Financial District San Francisco – Where The Money Is

Often called the Wall Street of the West, The Financial District of San Francisco is home to the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange building, some of the country's tallest towers, the Embarcadero Center, and a who's-who of corporate headquarters.

Although it's mainly about the money, the Financial District is also home to some of the city's most human-scale destinations, like the Ferry Building and the Wells Fargo History Museum on Montgomery Street. Let's take a look at this busy area, bordered by The Embarcadero and Market, Third, Kearny and Washington Streets.


Five Great Things About the Financial District

1. Transamerica Pyramid

Transamerica Pyramid

This darling of television and cinema appears in almost every show about San Francisco to establish the city's location. The 853-foot-tall tower is the city's tallest structure, but when it was completed it 1972, there was a great deal of controversy surrounding its dramatic shape. At one time, there was a public observation deck on the 27th floor but it was closed after 9/11.

  • 600 Montgomery Street

2. Embarcadero Center

 Embarcadero Center

This mammoth eight-block shopping complex stretches from Clay, Battery and Sansome Streets to the Hyatt Regency Hotel at Market Street. You'll find all the regular retail giants as well as some local shops and restaurants like Boudin Sourdough Bakery and Ambassador Toys. There are also some lovely non-retail attractions with gardens, sculptures, bridges and resting areas.

3. Ferry Building

Ferry Building

Most locals are not even aware that the Ferry Building was modeled after the Cathedral Tower in Seville, Spain. For many years, its 235-foot-clock clock tower was the tallest building in San Francisco. Back in the day, it was the gateway to the city, with ferries moving as many as 50 million passengers a year. It's now the city's hub for fresh food with restaurants, merchant stalls, and a Farmers Market and selling everything from sausages to speciality cheeses.


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4. Wells Fargo History Museum

Wells Fargo History Museum

It's worth a visit to see the renovated and expanded space with artifacts from the Gold Rush — old mining equipment, gold nuggets, banking documents, and early photographs that document local history. Don't miss the authentic 19th-century Concord stagecoach that was once used on California trails. The museum is free!

5. 555 California Street

555 California Street

Nicknamed the Triple Five, it's the second tallest tower in the city and one of the most dazzling high-rise office towers ever built. Fifty-two stories clad in dark red carnelian granite with bay windows cut to resemble bay windows found in SF residential homes. It's also been used in many iconic SF films including Dirty Harry and The Towering Inferno. (Those are two different movies, by the way!) It was formerly the Bank of America Center.

  • 555 California Street


History of the Financial District in San Francisco

When thousands of gold diggers gathered at the muddy shores of Yerba Buena Cove, they began to grade the sand dunes along what is now Market Street, dumping sand into the mud flats of the cove. They also started to build a seawall so ships could unload their cargo directly on the wharves. As the reclamation of the mud flats continued, some of the city's smaller hills were sacrificed to fill the area between the old waterfront and the new wall until, voila, the Financial District as we know it, arose from the sea.

Within five years of the gold strike Montgomery Street was lined with several bankers offices. As gold dust gathered, practical ways of handling it had to be found. Since shopkeepers had scales for weighing the gold and safes for storing it, they became San Francisco's first bankers.

Although the city was rich in gold, it was cash poor. A pinch of gold was equal to one dollar, and a dollar's length of gold wire was divided into eight parts used as smaller coins. That's where we get the terms two bits, four bits, and so on.

When the Gold Rush ended dramatically in 1854 it resulted in Black Friday, a panic that forced many banks to close. It wasn't until wealth began to flow from the Nevada silver mines that San Francisco was established as the financial center of the West.

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