San Francisco Bay Area: Interesting Facts

Whether you want to call them “tall tales”, legends or myths there are many interesting facts about the San Francisco Bay area that simply sound too far-fetched to be true. Urban legends if you will. That is just one of the things about this unique part of California that makes it fun to both read about it and visit. 

Here are some of the more "colorful" but true ones:

While sharks do live in the bay they are small and not very dangerous at all. Great White sharks do live out in the Pacific Ocean but rarely enter the bay. Prisoners in Alcatraz were likely told that the waters surrounding the prison were filled with sharks just waiting to eat them to deter them from trying to make an escape attempt.

The Golden Gate Bridge, famous for its “International Orange” color, was originally planned to be painted black with yellow stripes by the U.S. Navy. Although to many the bridge appears to be red in color it is in fact orange, and was originally intended as a sealant applied before the actual paint colors. The theory behind the choice of black with yellow stripes was to enable the bridge to be more visible in a fog.

San Francisco passed a law in 1867 that made it illegal for “ugly” people to show their faces in public. Fortunately this law is not longer in effect, but it has to make you wonder as to what was considered ‘ugly’ and who made the decision as to who was considered ugly enough to not show their face in public.

The Chinese Fortune cookie that we are all familiar with receiving alongside our Chinese dinner was invented in San Francisco. If that surprises you then you may be even more surprised to discover that the fortune cookie was invented not by a Chinese immigrant but by a Japanese resident, Makoto Hagiwara. The same Japanese gentleman is responsible for the famous Japanese Tea Garden located in Golden Gate Park.

The cable cars seen slowly making their way up and down the steep hills of San Francisco are a National Historic Landmark. Of over 2500 recognized landmarks nationwide 142 of them are within California but the cable cars are the only ones that move, traveling at a steady 9.5 mph.

San Francisco has an official musical instrument. While you may instantly think of the guitar or any number of other commonly heard instruments of today it is actually the accordion.

It is commonly believed that street names were painted on sidewalks as a result of the dreadful earthquake of 1906 so that should the street signs and landmarks be destroyed people could use the names on the sidewalks to keep their bearings. While the idea has merit the street names first started appearing on sidewalks before the 1906 earthquake occurred. Sadly no one proofread the signs before being painted so there are a large number of misspellings.

Fans of Irish coffee may be surprised to learn that although the coffee drink was originally invented in Ireland it would never have gained the popularity it enjoys today if it had not been made popular by Jack Koeppler, a bartender working at the Buena Vista Hotel. Koeppler was so impressed with the drink that he traveled to Ireland to learn how to make it the correct way so he could serve it to the hotel patrons.

The dead in the San Francisco Bay area outnumber the living by approximately 1000 to 1. Burial within city limits is outlawed due to space constraints. Many graves were moved to Colma between the 1920’s and 1940’s but two graveyards still remain in the city; one is located behind Mission San Francisco de Asis and the other one is in Presidio (National Cemetery).

While many believe that San Francisco is built on just a small number of hills it is built upon more than 50 hills. Many of the hills are very steep, making them difficult to walk or cycle up, but those standing at the top can enjoy magnificent vistas across the bay. Though not the steepest in the world, San Francisco is home to two streets that are considered to be extremely steep by international standards – Filbert and 22nd Streets.

San Francisco is the first recorded location in the continental U.S. to have had the bubonic plague epidemic break out. It started in 1900 within the Chinatown district.