but still intact, Chinese shrimp fishing village of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mount Tamalpais

This preceding only half of Marin County, the eastern half. The western side, all the way to the Pacific Ocean, is given over to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Point Reyes National Seashore to the north, and Mt. Tamalpais State Park. Once virgin redwood forest, most of this area was heavily logged ini the late 19th century to build the now-famous Victorian row homes of San Francisco. The nearby town of Mill Valley, the oldest town in Marin, was named after the sawmills that supplied the town its economy. Although the area now seems completely regrown, the only virgin redwood forests are found in the deep and inaccessible canyons around Mt. Tamalpais, those areas the loggers deemed too difficult to harvest. Here stands redwoods over 350 feet tall, shadowing forest floors covered with ferns and linden. Brooks splash down canyon walls, and salmon can be seen swimming upstream to spawn.

Steep trails interlace the area. Hikers climbing these trails up and out of the canyons top a ridge overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean. Below lie Muir Beach, Stinson Beach, and to the north, Bolinas Bay. Beyond Bolinas is the larger Drake's Bay, believed to have been the anchoring site of that English privateer in 1579. Narrow Tomales Bay marks the San Andreas fault line that from here runs south-southwest just offshore of San Francisco. Nearby is the Tennessee Valley, site of the Green Gulch Farm and Zen Center, an organic farm and Buddhist retreat.

The high cliffs south of Muir Beach running around the Golden Gate are known as the Marin Headlands. A beautiful area for views, greenery, and fresh air, the site is dotted with old forts and concrete gun emplacements. Some of these are as old as the Civil War, others as recent as World War II, all of them installed to defend the harbor against possible invaders. These bunkers are now empty, the guns long ago dismantled, taken away, and replaced by picnic tables. Just south of Rodeo Lagoon is a 1950s Nike ballistic missile site with disarmed nuclear missiles still in position. The southern tip of the Headlands is Point Bonitas, site of an old lighthouse and the Marine Mammal Center specializing in the rescue and rehabilitation of injured sea animals.

The town of Stinson Beach is home to the old Easkoot House. Alfred Easkoot was a New England sea captain whose lumber ship was wrecked in this area in the mid-19th century. He later returned with a Philadelphia bride and, using some of the lumber salvaged from his earlier wreck, built the New England style home still standing here. He was successful but his marriage was rumored unhappy. He himself was quite frightening. A shipboard fire in his youth had scarred his face and reduced one hand to a withered claw. When his wife died suddenly, there were rumors he had poisoned her, but an autopsy showed nothing. Alone and embittered, in his later years he is said to have fitted his useless hand with a golden hook. He finally died of a heart attack in 1905.

The house has been occupied ever since, but most inhabitants report strange noises, doors opening and closing by themselves, and ghostly visions of the old captain stalking his home.

Wine Country

North of Marin lies Sonoma County and to the northeast, Napa. Inland valleys protected from the coastal fog, they are warm, dry, and sunny when compared to the immediate bay region. the fertile valleys have been producing wines since the days of the missions; though Sonoma and Napa account for less than 5% of California's total wine production, their wines are acknowledged the country's finest. Most of the wineries are open to the public, offering tours and free tastings. In general, it is a wealthy region, serving as an upscale vacation spot for city dwellers.

Sonoma Valley

Sonoma, also known as the Valley of the Moon, is the less developed of the two; the wineries are smaller, and the tourist spots less obvious. The city of Sonoma, in the south, was the later home of Jack London as well as the site of the famous Bear Flag Revolt that marked the American annexation of California. At the other end of the valley, 20 miles away, is Santa Rosa, home to Luther Burbank and the birthplace of Robert L. Ripley. The best known wineries of the valley, usually small adobe, hacienda-styled buildings, include Buena Vista Winery, Hacienda Wine Cellars, and Gundlach-Bundschu.

At the northern end of the valley is Jack London State Park. Trails wind around what was once the author's property. The ruins of his home, Wolf House, destroyed in a 1913 arson attack, can still be seen. Jack London died three years after its burning and is buried in the area.

The Valley of the Moon Saloon, located on the Sonoma highway, is reputedly haunted. Although apparently no malicious attacks have ever occurred, floating objects, as well as items that mysteriously disappear, only to reappear a few days later, have been reported.

Napa Valley

Napa Valley is the far better known of the two and the one most often visited. The city of Napa, at the southern end of the valley, was once an active port before being superseded by the deep water ports of San Francisco and Oakland. St. Helena, 22 miles to the north, was for a short time the residence of Robert Louis Stevenson and, for the last 15 years of his life, Ambrose Bierce.

The town of Calistoga, at the northern end of the valley, was developed in 1860 by San Franciscan Sam Brannan as a resort area. It still offers hot spring therapies and mud baths. Old Faithful, a small geyser, is found near the town, as well as a petrified forest of ancient redwoods, long ago turned to stone by volcanic ash from nearby Mount St. Helena. Presently inactive, this conical 4343-foot peak dominates the area. From the top, one can see as far as the Pacific Ocean to the west, Mt. Shasta in the north, and the Sierra Nevadas in the east.

The East Bay

The area known as the East Bay includes portions of Contra Costa and Alameda counties, and extends as far south as San Jose and the border of Santa Clara County. Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland, and Hayward are among its largest cities, interspersed by smaller suburban communities such as El Cerrito, Albany, Alameda, and others. Most of these communities maintain a constant formula. Industries and the poorest neighborhoods are located nearest the bay, along with the railroad and BART lines. Lower middle-class neighborhoods inhabit the gridded flatlands between the bay and the line of eastern hills, while the rich live in the hills overlooking the flatlands.


Marin County is linked directly to the East Bay by the sprawling double-decked Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. In stark contrast to Marin, the city of Richmond is an economically depressed community riddled with vapor-spewing chemical refineries and dominated by the great Endron Oil refineries on the bay shore. A boomtown during World War II, Richmond shipyards employed over 100,000 men constructing ships for wartime. It now suffers from high unemployment rates, gang wars, rampant drug addiction, and drive-by shootings. Richmond was also the site of the last U.S. whaling station on the West Coast. The facility was finally closed in 1971.


Berkeley is best known as the home of the University of California, a hotbed of radicalism during the 1960s. The University and its 30,000 students are certainly the center and main industry of the city and, despite creeping conservatism, their presence helps to maintain a legacy of progressive thinking. Politics these days revolve around feminist issues and annually announcing a new "official" name for Native Americas, but recent years have seen a spate of violent demonstrations over homeless rights and related issues. Riots resulting in injuries, arrests, and numerous broken windows along Telegraph Avenue's strips of cafés, shops, and bookstores, are reminiscent of the 1960s demonstrations that also took place on this street.

North Berkeley is also home to older students and faculty. Expensive houses situated along winding hillside roads afford beautiful views of the bay (the fabled five-bridge view). Site of some of the devastation of the East Bay firestorm of 1991, many neighborhoods are still barren, reduced to ashes by the holocaust and not yet rebuilt. Shattuck Avenue is the main commercial district, featuring a number of distinctive restaurants, book stores, and other outlets. West of the hills the flatlands are of lower value but increasingly well-cared for, and property values are on the rise.


See the larger article Oakland.

The Inland Valleys

Beyond the range of high hills defining the bay area lie numerous communities nestled within a brown, rolling landscape. The region is dominated by Mt. Diablo, an inactive volcano nearly 4000 feet high. From its summit one can see 200 miles in almost every direction.

To the south lies Concord, the largest community in the area and home to thousands of commuters. It is also the site of a controversial naval nuclear weapons depot, and near the infamous Port Chicago where an accidental blast during World War II killed scores of black seamen at work loading a ship filled with munitions. Not far away, near Mt. Diablo, is where Eugene O'Neill built his home and wrote many of his later plays.

