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Home to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and the original setting for what would become known as the Summer of Love, San Francisco's many associations with popular culture are hard to ignore. This former Gold Rush town, now California's fourth largest city, is laden with famous locations and movie imagery. Whether the city brings to mind Steve McQueen racing around the famous cityscape in 'Bullitt', or Clint Eastwood planning his escape from the infamous Alcatraz, San Francisco is etched indelibly on every moviegoer's mind.
However, delve into San Francisco's history and you'll find that, unlike the movies, the city has a real story to tell. San Francisco's population exploded with the Gold Rush of the 1840s, making it the largest city on the West Coast during that era. Banks, merchants (including the now famous Ghriadelli chocolatier), and the arrival of the first transcontinental railroad, brought enough wealth to build churches, theatres, and the first cable cars. San Francisco flourished, becoming a beacon of culture and lavishness in the otherwise underdeveloped American West. Prosperity during this period led to the construction of the city's countless Victorian-style homes and buildings, which have become a contemporary attraction among tourists and locals alike.
San Francisco has often been referred to as a hub of liberal thinking and mixing of cultures; it's well known as the site of the Summer of Love and an early leader in the United States' gay rights movement. Almost 40 per cent of the city's population was born overseas, creating a diverse mixture of people and neighborhoods, including one of the largest Chinatowns in America, Little Italy, and the Latin America-flavored Mission District. The city saw an influx of writers and artists in the 1950s, hippies in the 1960s, and another financial boom in the 1990s with the advent of the Internet - all of which have made San Francisco a wealthy city with a high standard of living and a robust entertainment and arts scene.
San Francisco is home to many iconic sites, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the Coit Tower. Try a cruise for a great tour of the harbor or get a city pass to visit all the famous sights.
Numerous, undulating hills crisscrossed by cable cars are also characteristic of the city. A tight collection of distinct neighborhoods, San Francisco is easy to explore on foot (with a little help from the cable cars or a double-decker bus for the steeper hills). Find department-store shopping and entertainment in Union Square and the Financial District; souvenirs and tourists at Fisherman's Wharf; luxurious hotels and views on Nob and Russian Hill; and remnants of hippy bohemia in the Haight.
As the United States' second most densely populated (and highly visited) city, San Francisco offers new sights and treasures around every corner and something for almost every type of traveller.