With the lively commercial hub of Union Square at its heart, Downtown San Francisco is framed by the orange vermillion Golden Gate Bridge on the edge of San Francisco Bay. The city is the cultural, commercial, and financial centre of Northern California, with its vibrant piers, historic trams and hilly landscape making it a West Coast tourist hotspot.
The public plaza of Union Square is packed with department stores, boutique shops and art galleries, together with numerous theatres which nestle in the surrounding blocks. Just to the south lies the Contemporary Jewish Museum and landscaped parklands of the Yerba Buena Gardens, while to the west is the Civic Center where many of San Francisco’s most important government buildings and cultural institutions are situated. The Financial District extends to the north-east, home to corporate powerhouses and international banks, while the Embarcadero stretches along the waterfront to the east. Winding north, visitors will find attractions and restaurants in the tourist hubs of Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, together with the former chocolate factory at Ghirardelli Square. Inland San Francisco’s iconic hilly terrain is on display at Russian Hill’s Lombard Street, dubbed the crookedest street in the world", while the Cable Car Museum of Nob Hill explores this distinctive form of local transport. Further west sprawls the recreational paradise of the Presidio, home to the Walt Disney Family Museum and from where the Golden Gate Bridge extends across the bay. Just to the south lies Golden Gate Park, another of San Francisco’s leafy urban escapes where the California Academy of Sciences and de Young Museum stand alongside the San Francisco Botanical Gardens and elegant Conservatory of Flowers.
San Francisco boasts a comprehensive public transport system, with buses, metro and historic cable cars covering all corners of the downtown area. It’s also an incredible bike and pedestrian friendly city, with many designated bike lanes and picturesque parklands.
San Francisco was officially founded in 1776 when Spanish colonists established the Presidio of San Francisco at the Mission San Francisco de Asís. The settlement flourished during the mid-19th century California Gold Rush, emerging as the largest city on the US West Coast at the time, before being largely destroyed by a devastating earthquake and fire in 1906.