15 miles to the southeast is the city of Livermore, site of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory specializing in nuclear weapons research. The nearby Altamont pass is filled with modernistic windmills erected by a private power company to generate cheap electricity. Close by is an abandoned race track, site of the disastrous 1969 Rolling Stones concert where a fan was murdered by Hell's Angels employed as security guards.

San Jose

For more on this city, see the article San Jose.

The Peninsula

This is the common name for the narrow stretch of land running north of San Jose to the San Francisco city limits, marked by the San Bruno Mountains. Relatively undeveloped, it is home to a number of small, often contemporary communities. A ridge of redwood-forested peaks splits the peninsula and to its west lies the heart of Silicon Valley: Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Redwood City... all of them clustered around the campus of Stanford University. Some, like Atherton, are exclusive high-priced communities people by computer executives and university professors. Others are deeply blue-collar.

The western half of the peninsula is rugged, mountainous, and mostly undeveloped. Beaches and high sand bluffs line the coast almost continuously for 75 miles from San Francisco all the way to Santa Cruz with occasional small, older communities found along the stretch. Many beaches along the shore are designated nude, and area hang gliding enthusiasts find the bluffs and offshore winds perfect for their needs.

Half Moon bay is a small, pleasant coastal community; it was also a favorite landing spot for Prohibition-era smugglers.

Bays, Islands, & Bridges

San Francisco Bay is undoubtedly one of the world's greatest natural harbors. There area actually two bays: the larger San Francisco Bay in the south, and San Pablo Bay in the north. At any given time one can see freighters steaming in and out of Oakland, tankers headed for Richmond, Navy destroyers and aircraft carriers docking at Treasure Island and Alameda, and Coast Guard helicopters practicing rescue operations. On weekends, thousands of private sailboats ply the waters from San Pablo to San Jose, though few weekend sailors feel competent enough to sail beyond the Golden Gate and out to sea.

The bay is relatively shallow and channels are continually dredged for the deep water ships. Aquatic life is scarce, though seals and sea lions are often seen and sharks are rumored to patrol the bay. A humpbacked whale, affectionately named Humphrey, has twice found his way into the bay in recent years, once beaching himself near Candlestick Park, the other time swimming far up the Sacramento River before rescuers managed to get him turned around and headed back out to sea.

Angel Island is the largest island in the bay, a cone-shaped mass lying just offshore near Tiburon. Once covered with redwoods, it is barren now, long ago stripped for its lumber. It has served various functions: as a military base, prisoner of war camp, and immigration station. It is currently designated a wildlife refuge.

Alcatraz is the bay's most famous island. Originally a military base, then a military prison, it finally served as one of the U.S.'s toughest maximum security facilities. The prison was closed in 1963 and is now a tourist attraction administered by the Golden Gate Parks commission. Tours of the prison and exercise years are available and ferries leave the dock at Fisherman's Wharf.

Yerba Buena Island and Treasure Island lie in the center of the bay and mark the half-way point of the Bay Bridge spanning the waters between San Francisco and Oakland. No two islands could be quite so different as this pair. Yerba Buena is a natural formation, a rugged outcropping of rock covered in vegetation. Treasure Island, lying directly to the north and connected to Yerba Buena by a narrow causeway, is flat and roughly rectangular: an artificial island made form mud dredged from the bottom of the bay.

Although a number of bridges span the bay, the greatest, if not the most famous, is probably the San Francisco-Oakland bay Bridge. A double-decker structure linking Oakland with San Francisco, it is actually two separate bridges anchored to Yerba Buena island in the middle of the bay.

Golden Gate Bridge, completed about the same time, is the more famous of the two and an internationally recognized symbol of San Francisco. Stretching over the narrow Golden Gate strait, at the time of its construction it claimed the world's longest bridge suspension. Painted a bright, rusty red, it is considered an engineering masterpiece. single-decked, with five lanes, it connects the city with Marin and the northern coast.

The San Rafael-Richmond bridge is built over shallow waters and a rambling, double-decked affair not nearly as pleasant looking as some of the other bridges.

To the south is the long San Mateo Bridge that runs from Hayward in the East Bay to San Mateo County on the peninsula. The Hayward side of the bridge is low, only a dozen or so feet above the water. Nearing San Mateo, the bridge arches high in the air, allowing room for ships to pass under it.

Just south of the San Mateo Bridge is the far older Dumbarton Bridge, built across a narrow spot on the bay. Far to the north, above San Pablo bay is a small, but high bridge passing over the Carquinez Strait.

The City: San Francisco

The city of San Francisco lies isolated from the rest of the bay area on the tip of its peninsula. Visible from all around the bay area, at night, with its gleaming towers and pinnacles alight, it reminds visitors of the City of Oz. An "adult" city, it has since its creation enjoyed a reputation as a "wicked city" where adult pleasures and vices are tolerated to a marked degree.  

San Francisco is known for its hills, more than 40 of which reach as high as 300 feet or more. Three 900-foot mountains nearly split the southern part of the city. These mountains are steep, but nonetheless thickly populated with houses perched precariously on the slopes. Mt. Sutro is the site of Sutro Tower, a 900-foot tall, red-and-white painted steel colossus erected as a broadcast antenna capable of reaching most of the city and surrounding area. Although Golden Gate Bridge and the TransAmerica pyramid are the best known symbols of the city, this dominating tower is the landmark most familiar to residents. Centrally located, it is visible from nearly every point in the city and a handy way of ascertaining one's general location.

Fresh, fog-laden breezes from the Pacific continually sweep the city, carrying smog and pollution across the bay where it accumulates against the line of hills and eventually settles on Oakland and the rest of the East Bay. Despite the reputation for fog, the eastern portion of the city, particularly downtown and the Mission District, enjoy mostly sunny days year round, the fog only creeping in at night.

San Francisco is not an overpowering city and is in fact rather small when compared to New York or Los Angeles. Building ordinances, with the obvious exception of the skyscrapered Financial District, limit most structures to three or four stories.

Proud of the fact that the city is the oldest on the coast, historic structures are respected and developers find difficulty tearing anything down. Franchised restaurants and chain variety stores are far less common than in other American cities and the ones that do exist usually lack the tacky symbols associated with these outlets. As with most of the of the bay area, the more expensive residences are found uphill while the flatlands are home to the economically less-advantaged.

The city enjoys a sense of independence and isolation known to few U.S. cities. Long the center of West Coast culture, and at first reached only by sea around Cape Horn or overland, it some time ago developed a singularly independent nature. Even in these days where air travel has brought everyone within a few hours of each other and tens of thousands of commuters come and go daily via the bridges, San Francisco insists on doing things its own way. Aside from obvious examples such as the Gay Pride Parade, San Franciscans are quick and sure to move on other issues. When U.S. involvement in the Middle East escalated into Desert Storm, within hours San Francisco became the first (and only) city to declare itself a "refuge" for war protestors and military deserters. But there is little agreement on most other issues. It has sometimes been said that San Francisco is a city populated 700,000 individual special interest groups.

Earthquakes are the city's other legacy. The infamous San Andreas Fault runs just off the coast, and other equally dangerous major faults lace the entire bay area. The earthquake of 1906 and the resultant fire nearly destroyed the city and, it is now believed, resulted in the deaths of several thousand people. Another major quake in 1989 did millions of dollars worth of damage and killed dozens. Experts agree that it is only a matter of time before the area is divested by a true terrible quake. It could happen at any moment but most residents, enchanted by the climate and scenery, cheerily assume that it won't occur until "some time in the future." It is not for nothing that San Francisco is sometimes called "The City that Waits to Die."


Downtown San Francisco is the eastern part of the city, mostly north of Market Street, extending to Fisherman's Wharf in the north and as far west as Van Ness Avenue. It includes such landmarks as Nob Hill, Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, Chinatown, North Beach, and Union Square. Nearly this entire area was destroyed by the fire following the 1906 earthquake. Rebuilt over the next couple of decades, it enjoys a rare architectural consistency. Neo-classical styled row buildings of three and four stories line most streets, replacing the redwood Victorians claimed by the flames.

