After an early start for our day yesterday, we took it easy today with quite a late start. (The hotel was still serving breakfast, so we really weren’t that late). We decided to see more of the city on the Hop-on Hop-off bus. In most paces we have been, we have found this to be an excellent way to get an overview of the city and this was no exception.
San Francisco was founded in 1776. The California Gold Rush of 1849 brought rapid growth and made the city the largest city on the West Coast at the time. About three-quarters of the city was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and its resultant fire. In World War II, San Francisco was the port of embarkation for many members of the military who were shipped out to serve in the Pacific sphere of operations. After the war, the culture of the city was shaped by a combination of returning servicemen, massive immigration, liberal attitudes, along with the rise of the “hippie”counterculture and the Peace Movement which grew from opposition to the USA’s involvement in the Vietnam War. These and other factors led to to the Summer of Love and the gay rights movement, which cemented San Francisco as a center of liberal activism in the United States. The first gay marriages in the USA were conducted in its grand city hall.
The wider city area (including suburbs) has a population of around 8.6 million people. The downtown area of San Francisco is a very large commercial centre. There is a big IT component in the business community and amongst other big names, it houses the headquarters of Twitter, Google, Facebook and Intuit. There is a new Apple Flagship store being built here in one of the most expensive parts of the city. The mass of city buildings creates some interesting architectural scenery.
One of the things I like about this city are the large numbers of gorgeous period houses. Many were built in the early Victoria era and are characterised by their ornate gingerbread trims. They remind me of some of the interesting architecture in the houses that I have seen in Wellington, New Zealand. However, buildings of this type cannot be found west of Van Ness Avenue here as they (along with almost every other building) was destroyed in the fires after the great earthquake. The fires had burned for six days and apparently, the Mayor made a brave decision to dynamite the houses along this road in order to create a fire break and that saved the rest of the city from destruction. Obviously, no water was available to fight the fires as the water mains had all ruptured in the earthquake.
The city has 43 hills and some are very steep. Near the area of Fishermans Wharf the topography is much flatter but this is because the rubble from the great fire was used as land fill to reclaim land from the sea and to create more space. Nob Hill (also called snob hill) is one of the nest known neighbourhoods and sits above Union Square. In the late 19th century that area became an exclusive district with many tycoons building extravagant mansions there. Although most of these houses were destroyed during the 1906 earthquake, the area remains affluent and exclusive. It now contains many luxury hotels and private clubs.
After our very late start today, we didn’t need lunch, but we stopped in Union Square for a drink and a rest before continuing on another part of our Hop-on Hop-off tour.
San Francisco was made famous in song through Tony Bennett’s song ‘I left my heart in San Francisco’. There is a project called Hearts in San Francisco which is an annual public art event that started in 2004. The choice of hearts was inspired by the Tony Bennett song. Each year, uniform heart sculptures are painted by different artists and installed at locations throughout San Francisco, including Union Square. The sculptures, except for the one painted by Tony Bennett, are auctioned off at the end of each year’s installation with the proceeds going to the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation. In one corner of Union Square is the large heart that Tony Bennet painted. So. its true. He really did leave his heart here!
After a tour through some of the city’s larger parks, we headed off for the last part of our day on another bus that took us across the Golden Gate Bridge. By now it was late into the afternoon and the warmth of the sun was fading. It was also becoming windy and quite cool. Jill retreated to the interior of the bus on the lower level but I stuck it out on the open top deck to grab a few photos of the bridge. As we returned back along the freeway, we passed a large grove of Eucalyptus trees. All of a sudden I caught a whiff of eucalyptus and for a split second, felt a little homesick. I got over that instantly as I thought about the exciting time that we will have on the second stage of this trip as we head for Yosemite National Park tomorrow.