San Francisco History In A Hurry! Forty-One Key Historical Facts

San Francisco History. The city as we know it was shaped by the San Francisco Bay, one of the great natural harbors of the world. The earliest settlers date to 3000 BCE when native Americans lived in small villages on the bay. Thousands of years later, explorers from England and Spain "discovered" San Francisco and claimed it for their countries.

But nothing shaped the modern city more than the Gold Rush of 1849, when the population exploded with fortune seekers rushing to the West Coast. A bubonic plague of 1900 left the city devastated but not as much as the earthquake and fire of 1906. Here we give you — in rapid succession — the top 41 historical facts about San Francisco. Have you taken a deep breath? Then, let's go!


Find Hotel Deals for Your Dates in San Francisco

Check with to find today's sale prices on hotel rooms in every neighborhood of SF. Save 20% to 30%… or even more!

Booking.Com SF Hotel Deals
Find hotels at Union Square, near Fisherman's Wharf, in North Beach, the business district, even in the Wine Country.
Search for your hotel




1. 1579

Sir Francis Drake anchors on the northern California Coast to repair his ship, The Golden Hind, and claims the territory for his sovereign, Queen Elizabeth I.

2. 1595

On his way to Acapulco, Captain Sebastian Cermeno claims the California coast for Spain and names it Puerto de San Francisco.

3. 1769

Spanish explorers, led by Don Gaspar de Portola, discover San Francisco. It was a tough journey and he lost most of his crew. Portola climbed to the top of the western ridge of Montara Mountain and sighted the Farallones Islands and Point Reyes.

4. 1776

Padre Junipero Serra founds the Mission of St Francis on the shore of Lake Dolores, already home to the Costanoan Indians. Captain Juan Bautista begins building The Presidio.

5. 1792

Captain George Vancouver anchors off Yerba Buena Cove, the birthplace of San Francisco. He then moves up the coast where a coule of cities and a large island now sport his name.


Gold Rush


6. 1794 — The protective Castillo de San Joaquin is established on the site of Fort Point, now overshadowed by the approach to Golden Gate Bridge.

7. 1806 — California is declared a province of the Republic of Mexico

8. 1835 — The first residential houses are built at Yerba Buena Cove on the site of the present Financial District.

9. 1846 — The American flag is raised in Portsmouth Square and Yerba Buena becomes San Francisco. Captain John C. Fremont coins the term Golden Gate.

10. 1848 — The Gold Rush begins. The first commercial bank is established and the first American public school opens in San Francisco.

11. 1850 — The Bay region counties are created: San Francisco, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, Sonoma, Solano, and Napa. The city of San Francisco is incorporated. California is admitted to the Union.



12. 1854 — The first lighthouse is built on Alcatraz.

13. 1860 — The first Pony Express arrives from St Joseph, Missouri. A telegraph line connects SF with Los Angeles.

14. 1864 — A young reporter by the name of Mark Twain begins writing about life in San Francisco for the Morning Call.

15. 1870 — Golden Gate Park is established.

16. 1872 — The first Japanese ship arrives to San Francisco loaded with a cargo of tea.

17. 1873 — Ground is broken for the world's first cable street railroad on Clay Street.

18. 1876 — Electricity lights up the city just in time for Jack London's birth.

19. 1898 — The Ferry Building opens.

20. 1904 — The Bank of Italy, later named the Bank of America (!!) is created by Italian merchant A.P. Giannini.




21. 1906

An earthquake and fire destroy most of the city.

22. 1915

The Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, commemorating the opening of the Panama Canal opens. More than 18 million people attend.

23. 1927

The San Francisco International airport opens.

24. 1933

Coit Tower is built.

25. 1936

The Oakland Bay Bridge opens.


Oakland Bay Bridge


26. 1937 — The Golden Gate Bridge opens.

27. 1939 — Treasure Island is created for the Golden Gate Internation Exposition. The Maritime Museum opens.

28. 1945 — The United Nations Charter is founded and signed in the Herbst Theater auditorium in San Francisco.

29. 1960 — Candlestick Park opens.

30. 1963 — Alcatraz prison is closed.

31. 1968 — The Summer of Love comes to the city.

32. 1972 — The Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) opens.

33. 1978 — Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey milk are assassinated in their offices.



34. 1986 — The Downtown Plan limits building in the city.

35. 1989 — A 7.1 earthquake shakes San Francisco and Oakland. Buildings are damaged, an expressway collapses.

36. 1993 — Yerba Buena Gardens, the arts and culture center opens.

37. 1994 — Most of The Presidio, the oldest military post is transferred from the army's jurisdiction to become the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

38. 1996 — The San Francisco Public Library opens in the Civic Center complex.

39. 2000 — The AT&T baseball parks opens in South Beach.

40. 2003 — The Asian Art Museum opens at the Civic Center.


Gay Pride Flag


41. 2004

San Francisco is the first US city to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

What's Quakin'?

Don't Miss a Single San Francisco Travel Tip — Sign Up For Our Newsletter Today