Most areas are crowded with residents and visitors day and night. Traffic is congested, a condition exacerbated by the steep hills. Parking is difficult, if not impossible, with most street parking banned during rush hour periods and parking structures charging outrageously hourly prices. Fortunately for residents, there are many shops, markets, and restaurants to serve them, making ownership of a car mostly unnecessary. The weather is almost always fit for walking and scenic views abound. Buses run frequently and reliably, and taxis are available everywhere. Stretched limos, usually white, prowl the streets in search of tourists willing to pay the hefty hourly rates to be shuttled around the city in luxury. And, of course, there are the famous cable cars.

Cable Cars

The passenger cable car was invented by Scotsman Andrew Hallidie of San Francisco. The first operating line was on Clay Street and began service in 1873. Based on similar systems used in mines, Hallidie hoped to improve on the horse-drawn omnibuses then laboring up and down the city's steep hills.

Cable cars are powered by a moving cable that passes under the streets. The car is equipped with a "grip" which, reaching down through a slot in the street, clamps to the moving cable, drawing the car along. Cable cars cruise at a speed of ten miles per hour... no more, no less.

Hallidie's design was quickly copied and soon cable car systems were found all over the world, from Providence, Rhode Island, to Melbourne, Australia. Within a few years, however, the electric-powered trolley was invented. Requiring less maintenance, and generally safer, they quickly replaced cable car systems in most cities, save those with the steepest hills. San Francisco's various cable car systems once stretched over most of the city, but by the 1950s, the last two remaining lines were scheduled for removal. Only a last-minute citizen's movement saved the cable cars and they are now designated a National Historic Monument (just a mobile one). Expensive and far less safe than most forms of public transportation, they are a symbol of the city.

Other Mass Transit

At the hub of the bay area, downtown San Francisco is well-served. Electric and diesel buses run regular routes to all parts of the cit. Electric trolleys, usually referred to as the Muni, travel underground along Market Street, emerging a few miles away to disperse along different routes. The Muni lines share the underground with the BART system, which runs one level deeper. From central San Francisco one can catch frequent BART trains south to Daly City, or travel under the bay all the way to Richmond, Concord, or Fremont.

Main Thoroughfares

Market Street is the city's main street. Beginning across from the Embarcadero and the Ferry Building, it cuts diagonally across town, eventually turning and twisting its way up Twin Peaks. Clogged with cars and buses, it is several lanes wide. As it cuts across streets on an odd angle, and has limited left turns, it is often difficult for a driver to find a way across Market when trying to get from one side of the city to the other. Market Street is a major shopping avenue featuring places like Nordstrom's and the Emporium. A number of fine hotels are also located along here. Women's sho stores seem particularly abundant.

Southwest of Powell and Fifth Streets, the neighborhoods begin to undergo a quick change. Upscale stores are replaced by bargain clothing outlets and adult theaters as one enters the area known as the Tenderloin. Street people are more abundant and drugs more commonly for sale on the street. Market continues to serve as a commercial strip until it begins to rise into the mountains.

Van Ness is a six-lane, divided street that marks the early limits of the city. It bustles with traffic and is lined by auto dealers (including Ferrari), appliance outlets, furniture stores, and restaurants like the Hard Rock Cafe.



One of the city's most famous landmarks, Chinatown is a tourist attraction and world unto itself. Narrow Grant street is home to the Chinatown familiar to tourists. Beginning at Bush, it is entered by Foo Dog-guarded gates. The commercial shopping district found here continues north for several blocks. Strung with overhead lanterns and banners, the street is lined with innumerable restaurants, chintzy souvenir shops, overcrowded gift stores, and countless live seafood stores, more authentic tea markets, and Asian bakeries. The small alleys and cul-de-sacs of Chinatown house near-infinite restaurants, goldfish stores, and secreted Buddhist shrines.

A short stretch of Stockton also runs above the tunnel. Little used and comparatively remote from the rest of the city, it is the site of the expensive Carlton-Ritz Hotel, opened just a few years ago. Of stunning classical design, it was formerly a college. Since it is located away from tourists and downtown, it has become a favorite with shy celebrities and foreign diplomats wishing to avoid publicity. The hotel features a white Rolls-Royce courtesy car and motorcades of policemen are frequently seen lining up in the horseshoe driveway.

The Chinatown of the 19th century was a well-known haven of opium smugglers, Chinese slavers, and prostitution. Chinese gangsters, hatchet men, and highbinders stalked the streets, fighting in vicious tong wars with axes and revolvers. Even then, though, it had a reputation as a "must-see" for the daring tourist.

Vicious Asian gangs roam Chinatown, many probably spawned in the foreboding Chinese housing project on the south side of Pacific between Stockton and Grant. Rarely interfering with tourists or anyone outside the Chinese community, these gangs prefer to extort she owners for protection money, and war with each other over drugs and other illegal trade. The 1970's massacre at the Golden Dragon restaurant, where several patrons were killed and many more wounded, was an exception. In the midst of a war over the illegal fireworks trade and mistakenly believing that members of a rival gang were attending the restaurant, the gunmen entered and opened fire indiscriminately. Although denied by some, these gangs are the direct descendent of the vicious tongs of earlier days and closely watched by the police.

Civic Center Plaza

The center of the city's government, this area contains the opulent Beaux Art-styled domed City Hall, the Opera House, Davies Symphony Hall, the Main Public Library, and other facilities. Part of a larger design never completed, most of the buildings were constructed just prior to World War I, replacing the buildings destroyed by the earthquake and fire. A farmer's market operates here on Saturdays and Wednesdays and the plaza is busy most days with business people, shoppers, bureaucrats, protesters, and the ever-present homeless. Bordered on the north by the Tenderloin and on the west by a span of depressed housing projects, the sunny plaza and its benches are a magnet for the unemployed and unoccupied. To the east is the United Nations plaza dominated by the Federal building, an unpleasant-looking 1950s high-rise housing the FBI, IRS, and other institutions.

In the late 80s and early 90s, with the rise of the homeless, the broad plaza became a campsite for hundreds. After more than two years and any number of complaints, many from the tuxedoed and evening-gowned opera and symphony crowds, several additional shelters were opened by the city and the homeless driven out in 1990. By day they are everywhere, but at night are forced to leave the area.


Embarcadero is the name of the main street running along the eastern edge of the city, but also refers to the general waterfront area. A double-decked freeway formerly ran down the center of the Embarcadero, spoiling views of the bay and Ferry Building but, damaged by the 1989 quake, it was torn down.

For more than a century the wharves were the bustling center of San Francisco’s economy, visited by whalers and traders, shipping out gold and bringing supplies in. It is now a quiet, nearly desolate place, the long wharves unpopulated, their warehouses for the most part empty. A few salvage and diving companies operate out of here but the commercial shipping trade died years ago, moving over to Oakland’s containerized facilities across the bay. A few wharves not completely abandoned now house private pleasure craft and an occasional surprise like Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior, hidden away at a dock just south of the Bay Bridge.

Fisherman's Wharf

San Francisco’s number one tourist attraction is Fisherman’s Wharf. Running along the north shore of the city for more than a half-mile, from Pier 39 to Aquatic Park, it is a crowded place busy nearly any time of the day or evening, year-round. Actual fishing activity in and out of the area is far less than it once was, though charter boats are available for the sport fisherman. Fresh seafood markets abound, as do restaurants and stalls serving clam chowder and shrimp cocktails eaten on the street. Street artists and entertainers are everywhere, singing, dancing, playing guitars.

Most of the main promenade is given over to the tourist attractions like Ripley’s and the Guiness Records Museum, boutiques, restaurants, and nightclubs. The old cannery buildings have been remodeled into open air shopping malls. Pier 39 is the most famous attraction on the wharf and now features a dock invaded and completely taken over by native sea lions. Forbidden by law to harm or drive the protected creatures off, owners of the pier have instead moved the boats out and installed special floats for the creatures to bask upon, creating one more tourist attraction.

