San Francisco Districts List and their History

San Francisco Districts List

To fully understand the history of the various districts in San Francisco, it is necessary to know something about who lived there and why.  The following is a short description of the areas:

Bayview / Candlestick Point

The Bayview/Candlestick Point area of San Francisco was once wetlands inhabited by the Ohlone people. First, surveyed in 1775, the area was first named La Punta Concha. Following the giving of the area to Jose Cornelio Bernal in 1839, Bernal’s brothers built a large dairy farm here and named it Hunter’s Point. The area first became home to 18 slaughterhouses before becoming home to Hunters Point Dry Docks. The area was declared a superfund site because of the work done there to decontaminate ships exposed to atomic weapons testing. New development happened during the 1990s and 2000s. Once a largely African-American community, the new development has brought in more people of different ethnicities.

Castro / Upper Market

Like the Bayview district, the Ohlone Indians first settled the Castro district. With the building of Bernal’s large dairy farm, it became home to many slaves who worked on the farm. Quiet little Castro, lying in its valley, was the home to the discovery of AIDS. The district still has a large population with an alternative lifestyle.


San Francisco ChinatownThe immigration of people from China, particularly Guangdong province of southern China, began in 1850 and escalated during the building of the transcontinental railroad when these immigrants provided cheap labor. Most of these immigrants were processed at nearby Angel Island where they were often held for months. After the railroad was completed, the area became home to several tongs that participated in smuggling, gambling and prostitution. The influence of the tongs would last in Chinatown for the next 100 years. In 1900, the first bubonic plague was found in Chinatown. Shortly, 113 people were dead almost all within a ten block area.



Civic Center / Hayes Valley

In 1893, Chicago saw the World Columbian Exposition and from it grew the “city beautiful” movement. This movement in the United States was the start of city planning. It encouraged cities to build public gathering spaces in cities surrounded by large open spaces. In San Francisco, the movement took hold with the design of the civic district and a plan was developed. The first construction took place in 1915. The result of this plan is 456 acres containing 19 buildings. The most significant buildings in this district are the Department of Public Health, the Civic Auditorium, the City Hall, the public library, the California State Building, the Orpheum Theater and the War Memorial Complex.

Embarcadero / Financial District

If you trace the history of San Francisco back to the early 1900s, the land that now makes up the Embarcadero and financial districts did not exist. Instead, the area was a cove known as Yerba Buena Cover. Finally, starting in 1860, the seawall was created. It was not finished, however, until 1920s. The Embarcadero was once one of the busiest seaports in the world. The area in front of the trolley plaza located there was the third busiest areas of foot traffic in the world. In 1960, the government built a highway that divided this district from the rest of the city. The area went into a decline until the highway was destroyed in an earthquake in 1989. Today, visitors to the Embarcadero enjoy a beautiful planned development including the Embarcadero Center.

Fisherman’s Wharf

San Francisco's Fisherman's WharfThe Chinese immigrants to Chinatown needed a way to feed their families and turned to the nearby waters. After these Chinese immigrants went on to other endeavors, the new Italian immigrants took over the fishing trade. Many of the fishermen are third or fourth generation fishermen, first going out on the boats with their grandparents. The most common fished for item has always been the scrumptious Dungeness crab. The development of the stores and restaurants in Fishermen’s Wharf can be traced to the opening of Fishermen’s Grotto by Mike Geraldi in 1956.



Golden Gate Park / Sunset

No one is exactly sure how the area became known as Sunset. The first development in the area was by developer Aurelius Buckingham who advertised the block of residential development as Buckingham block 1. Another developer, Wendell Easton, was the first to use the term in the local newspaper in 1889. The area, however, remained largely undeveloped and was often referred to as the outside lands. The outside lands were filled with squatters living in abandoned streetcars until the 1906 earthquake hit. After the earthquake, the area quickly became filled with new homes that were quickly built. Many of these homes were destroyed in the 1950s to make room for the present Henry Doelger designed homes.


The area now known as Haight-Ashbury was first rural farmland until the building of the Haight Street Cable Railroad in 1883 that connected the new Golden Gate Park with the downtown area. Shortly after the cable car system was built, the area was filled with large residential houses of wealthy residents. The area takes its name from Henry Haight, an early pioneer and exchange banker and Munroe Ashbury who was an early commissioner with the Board of Supervisors. The depression hit the area hard and the area did not recover with home prices being extremely low in the region. This gave rise to the hippie movement, which started in this area during the late 1960s.

Japantown / Fillmore

San Francisco Japan townThe immigrants from Japan started moving into the area after the 1906 earthquake. These immigrants built this neighborhood to resemble the Ginza district in Tokyo. When the Japanese immigrants were interned in February 1942, the area was left largely deserted.   Today, the area has been on the rise to become a working class district.




Marina / Presidio

In 1906, San Francisco had a major earthquake. The city quickly rebuilt and the area now known as the Marina was cleared to hold a fair known as the Panama-Pacific International Exposition to celebrate the city’s recovery. After the Panama-Pacific International Exposition was over, the city sold the land to private developers who developed it into a residential neighborhood. The area changed from a residential neighborhood to include several motels after the Golden Gate Bridge was completed.

Mission District

Father Francisco Palou opened the first mission on June 29, 1776, to minister to the Yelamu Indians. The mission was moved in 1783. The area became almost deserted by 1841. The area surrounding the mission was filled with gambling and dueling. Twenty-five years later, developers built the first professional baseball stadium in California in this district. The area has always been popular with immigrants. First, came the Irish and German immigrants, followed by immigrants from Poland. These immigrants were followed with immigrants from Mexico and then immigrants from South and Central America.

Nob Hill

San Francisco's Nob HillConstruction by wealthy businessmen on Nob Hill followed the building of the cable car, which made the high hill accessible. The residents of the hill were known as “nabobs “in other parts of San Francisco, because they were seen as snobs. The earthquake of 1906 tore down many of their homes. What the earthquake did not get, the fire after the earthquake destroyed. These wealthy executives then moved on and the area became home to some of the most luxurious hotels ever built in San Francisco.




North Beach

The oldest street in San Francisco is Grant Avenue that runs through North Beach. Immigrants from South America, Europe and Australia originally settled the area. These immigrants were followed by many immigrants from Italy. This area was one of the few that suffered little damage during the 1906 earthquake. According to legend, it was because the residents opened hundreds of barrels of red wine that they used to soak blankets. The residents then used these blankets to protect their homes.

SOMA / Yerba Buena

On June 25, 1835, Captain William Antonio Richardson moved his family from the Presidio to build the first house in Yerba Buena. Shortly, the very first hotel in California, the Portsmouth House, was constructed. July 4, 1836, was a glorious day in the town of Yerba Buena as it was the first time an American flag was ever displayed in California. The first pianos ever found in California were found in Yerba Buena, owned by Captain Stephen Smith. William Sturgis Hinckley also built the first bridge ever built in California in this tiny town which was only incorporated for eleven years, seven months and five days before the city became known as San Francisco.

Union Square

Union Square, San FranciscoAmerica’s first mayor John Geary built the actual Union Square in 1850. The area was constructed for rallies to support the Union Army during the American Civil War. The area surrounding the square quickly developed as a mixed-used community. Today, the area is home to several large department stores. The park is one of the only parks in the nation to offer free Wi-Fi.





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