Welcome to the City and County of San Francisco
The City of San Francisco is the heart of the greater Bay Area. Its magnificent setting at the top of the San Francisco Peninsula surrounded by water on three sides has garnered many nicknames, but locals prefer to simply call it “The City.”
The city is full of peaks and valleys with sparkling water views peeking out between the buildings. Mount Davidson is the highest point in the city, although Twin Peaks, Russian Hill, and Nob Hill garner more attention. The City is made up of eclectic districts, each with its own character, including: the Castro, Chinatown, Cole Valley, the Financial District, Fisherman’s Wharf, Haight-Ashbury, Hayes Valley, Japantown, Lower Haight, the Marina, the Mission, Nob Hill, Noe Valley, North Beach, Pacific Heights, the Panhandle, Potrero Hill, the Presidio, the Richmond, Russian Hill, Sea Cliff, Sixth Street, SOMA, the Sunset, the Tenderloin, Union Square, and Upper Market.
Together, these neighborhoods create a city steeped in culture and the arts with a fabric of coffee houses, bookstores, boutiques, cafes, bars, bistros, and restaurants. And best of all, the spectacular setting catches you unexpectedly around nearly every corner—and never fails to take your breath away.
San Francisco celebrates diversity, culture, and heritage. It welcomes locals and international visitors alike. The city is home to a variety of embassies. Tourism is the leading industry in the city, and many residents work in hospitality, food, wine, retail, transportation, and other services supporting tourism. San Francisco has long had a thriving financial district, and several large companies continue to have offices here. The city port and network of piers have seen most industry move to the Port of Oakland and Richmond, but cruise ships continue to dock in the city, and the Embarcadero affords lovely views of activity on the bay, from ferries, cruise ships, and large container ships alike.
Lay of the land
San Francisco sits on the very tip of the San Francisco Peninsula, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west, and San Francisco Bay to the north and east. It is the only city-county in the state. At just under 47 square miles, it is the smallest county in the state, although 852,469 people (according to the U.S. Census’ 2014 estimate) live within a space that’s not even seven miles by seven miles. As a result, San Francisco is second only to New York City in population density (for cities larger than 200,000). Given that, there’s a surprising amount of open space along the Pacific, the bay shore, and carved out of the urban environment, most notably with Baker Beach, Golden Gate Park, Crissy Field, and Twin Peaks. Former military bases and forts—including the Presidio, Fort Point, and Fort Mason—provide open space and cultural centers.
The city connects to the rest of the Bay Area using a network of highways (1, 280, and 80) and bridges (the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge). A complex network of street cars, cable cars, BART trains, and MUNI buses crisscrosses San Francisco above and below the city streets, creating a buzzing web of transportation, while ferries run from the San Francisco Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street, trains leave from the Caltrain and BART stations, and Golden Gate Transit buses shuttle commuters—all moving people in, out, and around the city.
San Francisco has 132 public schools with over 57,000 students in one district run by the San Francisco Unified School District. Approximately 25,000 of the city’s youth attend a wide variety of private Catholic, parochial, secular, and independent schools.
San Franciscans have a variety of higher education offerings, including UCSF, UC Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco State, City College of San Francisco, University of San Francisco, Golden Gate University, the Academy of Art, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and the California Culinary Academy.
For the history buffs, San Francisco County has 184 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Here are a few highlights: Alcatraz, Aquatic Park, Central Embarcadero Piers Historic District, the City of Paris Building, Coit Memorial Tower, the Fairmont Hotel, the Farallon Islands, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Folger Coffee Company Building, The James C. Flood Mansion, the Geary Theatre, Hunters Point Commercial Drydock Historic District, the Old U.S. Mint, Mission Dolores, the Palace of Fine Arts, Golden Gate Park and several spots within its grounds, and several former military spots, including the Presidio.
With the Golden State Warriors, the Oakland Raiders, the Oakland Athletics, and the San Jose Sharks in the greater Bay Area, sports fans have plenty to cheer about. As of 2014, the San Francisco 49ers play in the newly built Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, but the San Francisco Giants remain on city soil, playing at AT&T Park, considered by baseball fans to be one of the best ball parks in the country.