A number of ferry lines operate off of the wharf, offering trips to Alcatraz, Angel Island, Sausalito, Tiburon, and Vallejo, as well as tours of the bay. Helicopters can also be chartered. The piers east of 39 house a number of cruise ships that make trips up and down the West Coast. A World War II vintage submarine is docked in the area and available for tours while the Hyde Street pier features several authentic early sailing vessels and steamships.

Ghirardelli Square is nearby. A shopping area, it is also home to San Francisco’s famous Ghirardelli chocolate. Aquatic Park, at the foot of the square, is an old facility. Few bathers dare the cold waters; it’s mostly used by sunbathers sprawling on the broad concrete steps above the narrow beach. The curving public pier shelters the water from the waves and currents of the bay. The National Maritime Museum stands at the foot of the park.

Financial District

Despite the growth of cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, and Seattle, San Francisco remains the financial center of the West Coast and the home of the Pacific Stock Exchange. Although there are taller skyscrapers on the coast, San Francisco's sixty-odd story Bank of America Tower and the unique pyramid-shaped TransAmerica Building are among the best known and most widely recognized. The city's no distinctive skyline is a recent development. It was long a city of low-rise buildings; the few multi-story hotels and business offices were formerly congregated around Powell and Sutter, and atop Nob Hill. Rampant development began in the 1970s, first with the erection of the Bank of America building in the city (and only a few feet higher than the hulking BoA tower) is the distinctive TransAmerica pyramid at 855 feet. Nearby stand the four massive Embarcadero towers lined up in a march down to the bay. Filled with multi-floored shopping plazas in the lower levels, they end at the sunny plaza of Vallencourt Fountain which overlooks the water and is usually busy with skateboarders.

The Financial District occupies the land at the eastern foot of Nob Hill, on ground that used to be part of the bay. Formerly Yerba Buena Cove, this area was steadily filled in over the years as streets ended in wharves extending out into the bay. Beneath the foundations of San Francisco's skyscrapers lie the remains of fires, earthquakes, and more than a hundred wooden sailing ships that one lay derelict in the harbor when crews deserted for work in the gold mines. Busy by day with bankers, stockbrokers, and others, the area seems dead after dark and on weekends.

Jackson Square

This historic area lies just north of the Financial District, in the shadow of the TransAmerica Pyramid and the Embarcadero Center, squeezed in between the waterfront, North Beach, and Chinatown. Once the infamous Barbary Coast, it is now one of the quietest parts of downtown. Surprisingly, while the rest of the city burned during the 1906 fire, the Barbary Coast remained relatively untouched. Many of the area's buildings are mid-to-late 19th century brick low-rises, former warehouses, and distilleries. Once the sites of some of the most infamous dives and brothels in America, they are now home to antique shops, graphic design firms, and the occasional attorney's office. At the northern end of the district lies Levi Plaza, headquarters of the famous jeans manufacturers. Any number of buildings in the area are of "unreinforced masonry," a fact noted on warning plaques affixed to such structures following the 1989 earthquake.

The immediate area has long been a hotbed of literary and intellectual figures. California's first magazine, The Golden Era, was published out of offices on Montgomery Street near Jackson in the 1850s and helped launch the careers of Bret Harte and Samuel Clemens (also known as Mark Twain). Oscar Wilde paid a visit to neighborhood artist Jules Tavernier in 1882; later, John Steinbeck and William Saroyan used to spend nights drinking in the now-vanished Black Cat Cafe. The Marxist artist, Diego Rivera, dwelled here in the 1930s. The particular block now occupied by the TransAmerica Pyramid once held a small office building populated by writers, artists, and political radicals. Twain, Harte, Ambrose Bierce, and Joaquin Miller were all frequent visitors to its first floor bar and restaurant. George Sterling and Maynard Dixon visited years later and Sun-Yat-Sen, publishing his newspaper, Young China, from a second-floor office, plotted the overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty.

Nob Hill

Long known as the haunt of San Francisco's millionaires, the outrageous mansions raised by railroad barons and silver bosses that once stood atop this 338-foot high rock were long ago destroyed by the fire following the 1906 earthquake. Only the brownstone Flood mansion remains intact on the corner of California and Mason; it currently serves as headquarters for the exclusive Pacific Union Club. The Hopkins, Stanford, Crocker, and other mansions were all lost, leaving only a few deserted ruins as a lonely reminder of their past glory. Opulent hotels now grace the hilltop: the Mark Hopkins, Stanford Court, and the world-famous Fairmont Hotel. Nearby Huntington Square is a small green with a fountain and benches, frequented most often by young, upscale residents of the town houses on quiet Sacramento and Clay Streets. Next door to the square stands the imposing structure of Grace Episcopal Cathedral, a smaller version of Notre Dame in Paris. Directly across the street is the equally massive Masonic Temple.

Lower Nob Hill is the neighborhood south of California, spread across the broad southern face of the hill, roughly situated between Stockton and Polk Streets and extending as far south as Geary and the Theatre District. This is a residential neighborhood filled with neoclassical row apartment buildings three, four, five, or more stories in height surrounded by numerous markets, cleaners, delis, and diners.

Hidden in among the endless row apartments are a dozen or more longstanding private clubs. The most notorious is perhaps the Bohemian Club found at Post and Taylor. Organized in the late 1800s by artists and newspapermen, it soon evolved into a businessman's club with an arty slant. Former members include Ambrose Bierce and Jack London.

The San Francisco Academy of Arts also occupies quite a number of buildings in the area, its main headquarters on Powell between Bush and Sutter. This, along with the always active Theatre District nearby, lends a bohemian slant to much of the lower hill.

North Beach

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North Beach is a favorite area with young, upscale singles. Occupying the lowlands between Telegraph Hill and Russian Hill, and bordered on the south by Chinatown, North Beach is a brightly lit and active nighttime area.

North Beach was long the city's Italian enclave. Though still populated by many older Italians, and sporting any number of Italian restaurants big and small, the area has undergone many changes in recent decades. Famous in the fifties as the stomping grounds of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, famous "beat" clubs like the Purple Onion and the Hungry i still standoff the north side of Broadway across the street from the City Lights bookstore. Next door to them are North Beach's contribution to the early 1960s: America's first topless bars.

North around the corner, narrow Grant Street is filled with crowds patronizing the restaurants, pizza parlors, and the three blues clubs found along this stretch: the Saloon (the city's oldest bar), the Last Chance Saloon, and Grant Green at the end of the block. All feature one or two bands a night, seven nights a week.

Washington Square Park is a flat green, by day a place for art shows, lunch, and old Italians sitting on benches, by night a place troubled by drug dealers and other criminals. The Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, known for its twin spires, faces south onto the park.

South of Market Area

Known as the SoMa, it is that area south of Market Street composed of streets running at an angle to the normal north-south axis of the city’s plan. Like most of the area immediately south of Market, it is smooth flatlands, populated by banks and businesses near the waterfront with more and more hotels and shipping areas as one moves inland. Upscale near Market, the neighborhood quickly deteriorates as one travels past Howard and Mission. Off Market, the area is a mixed bag of old, sleazy city populated by junkies and muggers, and upscale, high-rise condo developments with doormen and secure parking facilities. Restaurants and nightspots proliferate in some spots while other streets display bleak panoramas of abandoned warehouses. Some of these older buildings have seen renovation and are now rent out as “artist’s lofts.” The struggle between reclamation and decay seems as of yet undecided.

Second Street near Market has lately become the headquarters for many electronic development firms, earning it the nickname “Multimedia Gulch.” It is near the foot of what is left of Rincon Hill, now leveled to serve as the foundation of the Bay Bridge’s main pier. A number if condos and townhouses have been lately erected along the waterfront in this area, replacing the old, disused warehouses and light industry that used to stand here.

