If you live in San Francisco, you definitely know that Mark Twain actually didn’t say, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” (Even if he should have ’cause it’s true.) And you certainly know that we have the Buena Vista Cafe to thank for bringing Irish Coffee to America, but that it was invented in Ireland, not here. And since you’re so smart, you also know that the Chinese fortune cookie was invented in San Francisco… by a Japanese immigrant. But here are some fun facts about San Francisco you may not know already. Prepare to impress your friends.
The Golden Gate Bridge Isn’t Red
The official paint color is “International Orange.” Although if the Navy had its way, the bridge would’ve have been black and yellow stripes—a look that has only and will only ever look good on a bumblebee.
San Francisco’s Cable Cars Are the Only National Historic Landmark that Can Move
You might not think that’s a big deal until you realize there are over 2,500 National Historic Landmarks in the U.S., 142 of which are in California. And while you’re dropping knowledge, you might as well throw in that the cables that pull the cable car run at a constant speed of 9.5 MPH.
SF’s Official Instrument Is the Accordion
And no, that’s not a decision leftover from when the city first thrived. Rather, the Board of Supervisors voted 6 to 4 in 1990 to make the instrument our, ahem, main squeeze.
Maiden Lane Was Home to a Lot of Brothels in the 1800s
Before the 1906 earthquake and before it was one of the most expensive shopping streets in SF, Maiden Lane was known as Morton Street, and was the center of the city’s red-light district. The two-block stretch was lined with shacks that were occupied by 1,000 prostitutes of all nationalities, and it was a known fact that the police stayed away unless there was a murder. Of course, there were anywhere up to 12 murders a month, so…
No One Seems to Know What the Crookedest Street Actually Is
Certainly Lombard Street is known for being “the crookedest street in the world,” but people in SF love to say it’s actually Vermont Street in Potrero Hill. It really comes down to what your definition of “crookedest” is: Vermont Street is steeper, but only has seven turns, which is one turn fewer than Lombard. Though debatable, the fact remains that thanks to the red bricks and famed flower beds, your tourist friends only care about the one they see on the postcards.
The It’s-It Was Invented in San Francisco in 1928
Anyone who grew up in SF knows that It’s-Its are the real San Francisco treat. Yummy ice cream tucked between two old-fashioned oatmeal cookies and then dipped into dark chocolate, It’s-Its were originally sold at Playland-at-the-Beach until it was demolished in the early ‘70s.
The 1906 Earthquake Was the First Natural Disaster to Be Well-Documented by Photographs
The 7.8 earthquake and resulting fires destroyed 80 percent of the city within four days, causing more than $8 billion of damage in today’s dollars. It was the first natural disaster to be photographed. And photographs taken of the city a few months later by Frederick Eugene Ives are also the first color photographs of San Francisco ever taken.
The Names of Streets Actually Don’t Appear on Sidewalks in Case of Earthquake
The theory is that after 1906, someone thought to stamp the street names on the sidewalks to help people navigate if a huge earthquake destroyed all of the street signs and landmarks. However, the truth is that the ordinance first went into effect in 1905. Citywide street signs on poles didn’t occur until the early 1920s, so at the time, that’s all there was. A fun game you can play today is “Spot the Misspelling on the Sidewalk.” There are a lot.
The Model for the Bear on the State Flag Lived in Golden Gate Park
His name was Monarch, he weighed 1,100 pounds, and he was one of the last wild grizzly bears in California. He was captured and brought to a zoo in the park in 1889 and lived there for over 22 years until he was euthanized due to old age in 1911. His pelt was stuffed and was last seen on display in 2012 at the California Academy of Sciences in an exhibit that explored the role humans have played in the current mass extinction. How beary sad.
Credit for Main Image: Flickr/KaddiSudhi