The 25 San Francisco Fun Facts You'll Wish You Knew Before

The 25 San Francisco Fun Facts You'll Wish You Knew Before

By California.com
September 17, 2020

Consider yourself a San Francisco expert? Perhaps you've traveled to all of the city's top destinations, visited the must-see attractions, admired the vibrant murals of the Mission District, and explored the historical areas—but our list of San Francisco fun facts will still wow you.

The City by the Bay is full of surprises—hidden hot spots, juicy tidbits, charming quirks—so it will keep you on your toes regardless of how many times you've visited. Here are the interesting facts about San Francisco that you should know.

San Francisco Facts You Won't Believe You Didn't Know Sooner

The California state flag depicts Monarch—the famous grizzly bear who resided in the San Francisco Zoo.

1. The San Francisco Zoo in Golden Gate Park was home to one of the last Ursus arctos californicus—a now-extinct grizzly bear subspecies—remaining in California. Named Monarch, the 1,100-pound furry hero was the first animal in the zoo and lived there for 22 years; he was popular amongst the locals, so his stardom eventually led him to become the grizzly bear symbol on the California state flag. Monarch survived the 1906 earthquake, inspiring San Franciscans to cultivate resilience and find strength in the aftermath of the tragedy. 

2. San Francisco prospered during the Great Depression. Though the rest of the U.S. and the world suffered from the collapse of the stock market and the ensuing economic recession, not one bank in San Francisco failed. The city even had the resources to construct the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge in the midst of the Depression. 

3. You’ve probably heard countless weird facts about San Francisco’s Alcatraz, but did you know that the former federal penitentiary was the only prison to offer hot-water showers at the time? This was done to prevent prisoners from acclimating to the cooler climate so they didn't try to escape, though this tactic didn't work for everyone: A total of 36 inmates attempted to break free from the supposedly "escape-proof" prison; of those, five went missing but there were no confirmed prisoner escapes from Alcatraz. 

Nestled in the waters of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz used to be a federal prison that held several infamous criminals throughout history.

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4. The infamous gangster and businessman Al Capone was one of Alcatraz's most prominent prisoners. Despite Capone's cold vibe, he sure knew how to rock the dance floor. While imprisoned, he started the band "Rock Island" and played the banjo. 

5. This Bay Area fun fact is all about the iconic Levi's jeans, which were invented in San Francisco. Designed by Levi Strauss, they were first crafted for Gold Rush miners as a comfortable and durable clothing option but then quickly became a wardrobe staple for everyone. This was the first time in history when San Francisco—not New York City—revolutionized the fashion industry.

6. Legendary band The Beatles held their final show in the Golden State, performing at San Franciso's Candlestick Park (now Oracle Park) in 1966. Although the arena’s capacity was over 42,000, only 25,000 tickets were sold—many didn't know this would be the Fab Four's last performance.

Fortune cookies were first served in the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

7. Chinese fortune cookies were invented in San Francisco by a Japanese resident named Makoto Hagiwara. As the story goes, he was the landscape designer for Golden Gate Park's Japanese Tea Garden and served the treats in the tea garden, popularizing the fortune cookie in 1909. 

8. Given that S.F. is a coffee mecca, this fun fact may not surprise you: There are over 300 coffeehouses within the San Francisco city boundaries, so there's no shortage of places for you to go to add a pep to your step. 

9. San Francisco has more dogs than children—10,000 more to be exact. Seems like the local millennials are more into having fur babies.

10. The vibrant Golden Gate Bridge is one of the major symbols of the state and among the most popular Northern California film locations, but the U.S. Navy originally planned to paint the bridge black with yellow stripes. The Navy thought this would make the bridge easier to see through the fog, especially while under attack. The “International Orange” color, the current hue of the bridge, was intended to be a sealantnot a color optionto protect the steel, but during transit, it caught the architect's eye and became the official color.

The iconic cable cars used to be the city's main transportation for over 30 years and had the strength to survive the 1906 earthquake.

11. San Francisco’s cable cars are the only moveable National Historical Monument. The cables that pull the cars run at a constant speed of 9.5 miles per hour.

12. If you’ve always dreamt of being an emperor, the sky's the limit in San Francisco: In 1859, S.F. resident Joshua Abraham Norton declared himself the Emperor of the U.S. Although he had no formal political power, citizens acknowledged and celebrated his imperial presence. There were even souvenirs bearing his name. When he died, 10,000 people lined the streets of San Francisco to honor his life. 

13. Before it was renamed San Francisco in 1876, the city was called Yerba Buena, which means "good herb" in Spanish. The early settlement had a bustling public square that is now Portsmouth Square in Chinatown. 

14. S.F. has the largest and oldest Japantown in the United States. It is also one of the only three Japantowns in the country.

Held in S.F.'s Chinatown, the traditional Lion Dance performance is believed to bring good fortune and chase away evil spirits.

15. S.F. also has the second-largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest one in North America. Around one mile long and a half-mile wide, San Francisco's Chinatown is home to more than 100,000 people. 

16. Many California culinary creations originated in San Francisco. The lengthy list includes Cobb salads, San Francisco sourdough bread, French dip sandwiches, popsicles, California-style pizza, and the Mission burrito.

17. There are more than 3,400 restaurants open in San Francisco, so you'll never run out of new restaurants to try.

18. Philo Farnsworth invented the first electric TV in 1927 in San Francisco. 

The Buena Vista Cafe and Stanton Delaplane popularized the famous Irish Coffee. The café has served over 30 million Irish coffees since then.

19. Irish coffee was first served in the United States in 1952 at the beloved Buena Vista Cafe.

20. While California has strange laws, this one is particularly mind-boggling: In 1867, San Francisco implemented America’s first “ugly law,” which prohibited unsightly people from showing their faces in public. Thankfully, it has since been repealed.

21. Absurd laws that still exist in San Francisco? It's illegal to wash your car with used underwear; if you must walk an elephant down Market Street, it has to be on a leash; and it's prohibited to pile horse manure higher than six feet on any street corner.

22. Francis Ford Coppola wrote large portions of The Godfather trilogy at San Francisco’s first coffee shop, Cafe Trieste. The employees there must've made him a delicious double espresso he couldn't refuse.

San Francisco boasts one of the highest populations of billionaires per square meter.

23. After New York, Moscow, and London, San Francisco is the fourth city in the world with the highest population of billionaires per square meter, despite having a much smaller population than the other three cities. Check out some of the elite's homes on your tour of San Francisco's most expensive neighborhoods.

24. The United Nations Charter was drafted and signed in San Francisco, establishing the world body as a means of saving “succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” 

25. The Liberty Bell, a famous symbol of American independence, made an appearance in San Francisco. During the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915, the bell took a train tour of the city; once the exposition ended, it returned to Philadelphia.

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