If you only see the major attractions in San Francisco you’re going to be dealing with a fair amount of FOMO. Yes, Alcatraz is morbidly fascinating, but this city has a whole host of secrets to share too. After all, is there any greater thrill than uncovering a holiday gem?
Whether it’s finding the best cuppa you’ve ever supped in a coffee tasting tour of San Francisco or stumbling upon some surreal street art, your discovery makes your trip so much more memorable. These San Francisco facts will lure you from your itinerary, point you towards hidden spots and clue you up with some solid San Fran trivia.
1: Don’t miss leg day…
How do you define a hill? In San Francisco, this seems to be a tricky question. Some argue the city has just seven hills, but our quads and hamstrings beg to differ. The real figure? That lies anywhere between 42 and 50 hills, apparently. But why get bogged down in these details at all? San Francisco’s famous and steep, steep hills are home to some of its best bits. Nob Hill’s home to some very flamboyant mansions you’ll want to peek at.
But the best hill of all? Well, that one’s tucked away on 16th Avenue, in the Sunset District. An elaborately tiled staircase leads climbers to some sweeping views. Unless Karl shows up of course…
2: Weather so iconic, they named it…
Wondering who Karl is? He’s the chap who might just spoil your views from Sunset District’s secret staircase. Fear not, Karl isn’t the shady character you might be expecting. He is, essentially, the city’s famous fog. Starting life as a Twitter parody in 2010, Karl’s witty tweets swept through the bay area and, somehow, the fog just became known to all San Franciscans as Karl.
10 years on and the Twitter account has run out of steam, though 350,000 followers are still waiting for Karl to speak up. No matter, you’ll get to know the fog, with or without the witty social media presence. Clouding up everything from the views to the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s a San Francisco attraction that’s as much a part of the city as Alcatraz.
3: Island life
Depending on your travel leanings, in San Francisco you’ll want to pick your islands with care. In the bay area, you’ve got two options. Alcatraz almost needs no introduction. But Treasure Island just might need a few details dropping on it. If you don’t fancy being haunted by Al Capone’s banjo stylings within the stark and ominous walls of the world’s most famous prison, swing by Treasure Island. Before you picture anything too luxurious, it’s worth noting it was built on a former landfill site.
And then there was some radioactive contamination over the years. Geiger counters at the ready on this one folks. Still, it does host a rather eclectic flea market. Stick to the safe areas and Treasure Island’s a quirky collab of San Fran over time. Art Deco homes and emerging spaces for artists are the real treasures here.
4: Is the bridge really golden?
You can’t compile a respectable list of San Francisco facts and overlook the standout set piece on the horizon. Would the Golden Gate Bridge have had a starring role in many movies – and more than a few selfies – if the original colour scheme had gone ahead? The black and yellow stripes ordered by the US Navy thankfully never got the green light. And, we’ll never know what shade could have been applied, as the colour it is today – international orange – was essentially an undercoat.
Architect Irving Morrow took a liking to it and the colour has stuck. Bridge painters now get through up to 10,000 gallons of the stuff keeping the bridge shining bright in the fog. So the Golden Gate Bridge is actually orange… Which is bordering on red on the Pantone chart. But San Francisco seems to keep things pretty loose on the fact front. Speaking of which…
5: Does size matter?
Number of hills, colours of bridges. San Francisco facts are hard to pin down. And, until 1999, so was the size of the city as no one had ever successfully calculated an accurate number. It wasn’t until a local paper got involved that a firm figure was established. Travel guides, the Mayor, even much-lauded reference books all quoted different figures.
Most take a general punt in the 49 square miles region. Which, as it happens, isn’t too far off. The most accurate figure is 47.355 miles – though that still left a few structures, such as piers, out in the cold. Whatever the figure, you’re looking at over 47 square miles to explore.
6: The Golden Gate Park mysteries
The math-based mystery pales into insignificance when you step into the Golden Gate Park. From ghosts and an imprisoned Shakespeare to elf doors and unexplained additions to an ancient carousel, this park has a lot to uncover. Seek out these mysteries and you’ll also find some bison casually grazing – which is a bit of a head-scratcher in the middle of a city. Bison aside, hit up Stow Lake to try and spot any number of apparitions.
Stories of the White Lady of Stow Lake have circulated for a century which, if nothing else, has done wonders for visitor numbers. As for the ancient carousel? At some point a goat was added to the ride – except no one can quite figure out when or why. Also knocking about for over 100 years, it’s a touch more whimsical than the eerie lady of the lake.
Orbzii tip: The Golden Gate Park is a joy to explore. But… when you’re in the second most densely populated city in the United States, well you may want a little more space. Try McLaren Park if the crowds are too much. You’ll find 32 acres to roam – and less ghosts.
7: Secrets on the streets…
It’s not just green spaces that hold some of San Francisco’s secrets. This city has quirky and quaint spots to track down. So it’s maps out and all to play for when you schlep these streets. First up, Lombard Street where Harry Potter fans will recognise the door to the Chamber of Secrets. Sadly, you can’t step inside, but it makes for a nice San Francisco ‘easter egg’. You’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for the peephole on Orange Alley. There’s a reel of silent cinema footage waiting for you. For pure fun, track down the hidden slides in the Seward Mini-Park. But the best secrets we’ll leave you to find for yourself. San Francisco has a wealth of street art to snuffle out. We’ll start you off with Clarion Alley – after that, it’s up to you.