Golden Gate Park is the destination of choice for locals wanting a little fresh air or for family fun. The park has excellent walking, cycling, and skating options as well as rowing on Stow Lake, dining at the Beach Chalet, visiting the Conservatory of Flowers and San Francisco Botanical Garden, or taking tea at the Japanese Tea Garden. Families should be sure to visit the carousel, long cement slide, and play structures at the Koret Children’s Quarter Playground.
The Golden Gate Bridge has superb views of the Marin Headlands, the city, and the Pacific. Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghiradelli Square, and Alcatraz are popular with tourists. The beautifully restored and enticing food market at the San Francisco Ferry Building is a wonderful place to explore.
San Franciscans love museums, and the city has too many to mention here. Highlights include the SFMOMA south of Market, the interactive Exploratorium recently moved to the Embarcadero, the Asian Art Museum near City Hall, the Legion of Honor out in the avenues, the Cable Car Museum on the edge of China Town, the Randall Museum in the hills above Upper Market Street, and the De Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.
The Marina is home to a handful of yacht clubs, and it’s not uncommon to watch sailboats racing along the Bay or windsurfers and kite boarders alike, all taking advantage of the breezes coming in from the Golden Gate.
San Francisco has a storied history of live music with many popular venues from which to choose, including: the Fillmore, the Warfield, the Great American Music Hall, Slim’s, the Independent, Bimbo’s 365, Bottom of the Hill, and Hotel Utah. Golden Gate Park is now the site of the annual Outside Lands Music Festival, which runs for three days in August, and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free three day festival in the fall. For classical music, the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Ballet perform in the War Memorial Opera House, and the San Francisco symphony plays at Davies Symphony Hall.
The great outdoors
A series of neighborhood parks, including Buena Vista Park, Dolores Park, and Aquatic Park, along with larger destinations such as the Presidio, Twin Peaks, Lands End, and Crissy Field, provide open space along with miles of trails for hiking, running, and biking. Sandy beaches dot the edge of the city, from the restored bay shore at Crissy Field to Baker Beach below the Golden Gate and Ocean Beach along the Great Highway.
Golf courses include Lincoln Park and TPC Harding. San Francisco is a dog-friendly city, with play areas at Alamo Square, Bernal Heights, Alta Plaza, and Marina Green. Kite flying opportunities abound in San Francisco, with the Marina Green and Crissy Field perennial favorites.
Districts and Neighborhoods Located in San Francisco County
- District 1 (Northwest):
Sea Cliff, Lake Street, Richmond (Inner, Central, Outer), Jordan Park/Laurel Heights, Lone
- District 2 (West):
Sunset & Parkside (Inner, Central, Outer), Golden Gate Heights
- District 3 (Southwest):
Lake Shore, Lakeside, Merced Manor, Merced Heights, Ingleside, Ingleside Heights, Oceanview
- District 4 (Central SW):
St. Francis Wood, Forest Hill, West Portal, Forest Knolls, Diamond Heights, Midtown Terrace, Miraloma Park, Sunnyside, Balboa Terrace, Ingleside Terrace, Mt. Davidson Manor, Sherwood Forest, Monterey Heights, Westwood Highlands
- District 5 (Central):
Noe Valley, Eureka Valley/Dolores Heights (Castro, Liberty Hill), Cole Valley, Glen Park, Corona Heights, Clarendon Heights, Ashbury Heights, Buena Vista Park, Haight Ashbury, Duboce Triangle, Twin Peaks, Mission Dolores, Parnassus Heights
- District 6 (Central North):
Hayes Valley, North of Panhandle (NOPA), Alamo Square, Western Addition, Anza Vista, Lower
- District 7 (North):
Pacific Heights, Presidio Heights, Cow Hollow, Marina
- District 8 (Northeast):
Russian Hill, Nob Hill, Telegraph Hill, North Beach, Financial District, North Waterfront, Downtown, Van Ness/ Civic Center, Tenderloin
- District 9 (East):
SoMa, South Beach, Mission Bay, Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, Bernal Heights, Inner Mission, Yerba Buena
- District 10 (Southeast):
Bayview, Bayview Heights, Excelsior, Portola, Visitacion Valley, Silver Terrace, Mission Terrace, Crocker Amazon, Outer Mission
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