Located on Fifth near Mission is the pillared San Francisco Mint. No longer operative, it is open for tours. Farther down Fifth are the offices of the San Francisco Chronicle

The Transbay Terminal is located at First and Mission, a depot for buses from Oakland, Marin, and San Mateo. A large bus station with shoe repair shops, dry cleaning outlets, diners, and a cocktail lounge, it has long been a refuge for many of the city’s homeless. The train station is found at Fourth and Townsend and runs hourly to San Jose and back.

Telegraph Hill

The lowest of the three major downtown hills, Telegraph still affords some of the best views available. Located north of the Financial District’s skyscrapers, it is distinctively marked by the white, cylindrical Coit Tower, erected in 1933 by Lillie Coit in honor of San Francisco volunteer firefighters. Climbing to the top of the tower, or even standing on the small plaza beneath it, one is given a magnificent view encompassing everything from the Golden Gate Bridge in the west to Berkeley and Oakland in the east.

Telegraph Hill was long ago blasted for its rock by entrepreneurs seeking ballast for outgoing ships. Although the blasting was finally halted by city order, the eastern face is quite sheer and badly cracked. Homes perched along this edge face uncertain futures as earth tremors and alternating droughts and rainstorms create small landslides, undermining foundations.

The Tenderloin

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A narrow territory roughly south of Geary Street between Mason and Van Ness, the Tenderloin borders on and spills over into the Civic Center Plaza, as well as the tourist areas around Union Square. Unlike many urban neighborhoods which once enjoyed better times, San Francisco’s Tenderloin has always been known for its crime and seedy denizens. Traditionally the neighborhood of oppressed minorities, it is currently populated by sizable Vietnamese and Laotian communities, refugees from their homelands.

Prostitutes, pimps, and drug dealers prowl the streets while muggers and carjackers lurk in alleys. The corruption spreads to nearby areas, visiting the Theatre District, rubbing shoulders with the tourist areas, and invading Civic Center Plaza. The streets are dirty, littered, and typically increasingly degenerate as one proceeds further downhill. Daytime is reasonably safe, but nighttime is an entirely different story.

Aside from the usual shops and markets, video rental stores, head shops, porn shops, and adult theatres are all common fare. Not surprisingly, the Tenderloin contains some of the city’s cheapest hotels.

Theatre District

The city’s major theatre district lies on Geary Street roughly between Mason and Leavenworth. The Large theatres like the Curran and the ACT (American Conservatory Theatre) host Broadway shows and other major productions. Dozens of smaller theatres are also found in the area, some no more than second floor walk-ups over markets and restaurants. The well-known club Trader Vic’s is found in the neighborhood, in an L-shaped alley northwest of Taylor and Post. Medium-priced hotels are found in the area, as well as a number of upscale restaurants. However, the Tenderloin is nearby and street hustlers, prostitutes, and pimps are common.

Union Square

Union Square is the closest thing to “center” found in San Francisco. Site of the annual Christmas tree lighting and other civic events, it is a sunny, landscaped square dominated by a tall pillar with a figure of winged Victory atop it. The monument was dedicated to Dewey, the victorious admiral of the Spanish-American War. Situated atop an underground parking garage and populated by street musicians, lunching office workers, and the occasional strolling police officer, it is a typically pigeon-populated urban green spot featuring weekend art sales and occasional noisy demonstrations. Despite a small contingent of street people from the nearby Tenderloin, criminal activity is limited or non-existent. The square, in the heart of the tourist district, is well-lit and well policed.

The square is also in the center of the hotel and shopping district. The venerable and swank 12-story St. Francis Hotel caters to some of the city’s most famous guests, and is the usual campsite of presidents and other U.S. officials. It was while leaving the St. Francis that President Gerald Ford was shot at by would-be assassin and former Charles Manson follower, Sarah Jane Moore. The St. Francis was also the scene of the infamous Fatty Arbuckle case, in which the popular silent film comedian was the prime suspect in the suspicious death of a young starlet. In those days, San Francisco was a favorite weekend party spot for Hollywood celebrities bored with the diversions offered by a relatively new Los Angeles. Behind and rising high above the old St. Francis is the ultramodern St. Francis Westin, a 36-story glass tower with external elevators riding up and down its eastern face.

The Sir Francis Drake Hotel, one block up Powell on the other side of the street, tries to compete with the St. Francis and features a doorman dressed in a beefeater costume. The hotel is large, but less convincing. The interior is somehow reminiscent of the hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

Climbing the hill is broad Powell Street, the main artery of the area, lined with bookstores, camera shops, electronic outlets, a few restaurants, some outrageously priced, and the occasional “adults only” store dealing in video tapes and rubber goods.

At the foot of Powell is Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco’s version of Times Square. Here the tourist and businessman stand next to the vagrant and homeless from the Tenderloin just next door. Street vendors prevail and there are always musicians performing for the crowds lined up for the cable car. Preachers of a dozen different faiths, most proclaiming San Francisco the “new Sodom,” compete for attention of people desperately trying to ignore them. The most pitiful folk beg for coins from passersby while perennial chess games are staged year round on the concrete cubes set along the broad sidewalk of Market Street. Pickpockets work the area, but violent crime is minimal, at least during the day.

Outlying Areas

Bernal Heights

Bernal Heights lies south of Mission District, beyond Army Street, rising sharply from the surrounding flatlands. Nondescript in nature and nearly strictly residential, its wooden row housing follows the usual pattern of higher rents nearer the summit. Expressway I-280 runs through a stretch of land south of Bernal, separating it from the hill known as McClaren Park.

Candlestick Point

Found along the southern shore of the bay, this is the location of Candlestick Park, home of the San Francisco Giants and 49ers. Cold and windy, often foggy, there is an ongoing campaign to close it up and build a new stadium nearer the city.

The Castro

San Francisco’s well-known gay district, while still potentially shocking to Midwestern sensibilities, has become relatively respectable these days. Populated mostly by professionals, the Castro offers a wide variety of fine restaurants, book stores, and other shops.


The small Fillmore District has long been a black neighborhood. Economically depressed, it still retains its character. Lively at night, it is cursed with drug problems and associated crime.

Fort Funston

This is the southernmost point of the city’s shoreline. A quiet stretch of white sand beach overlooked by high cliffs, it is a favorite spot among bay hang gliders.

Fort Mason

Located on the bluffs overlooking the Golden Gate, Fort Mason was first manned by Spanish soldiers in 1797. It came into the hands of the U.S. Army in 1850 and during World War II, 1.6 million men passed through this facility on their way to and from the Pacific theater. Now a park open to the public, it is mostly rolling grasslands and trees with a few old barracks buildings, and used as a park by local residents. Three old piers jut out into the bay. Tied up to one of them is a World War II Liberty ship, also open to the public.

Golden Gate Park

A broad band of green in an arid city mostly covered in concrete, Golden Gate Park is an oasis of exotic flora, meadows, lakes, and facilities for nearly every conceivable sport or diversion. Begun in 1871, the area was slowly reclaimed from the thousands of acres of sand dunes that once covered the area. Beginning with quick-rooting barley, vegetation was slowly introduced that eventually anchored the soil. 

The park is a half-mile wide and three miles long, plus the narrow strip to the east known as the Panhandle. Roads meander through the park, some of them closed to auto traffic on weekends, and trails lace the hills and glens. Eucalyptus and cypress trees are the most prevalent, but stands of palms, tree ferns, redwoods, and other natural-styles plantings are found everywhere. Formal, landscaped gardens of roses, rhododendrons, and others also decorate the park.

The eastern end of the park is the most developed and features the Steinhart Aquarium inside the California Academy of Sciences building, the de Young art museum, the Victorian glass Conservatory, and the Japanese Tea Garden left over from the 1894 World’s Fair. A paddock in the western end of the park holds a dozen bison. Athletic facilities run the gamut. There are baseball diamonds, football and soccer fields, a polo field, riding trails, horseshoe pits, fly-casting pools, archery ranges, stables, playgrounds, and even a nine-hole golf course. Most of these are cleverly hidden from site, allowing strollers to imagine the park as undeveloped and natural. At the western edge of the park, facing the sea, stand two huge windmills, originally installed to pump water from underground to supplement the skimpy rainfall.

