San Francisco History

Since its early days as a small settlement surrounding a small Spanish fishing village named Yerba Buena (Good Herb), San Francisco has endured numerous ups and downs - all of which have helped shape the modern city. Its origins lie with the Native Americans, who had cultivated the area before being kicked out by the Spanish in 1769.

Mission Dolores and Yerba Buena quickly grew and were joined by military fort, the Presidio of San Francisco. In 1846, California was claimed by the United States and the next year, the city became San Francisco.

The Gold Rush of 1848 inspired a huge amount of migration from the west but also from the east. The mix of ethnicities and the lack of laws made for a chaotic civic atmosphere, with militias and mobs ruling the town. For the next decade, the city’s growing immigrant population outstripped infrastructure, and epidemics were commonplace.

By the 1860s, the city had become more civilised. The cable cars arrived, as did the Golden Gate Park, while a bohemian population of writers thrived. Dubbed the ‘Paris of the West’, the city flourished until 1900 when an outbreak of plague decimated the population.

More misfortune followed, with a devastating earthquake hitting in 1906, destroying 80% of the city and causing around 3,000 fatalities. A new San Francisco grew from its ashes and in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge was completed.

In the 1950s, the Beat movement built on the city's love of literature and it became a magnet for hippies, young rebels and bohemians. Counter-culture flowered in the Haight Ashbury neighbourhood culminating in the famous 1967 Summer of Love. It was here that the gay community fought for and found a home in Castro and Polk Street.

Rapid growth in the 1970s was followed, after a brief pause in the 1980s, by the dotcom boom of the 1990s. When it crashed, the city was left reeling. Today, San Francisco has regained its lost ground and is now the West Coast’s financial and technology capital.

Did you know?
• Isadora Duncan, the ‘Mother of Modern Dance,’ was born in San Francisco in 1877.
• The United Nations Charter was drafted in a San Francisco hotel in 1945.
• Joshua Abraham Norton declared himself Emperor of America in the city in September 1859.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.