This progressive Californian city has pioneered everything from the Gold Rush to tech startups. It’s bursting with art, music and cutting-edge cuisine, as well as saloons and speakeasies over a century old. Nearly 16 million people hotfoot here every year, but how much do you know about the Golden City? From Levis jeans to fortune cookies, here are a few interesting facts about San Francisco you probably haven’t heard before.
1. Most of San Francisco was destroyed by an earthquake
At 5:12 am on April 18 a devastating earthquake with a magnitude of 7.9 hit San Francisco. A fire broke out soon after and burned for four whole days, killing more than 3,000 people and causing more than $8 billion worth of damage. It’s one of the deadliest earthquakes in the history of the United States and was the first-ever natural disaster documented in photos.
In the end, the Redwood Tree helped salvage the city. The trees have high resin content and a porous grain that can withhold a lot of water. Those buildings made from the wood from the beloved trees didn’t burn as quickly, which eventually halted the fire.
2. Jeans first made an appearance in San Francisco
In 1873, San Francisco businessmen Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis patented work pants reinforced with metal rivets. It was the birth of the world’s most popular garment – blue jeans.
3. San Francisco is home to the oldest Chinatown in North America
Established in 1848, San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest in North America. At one mile (1.6 km) long and a half-mile (0.8 km) wide, it’s also one of the largest outside Asia. San Francisco is also home to the largest Japantown in the United States. Before World War Two there were 43 Japantowns dotted around the country. Now there are only three: San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles.
The fortune cookie was also invented in San Francisco. Makoto Hagiwara invented the product in the 1890s and served it up at the Golden Gate parks tea garden.
4. It’s hard to get buried in San Francisco
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted to stop all burials within the city limits in 1902 due to lack of space. They transported the graves to Colmer, 15 minutes south of the city, where today the dead outnumber the living by over 1,000 to 1. There are only two cemeteries in San Francisco nowadays.
That only applies to humans though, if you’re an animal you’ve got more of a chance of sticking around the city. Head under the 101 overpass and you’ll find the Presidio Pet Cemetary. Founded in the 1950s, it’s now home to more than 400 deceased pets belonging to military families.
5. It hasn’t always been called San Francisco
San Francisco was founded in 1776, but back then it had a different name. It was called ‘Yerba Buena’, which means ‘good herb’ in Spanish. The name likely came from all the wild mint growing in the spot where the first European settlers picked up their tents. San Francisco was actually part of Mexico until the Mexican American War in 1848 when it became San Francisco.
The city is named after Saint Francis, the first Spanish settlement in the region.
6. The Great Depression didn’t hit San Francisco as hard as the rest of the country
Unlike most cities in the United States, no banks failed in San Francisco. In fact, both Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge were built during the period.
Work on Golden Gate Bridge began in 1932. Since work was scarce, those who managed to secure a job on the construction site were envied, despite the hazardous working conditions above freezing cold water. It took four-and-a-half years to build the bridge.
7. San Francisco is home to the only national historical monument that can move
No trip to San Francisco would be complete without a trip on its signature cable cars, but did you know that they are the only historical monument in the country that can move?
Some of its rickety carriages are the same that have carried commuters across the city since the 1870s, pulled along by a cobweb of cables under the road. You can choose from three different routes, but a hair-raising ride down the Powell-Hyde branch is the longest and boasts brilliant views over the water.