The narrow Panhandle of the park extends another half-mile east. Landscaped and open, the fine Victorian homes lining both sides are prized residences.


For more on this neighborhood, see the article Haight-Ashbury (WOD).

Hunter's Point

Hunter’s Point was a navy shipyard during World War II. Temporary housing for the shipyard’s 35,000 workers now serves as a public housing facility. Far from the rest of the city, out of sight and out of mind, Hunter’s Point is a fearful place haunted by gangs, drugs, and guns.


Bordered by California and Geary, Van Ness and Fillmore, this area is the traditional center of San Francisco’s Japanese community. Originally settled by Japanese sugar workers, it was emptied out during World War II when innocent Japanese were rounded up and incarcerated in concentration camps. Returning after the war, the Japanese found their old neighborhood populated mostly by blacks. The small area now reclaimed is basically a shopping center marked by a 100-foot tall pagoda and called the Japanese Cultural and Trade-Center. Along with shops and restaurants, the development includes the Kabuki movie theatre complex and the Kabuki Hot Springs baths.

Lake Merced

This small lake serves as a standby reservoir for the city. It is isolated, surrounded by homes and stands of trees. The main campus of San Francisco University overlooks the lake from the east.

Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park is a remote area on the far northwestern corner of the peninsula atop the headlands overlooking the Golden Gate. Trails run along the face of the cliffs as well as along the top. Accidents are not uncommon in this undeveloped area. A special Cliff Rescue unit is maintained by the city to save those who suffer falls or become otherwise stranded over the cold, churning waters around the mouth of the bay. From the tip known as Land’s End, one can look down on wrecked ships left partially exposed by retreating tides. Foghorns, no longer necessary in an era of radio navigation but still operated out of nostalgia, ring up and down the gate during heavy weather.

The rocky China Beach lies at the foot of the cliffs. Although often sunny and pleasant, cold waters and deadly currents make swimming dangerous and unattractive.

The Marina

This is a quite fashionable neighborhood of Mediterranean revival houses overlooking the bay and the marinas of the prestigious St. Francis and Golden Gate Yacht Clubs. Still expensive and exclusive, real estate values have fallen sharply since the quake of 1989 when this neighborhood suffered some of the worst devastation in the city. Originally the site of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition, the neighborhood is built upon landfill, mainly rubbles from the quake if 1906. The uncompacted soil quickly liquifies during tremors, causing buildings to sink on their foundations. A gas main fire touched off by such settling during the 1989 quake burned down an entire block of homes

The Mission District

The Mission is a sprawling flatland neighborhood of residences, shops, and stores. If it has anything resembling a center, it would be the intersection of Mission and 24th street, or along Dolores Boulevard to the west. Hemmed in by hills and mountains, it is the warmest part of the city and the site of official temperature readings taken by the U.S. Weather Bureau. Formerly the home of San Francisco’s sizable Irish population, it is now mostly Latino with a wide variety of other ethnic groups including Spanish-speaking Chinese immigrants from Peru. Many of the wooden row buildings along the main streets are brightly painted with Mexican-styled murals and other art works.

Various gangs, mostly Latino, roam this solidly blue-collar area, warring over turf, drugs, and women. A large number of clubs, restaurants, and bars attract nighttime visitors, but neighborhoods off the main drag can be risky late at night. Regardless, day or night it is one of the city’s liveliest neighborhoods.

The area is named after Mission Dolores, first established on the peninsula in 1776. The ancient mission still stands, the oldest building in San Francisco, and still an operating Catholic church. A small cemetery, one of the few in the city, stands out back, but nothing marks the graves of the more than 5000 Native Americans believed buried in the immediate area. Originally located on a flat plain near a pond from which Mission Creek ran to the bay, the old adobe building now stands oddly sandwiched between low-rent frame row house.

The Mountains

A chain of three mountains beginning just south of the eastern end of Golden Gate Park and extending nearly to the city limits dominates the city’s central skyline. They form a natural barrier to traffic as well as the fog that pours in off the Pacific. All three peaks are thickly populated, save the highest summits, and suburban in nature. As always, property values increase with altitude and homes near the peaks fetch prices nearing a million dollars, despite 30-foot lots, postage stamp backyards, and uninspiring stucco, row architecture. Winding roads cross these mountains, affording fantastic views of the city. Lesser peaks, like Diamond Heights and Mount Olympus, lay at the eastern foot of the mountains and are similarly populated.

The western flanks of the mountains are cool and foggy much of the year, particularly in summer. The eastern flanks are sun-warmed, the heat rising from them holding back the creeping fog which mounts in a wall sometimes a thousand feet high above the peaks.

Beginning in the south, Mount Davidson, at 925 feet, is the tallest of the three, though only by a few feet. It is topped by a great, concrete cross. Twin Peaks, at 910 and 904 feet, is a double peak bristling with a half-dozen 150-foot microwave towers. Mount Sutro, 909 feet, is capped by a 900-foot red and white steel broadcast tower that seems to dominate the entire City. High-rise apartments on the northern slopes of Sutro afford beautiful views of the Golden Gate Park and beyond.

Ocean Beach & Sutro Heights

Running the length of the western edge of the city, Ocean Beach is a broad expanse of gray sand separating the pounding Pacific surf from the sea wall and the Great Highway beyond. Often chilly and windswept, the cold water and treacherous currents make it unsuitable for swimming. Sunbathing is possible on warmer days and a few hardy surfers dressed in wetsuits are usually seen out among the waves. The broad concrete steps at the base of the long seawall are usually buried in drifting sand that has to be periodically bulldozed back toward the water to prevent it from eventually topping the wall and invading the city. Otherwise, the beach is a nice place for a leisurely stroll, along either the water’s edge or the broad promenade above the seawall two hundred yards from the shoreline. It is a place to run the dog, build a sand-castle, or fly a kite.

At the northern end of the beach, around Fulton, the land rises in a series of rocky cliffs known as Sutro Heights. The popular Cliffhouse restaurant stands atop these cliffs, overlooking Seal Rock and its raucous sea lions. West of the Great Highway the cliffs rise higher still, to a plateau overlooking the ocean. Once the site of millionaire Adolf Sutro’s mansion and grounds, it is now open park land with little save a few specimens of exotic palm trees to remember the great home that once stood there.

Pacific Heights

After building their Nob Hill extravagances, then the mansions that lined Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco’s moneyed set turned to the rounded uplands called Pacific Heights. Today inhabited mostly by upwardly-mobile young professionals, it is a quiet part of town, high enough to provide views of the bay to the north and downtown to the east. A few foreign embassies, including the Russian one, maintain residences in this secluded neighborhood. A number of historic Victorian mansions surround the hilly, tree-covered Lafayette Square, including the Haas-Lilienthal house and the Spreckels mansion… the later built with the profits from the Hawaiian sugar industry. Alta Plaza Park, a dozen blocks west, is another high patch of land surrounded by sumptuous residences and affording views over the Marina and the bay.

Potrero Hill

Located south of downtown, and now separated from the neighboring Mission District by a coursing expressway, the Potrero community has long enjoyed a sense of privacy and isolation from the city. Long a blue-collar retreat, rising real estate values have resulted in homes on the hill commanding high prices. A growing population of upscale yuppies inhabit the heights while the area surrounding the hill is composed of depressed neighborhoods of varying ethnic character.

San Francisco General Hospital is located on the western face of the hill.

