The City and County of San Francisco is the fourth-largest city in California and the fourteenth largest in the United States. San Francisco is located on the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula and is the focal point of the San Francisco Bay Area, whose population is seven million. San Francisco is the second most densely populated major American city after New York.
The first Europeans to settle in San Francisco were the Spanish, in 1776; the city is named for St. Francis. With the advent of the California gold rush in 1848, and the Comstock Lode and silver mines in 1859, the city entered a period of rapid growth. After being devastated by the 1906 earthquake and fire, San Francisco was quickly rebuilt and is today one of the most recognizable cities on the West Coast. It is also one of the "beta" Global cities (along with Toronto, Sydney and Zurich).
San Francisco has a unique mix of characteristics, including its months-long episodes of fog, its steep rolling hills, its eclectic mix of architecture (including Victorian style houses and modern high-rises), and its being bordered on three sides by the Pacific Ocean or the San Francisco Bay. Famous hallmarks and landmarks include the San Francisco cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Island.
San Francisco has a Japantown and Chinatown; both are among the largest and oldest in the US. It also boasts a budding Vietnamese community and a large homeless population in the Tenderloin neighborhood, Filipinos in Crocker-Amazon and South of Market, an Italian community in North Beach, a French Quarter, and Irish, Chinese, and Russian communities in the Richmond District.
The predominantly Hispanic Mission District is the oldest neighborhood in the city, being the site of Mission Dolores, established in 1776. Russian Hill is a residential neighborhood most famous for Lombard Street "the crookedest street in the world". Haight-Ashbury gained prominence during the "Summer of Love" 1960s for its counter-culture and concentration of hippies. The Castro neighborhood has the world's highest concentration of homosexuals. In addition to the predominantly gay Castro, there are significant concentrations of gays in Noe Valley, Diamond Heights, Bernal Heights, Potrero Hill, Haight-Ashbury, Hayes Valley, and SOMA. (See The Castro for more gay demographics.)
Not to be missed are the beautiful homes and area of the city known as Pacific Heights as well as victorians in the Haight-Ashbury and the "painted ladies" of Alamo Square and the Castro. San Francisco is also famous for its Cable cars (narrow gauge, 3'6" (1067 mm)), which were designed to carry residents up those steep hills. It is still possible to take a cable car ride up and down Nob and Russian Hills. Along with New Orleans' streetcars, San Francisco's cable cars are one of only two mobile United States National Monuments. Coit Tower, a notable landmark dedicated to San Francisco's firefighters, is located at the top of Telegraph Hill.
Current demographic and land use expansion is concentrated in the east and south. The South of Market neighborhood was the center of the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. A new neighborhood, Mission Bay, is being redeveloped from an industrial area at the far eastern end of South of Market. The cornerstones of this development are the AT&T Park baseball stadium and an extension of the University of California, San Francisco medical school.
The best-known, as well as biggest, park is Golden Gate Park which is 174 acres larger than New York's Central Park, but smaller than Los Angeles's Griffith Park. Another notable park is the former military base The Presidio at the south edge of the Golden Gate. The Presidio is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which includes Alcatraz, and many other large local parks. Buena Vista Park located in the Haight-Ashbury, is the city's oldest, established in 1867. Nearby Alamo Square is famous for its views of the city and the famous Victorian houses known as the Painted Ladies. A large fresh-water lake, Lake Merced, is located in the south west corner of the city near San Francisco State University and Fort Funston.
San Francisco also contains many public beaches, the most notable being Baker Beach and Ocean Beach, but they are not popular for swimming since the waters off the coast are cold.