San Francisco i/sæn frənˈsɪskoʊ/, officially the City and County of San Francisco, is the leading financial and cultural center of Northern California and the San Francisco Bay Area.
The only consolidated city-county in California, San Francisco encompasses a land area of about 46.9 square miles (121 km2) on the northern end of the San Francisco Peninsula, giving it a density of about 17,620 people per square mile (6,803 people per km2). It is the most densely settled large city (population greater than 200,000) in the state of California and the second-most densely populated major city in the United States after New York City. San Francisco is the fourth most populous city in California, after Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose, and the 14th most populous city in the United States—with a Census-estimated 2012 population of 825,863. The city is also the financial and cultural hub of the larger San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland combined statistical area, with a population of 8.4 million.
San Francisco (Spanish for “Saint Francis”) was founded on June 29, 1776, when colonists from Spain established a fort at the Golden Gate and a mission named for St. Francis of Assisi a few miles away. The California Gold Rush of 1849 brought rapid growth, making it the largest city on the West Coast at the time. Due to the growth of its population, San Francisco became a consolidated city-county in 1856. After three-quarters of the city was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire, San Francisco was quickly rebuilt, hosting the Panama-Pacific International Exposition nine years later. During World War II, San Francisco was the port of embarkation for service members shipping out to the Pacific Theater. After the war, the confluence of returning servicemen, massive immigration, liberalizing attitudes, and other factors led to the Summer of Love and the gay rights movement, cementing San Francisco as a center of liberal activism in the United States.
San Francisco is a popular tourist destination, known for its cool summers, fog, steep rolling hills, eclectic mix of architecture, and landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, the former prison on Alcatraz Island, and its Chinatown district. It is also a primary banking and finance center.
Several of San Francisco’s parks and nearly all of its beaches form part of the regional Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of the most visited units of the National Park system in the United States with over 13 million visitors a year. Among the GGNRA’s attractions within the city are Ocean Beach, which runs along the Pacific Ocean shoreline and is frequented by a vibrant surfing community, and Baker Beach, which is located in a cove west of the Golden Gate and part of the Presidio, a former military base. Also within the Presidio is Crissy Field, a former airfield that was restored to its natural salt marsh ecosystem. The GGNRA also administers Fort Funston, Lands End, Fort Mason, and Alcatraz. The National Park Service separately administers the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park – a fleet of historic ships and waterfront property around Aquatic Park.
Alamo Square is one of the most well known parks in the area, and is often a symbol of San Francisco for its popular location for film and pop culture.
There are more than 220 parks maintained by the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department. The largest and best-known city park is Golden Gate Park, which stretches from the center of the city west to the Pacific Ocean. Once covered in native grasses and sand dunes, the park was conceived in the 1860s and was created by the extensive planting of thousands of non-native trees and plants. The large park is rich with cultural and natural attractions such as the Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden and San Francisco Botanical Garden. Lake Merced is a fresh-water lake surrounded by parkland and near the San Francisco Zoo, a city-owned park that houses more than 250 animal species, many of which are endangered. The only park managed by the California State Park system located principally in San Francisco, Candlestick Point was the state’s first urban recreation area.