The Presidio

The Presidio has been occupied by the military ever since the late 18th century, when the Spanish decided to establish northern outposts in an attempt to enforce their claim to the California coast. Long ago taken over by the U.S. Army, it has seen little development and its 1400 acres, reclaimed from the sand dunes years ago, are green and leafy, covered by eucalyptus trees. Soon to be abandoned by the Army, it will be handed over to the city and turned into a park. In the meantime, it is headquarters for the Sixth Army and houses over 6000 soldiers and a National Military Cemetery covering twenty-nine acres. The nearby hospital treated many of the worst wounded of the Vietnam War, some of whom are still confined to the facility.

The main entrance to the Presidio is at Lombard Street. Here, a gate flanked by statuesque figures of Liberty and Victory leads to a quadrangle of buildings beyond. For the most part, the Presidio is open to the public.

The western edge of the Presidio is a series of cliffs overlooking breezy Baker Beach below. On the beach stands the huge replica of the 95,000-pound cannon originally installed in the site in 1905 by the Army to defend the bay. At the top of the cliffs, near the Bridge, stands a brick fortress built in 1850 to guard the bay. Known as Fort Point, it is dwarfed by the massive pier of the Golden Gate Bridge behind it. On the northern edge of the Presidio is a flat green meadow, Crissy Field, where Fourth of July fireworks and other outdoor festivals are staged. On its eastern edge stands the Palace of Fine Arts, a leftover from the World’s Fair of 1915. Nest door to it is the Exploratorium, a huge hands-on technological museum and art gallery inside a vast warehouse-like structure.

The Richmond

The Richmond District lies north of Golden Gate Park and runs from Arguello Street in the East all the way to the sea. It is a seemingly endless neighborhood of pre and postwar row-styled flats and apartments made mostly of stucco. The main routes across the area are Geary, slow-moving and congested, and Fulton Street running faster along the Park. The district is divided into Inner and Outer Richmond by Presidio Park Boulevard a six-lane divided route shaded by trees that leads through the Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Richmond (sometimes called “the Avenues” or simply “the Aves”) is a family-oriented area and home to an increasing number of Chinese. Clement Street, a block north of California, is now known as New Chinatown, a long commercial strip of common and exotic stores, book shops, and restaurants oriented more toward local trade than the tourist dollar.

The Richmond, like most western parts of the city, suffers more heavily from fog. Although winters are generally bright and clear, summer brings fog banks rolling in off the ocean. Day light sees the fog burned back toward the ocean, allowing the area a few hours of sunlight before the night falls and the fog advances again. Nearer the ocean the effect is heightened and during August, the far western avenues may see no more than a couple of hours of sun a day.

The Sunset District

The Sunset District is a huge tract of postwar development lying south of Golden Gate Park. Running from the central mountains to the ocean, and extending as far south as Sloat Avenue and nearly the city limits, the Sunset is a near to a suburban community as can be found in the city. Developed after World War II in conjunction with the FHA, it is a characterless expanse of tract housing set on some of the city’s most level territory. Row housing predominates in the north while the southern sections enjoy single family homes with small yards… a thing rarely seen in the city. Most are made of stucco and styled ersatz Spanish.

The city zoo is found here, at the furthest southwest corner of the neighborhood. Small, but increasingly improved, it features a new primate exhibit and an insect zoo.

The last part of the city to see development, the Sunset is fog-bound during the summer, even more so than its neighbor, Richmond, to the north.

The Western Addition

Lying west of Van Ness Avenue, bordered by the main thoroughfare of Geary on the north and roughly Fell on the south, the Western Addition extends as far west as the edge of Golden gate Park and includes the small University of San Francisco. The area derives its name from being one of the first residential areas developed outside the central city. Technically, it encompasses many other neighborhoods such as Fillmore, the Lower Haight, and Japantown. Once solidly lower-middle class, it has become a somewhat seedy neighborhood sharing a border with the Tenderloin. Some of the best neighborhoods are found around Alamo Square, a high plateau of green park land. A famous view of San Francisco showing a row of Victorian houses in the foreground and the spires of downtown in the background is taken from Alamo Square.

Mostly untouched in the 1906 fire, the Western Addition offers some of the finest examples of San Francisco Victorian row houses, known popularly as “painted ladies.” Professional colorists earn their living creating and executing color schemes that highlight the redwood gingerbread decorating these houses. Once built for the middle class, these old Victorians, mostly Italianates and a local hybrid called Stick-Eastlake, are now in high demand, fetching prices of three-quarters of a million dollars and more.

A point of interest is the old Fillmore Auditorium on the corner of Fillmore and Geary. It was the site of much of the late 1960s music scene when under the hand of master promoter Bill Graham. Another interesting location is a vacant lot on Geary between Scott and Steiner streets. This was the former site of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple before the move to Guyana and the resulting Jamestown Massacre. The building mysteriously burned to the ground in 1990.


Vampire: The Masquerade

San Francisco was first detailed in A World of Darkness, a supplement for Vampire: The Masquerade First Edition. The city itself receives only minimal detail, however; most of the coverage is given over to the Vampire Club, a nightclub for Kindred built in the hull of a beached yacht. This book also introduces several characters that would have recurring roles in early Vampire novels and short stories: Sebastian Melmoth, proprietor of the Vampire Club, better known as Oscar Wilde in life; Tex R. Cainen, his bodyguard and the club's bouncer; and Vannevar Thomas, Prince of San Francisco. Vannevar Thomas and San Francisco were heavily featured in the novels Dark Prince and its sequel/prequel, Prince of the City; Thomas was actually the protagonist in the latter novel, which spans the city's history from the Gold Rush into the present day.

The Beast Within, the first Vampire short story anthology, featured numerous stories set at least partially in San Francisco. These stories introduced an error in continuity, however, as some stories referenced Prince Vannevar Thomas while others named the city's prince as Jochen Van Nuys. Several of these stories were reprinted in World of Darkness: Strange City, which attempted to reconcile this error by changing references to Jochen Van Nuys into references to Vannevar Thomas. However, in the Revised era, a different solution was found in San Francisco by Night, in which Van Nuys was revealed to have replaced Thomas as prince in 1996, and he himself was in turn later replaced by Sara Anne Winder. The Beast Within Revised Edition retained the references to Van Nuys as prince that were found in the original versions of the stories, implying that those stories happened after Van Nuys' coup.

The city is also depicted in a TV series called "Kindred: The Embraced", where a Ventrue named Julian Luna holds the princedom of San Francisco, guided by his sire, archon Raine.

San Francisco is relatively light on Kindred for a city of its size. The large community of other supernatural types tends to keep the vampiric population down. A major Kindred stronghold is the Bank of America, wholly owned and operated by the Giovanni, and there is a growing Sabbat presence across the bay in Oakland. There are rumored links between the Sabbat and the Ventrue as well. The lines between elders and anarchs are muddled here, and for every clan head who espouses many liberal reforms, there's an anarch uncomfortable with their agenda being co-opted and demanding a return to a more traditional (and adversarial) social hierarchy.

Local Licks

Werewolf: The Apocalypse

The Children of Gaia caern introduced in Caerns: Places of Power is featured prominently in the novel Wyrm Wolf.

San Francisco is friendly to the Garou in almost direct proportion to its unfriendliness to the Kindred. There are more werewolves here than in just about any other major city in North America, drawn by the relaxed atmosphere and eco-friendly politics. Many live on the Peninsula, occasionally interacting with the fae of the Edge of the Labrys, but there are quite a few Glass Walkers lurking in Silicon Valley as well. The Bone Gnawer population of San Francisco is on the rise as well, as word gets around of the relatively easy pickings.

There are many bay area caerns, and as they are places of power for others as well, the Garou often share them with nunnehi. There is an unspoken mutual aid pact between the two groups, and Queen Aeron of the fae generally considers the two as a unit in reference to matters of policy. Of all the Kithain rulers, Countess Evaine sees more of the werewolves than any other. Certain sept leaders have observed her dealings with the selkies, and hold her as trustworthy.

Regional Garou

Mage: The Ascension

The appendix to Mage: The Ascension First Edition covered the Awakened of the San Francisco area, similar to how Vampire: The Masquerade First and Second Editions covered Gary, Indiana, and how Werewolf: The Apocalypse First Edition covered New York City. Additionally, the introductory story in the Mage core rulebook served as the lead-in to the adventure Loom of Fate. The short stories in the anthology Truth Until Paradox feature San Francisco. As did the Hollow One novel Penny Dreadful.

One thing a few Kithain dislike about living in San Francisco is all the damned mages. Fortunately, Frisco is primarily a Tradition city, being especially friendly to Virtual Adepts and Sons of Ether. There's a strong neo-pagan community in San Francisco, providing friendly base for Verbena and Dreamspeakers as well. While the Technocracy does have a strong presence on the West Coast, it is concentrated further up the coast, at major research and software concerns up in Washington State. Hollow Ones by the score wander the streets, and one cannot help but wonder if the existence of so many Orphans is part of someone's plan. It hardly seems likely that so many could arise otherwise. (The Waydown Chantry is located here.)

Neighbor Mages

Wraith: The Oblivion

Aside from short stories in the antholgies Death and Damnation and City of Darkness: Unseen, San Francisco is barely touched on in Wraith.

The bay area Restless march to an entirely different percussion section. The Hierarchy has been beaten back to its Citadel on Alcatraz, surrounded by a boiling moat of melted souls. On the mainland, various Heretic and Renegade factions either vie for supremacy for each other or, on rare occasions, attempt to allow each other to exist in peace. There is a loose alliance of several of the more martially oriented Renegade groups that has been waging an almost continuous assault on the Citadel for over thirty years, but most other Renegades are content to let the Anacreons and their minions rot inside their Stygian iron shell.

There are several "generations" of wraiths that have extensive power due to their sheer numbers. Spirits from the 1906 earthquake and its aftermath make up a sizable minority, and while these spirits are spread across assorted Circles, in a crisis their collective bond of age will prove stronger than any political affiliation. Another wave of immigration into the Shadowlands came during the 1969-1974 period, and most of them joined Renegade sects. An oddity in the ethnic composition of this area of the afterlife is that the Chinese residents of San Francisco are relatively few, at least in modern times. Most of the Chinese immigrants whose spirits were denied Transcendence were reaped in the Dark Kingdom of Jade, and it was only since their descendants became Americanized that these souls came to Stygian lands instead.

Area Wraiths

Changeling: The Dreaming


The Kithain know San Francisco as the Duchy of Goldengate, part of the larger Kingdom of Pacifica.


The Nunnehi

For much of the history of the Bay Area, the nunnehi (mainly the Water Babies and Nümüzo’ho) were the only fae presence. Most Kithain had not yet found their way to the place. Even the most adventurous pooka seemed to give the earliest explorations a miss. In fact, it is not certain who the first Kithain in the area was: certainly, whoever it was found the nunnehi a powerful and daunting force. This was before the Resurgence, and therefore there weren’t quite as many groves and glens as there are today.

The nunnehi aided the native people, as is their wont, although they were unable to prevent the horrors of colonization. They made pacts with the seal-people as well, many of which still hold today. The family groups of natives near the bay also honored them. The nunnehi fought battles with spears made of moonlight, riding horses made of wind. They celebrated the turning of the hoop of the year. Theirs was an idyllic life, filled with Glamour. This was the time of the pure lands, the time before the European invasion.

Some Kithain sages believe the nunnehi shamans protected the San Francisco Bay from the explorers with a great illusion, although some say other sorcerers did this, and some believe it was simply a mistake on their part. The fact remains that the fog still rolls in. Nunnehi lore holds that the fog is an extension of the blanket of magical protection the elder nunnehi wove to conceal the bay.

The Fall of the Nunnehi

The nunnehi of the area were nearly destroyed by the activities of the faithful of Mission Dolores. The “civilization” of the Native Americans meant that they no longer fed the moon-eyed folk their tithe of the kill, nor did they leave presents for them or allow their children to go up into the hills into their ranks. Indeed, even those clearly chosen to be nunnehi were forced to turn aside from their nature and their nunnehi-spirits died from the incipient Banality

For a long time, the nunnehi literally took to the hills, hiding in hollows and caves only they could see and enter. The cold wind of Banality swept through them and destroyed all but the heartiest. The nunnehi warriors now left now represent the last of the moon-eyed people, possibly for all time.

1848: The Commoner’s Gold Flood

Nothing attracts the commoner kith like dreams of gold. Even the most practical boggan will drop their needlepoint to pursue such dreams. When word spread of the gold strike, changelings from all over the world heard the call.

Nockers in Boston and New York who thought they could smell the gold from across the country built themselves steam engines to power changeling ships around the Horn, fighting off the nunnehi raiders and changeling pirates in the southern seas, especially the Gulf of Mexico. In this time, as well, hordes of wild and strange Gallain began to appear without warning, also seeking after the legends of the gold. This is the first time in the city’s history when a number of Kithain and other enchanted beings came together in a cosmopolitan of the Dreaming, the first wave of strange inhabitants from far away. 

The proliferation of so many changelings in the place (and the utter wildness of the time) increased the need for Glamour, and this caused a cultural backlash. Many Kithain became street entertainers, and a thriving red-light district grew up around the Barbary Coast area (Where Miss S’s House now stands). In the early 1850s, a herd of satyrs crossed the country largely on foot to take part in the gold, culture, and pleasures of the city. Driven by their lust for both gold and the exotic fleshmarkets of the wharves, they were instrumental in making the Barbary Coast the triumph of debauchery that it was. It is this herd that formed the basis of the Society of Telemachus and the Wine Country’s Brotherhood of the Barrel. The satyrs were a political faction all their own, but doing what they would, when they would, resulted in stern retributive actions on the part of the ad hoc citizen’s government. 

Banality Hits

For a time, San Francisco was a wild place, especially during the almost lawless Gold Rush days. But with the advent of the Second Committee and the Red-Light Abatement Act, the city started to swing back in the direction of Banality. Even the Society of Telemachus stopped throwing their Greek Revival parties in the gardens of their Nob Hill mansions.

Mortal politics and the like tend to mean nothing to commoners; but if they impact on the source of Glamour, then the fae act swiftly. The commoner leadership at the time met in private and emerged with several ideas to change the demeanor of the city. One such way was to create a beautiful green space in the midst of the rapidly developing urban area… a space which might inspire dreams and provide a place for the heart.

Reality Strikes Back

Despite the fact that the changelings of San Francisco were forced to live in a relatively Glamour-scarce environment (not due to the lack of Glamour but to the tremendous number of changelings and Gallain), they enjoyed a relatively comfortable existence in the city due to the general good mood and feelings of its inhabitants. When the great quake hit, it caused a tremendous backlash of depression. The cold hard facts of the death and destruction made a lasting impression in the hearts of the populace, one that pushed Banality to an all-time high. Many changelings were lost to Banality during this time as their mortal forms were crushed, destroying their faerie souls as well. Although a few attempts at a mass Wake occurred, very few of the Gallain and commoner changelings who died kept their faerie soul. To this day, many commoner adults make pilgrimages to Colma and to places like the Portals of the Past and other quake memorials to honor those who fell in the aftermath.

However, those who did survive the earthquake and its rush of Banality were quite pleased to learn that a new kind of spring greeted them, and soon several fairs left both the city and its fae populace rejuvenated.

The Power of Fairs

Not forgetting their carnival pasts, the changelings of San Francisco desperately loved celebrations and fairs and would go to great lengths to attend them, enjoying the lessening of the crowd’s Banality and finding amusement in the bright lights and beautiful music. The tradition of attending fairs as changeling en masse began on Imbolc of that year and since then, every major exhibition and fair has seen its “wild nights” when all the fae come out to play. Ancient rivalries are put aside, and merriment is had by all. 

Kindred of the East

San Francisco is the spearhead of the Kuei-jin's offensive against the "Kin-jin" on the West Coast, and is the center of the New Promise Mandarinate.