How San Francisco's Neighborhoods Got Their Names

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San Francisco’s modern history began after the United States claimed California during the Mexican-American War in 1846. The city was originally known as Yerba Buena until Lt. Washington A. Bartlett renamed it the following year. Since then, the city’s seven by seven miles have divided into distinct neighborhoods that have witnessed the height of the Gold Rush to LGBT rights to the current tech boom. But do you know how the city’s neighborhoods got their names? Here’s an extensive (if not quite comprehensive) list of the City by the Bay's origins.

Bayview-Hunters Point

Peter Merholz

This hyphenated neighborhood is located at the southeastern point of San Francisco. Bayview presumably comes from its proximity to the Bay. Hunters Point is named after John, Phillip, and Robert Hunter, three brothers who acquired José Cornelio Bernal’s land in 1842.

Bernal Heights

IMLS

Bernal Heights used to be part of Rincon de las Salinas and Potrero Nuevo. In 1839, the Mexican government granted the land to Jose Cornelio Bernal, a Spanish soldier who was part of the Anza expedition. The land was divided in the 1860s. Soon after, Irish immigrants inhabited the land as dairy farmers.

The Castro

torbakhopper

The Castro is San Francisco’s LGBT mecca, but its name is derived from a Commanding General from the Mexican-American War, José Castro. He led the opposition to the American occupation with Juan B. Alvarado, who served as California’s governor between 1836 and 1842.

Chinatown

Alden Jewell

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest and oldest in North America. The first two Chinese immigrants arrived on the Eagle, an American brig, in 1848. The first Asian church in North America, Old St. Mary’s, was built in 1853. Of course, people came for the Gold Rush, but other immigrants made the journey after natural disasters hit China in quick succession after their loss to Great Britain in the first Opium War.

Cow Hollow

recities

In the mid-1800s, this neighborhood on the northeastern side of the city was called Spring Valley for its freshwater springs. But it quickly became known for something else: dairy farming. Even though the cows are gone, the name Cow Hollow stuck.

Crocker-Amazon

This area is named after Charles Crocker, the man who founded the Central Pacific Railroad in the 1860s, and was one of the Big Four in Nob Hill. The neighborhood is also named after Amazon Street in the Excelsior District.

Diamond Heights

IMLS

Diamond Heights was the last undeveloped area of Rancho San Miguel. However, after the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency was established in 1950, this area’s 300 acres became its first development project. Using a combination of federal, state, city, and county funds, the agency called the area Diamond Heights.

Dogpatch

Jesse Mullan

The Dogpatch was called "Butchertown" until the 1960s. At the time, slaughterhouses covered the neighborhood. However, it’s unclear how it became known as the Dogpatch. One rumor is hungry canines waited for scraps of meat outside the abattoirs.

Duboce Park

Wikimedia Commons

Victor Donglaim Duboce was a lieutenant colonel during the Spanish-American War, eventually elected to be part of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. After he died in 1900, the other Supervisors named this patch of land after him.

The Embarcadero

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Spanish for "wharf," the Embarcadero saw more than 700 vessels enter the waterfront district between April and December 1849. The Gold Rush wasn’t the only appeal for residents to set up camp here. It served as one of the Barbary Coast’s premiere sites for saloons and prostitution until 1911. Mayor James Rolph cleaned up the area, favoring a produce district over debauchery.

Excelsior

The Excelsior was part of the Rancho Rincon de las Salinas Y Potrero Viejo. The name Excelsior Homestead was filed at city hall on April 15, 1869.

Financial District

Kevin Lund

After the United States took San Francisco from Mexico in 1847, the traditional communal landholding system ended. The town commons and waterfront were auctioned off and land was quickly bought. But the Financial District sits on what used to be Yerba Buena Cove. It was filled in the 1850s as San Franciscans abandoned their ships to take part in the Gold Rush and the area quickly became the city’s financial center.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Pedro Szekely

Most locals avoid Fisherman’s Wharf. Aside from astounding views of Alcatraz, it’s littered with novelty shops and souvenirs. But the incredible boats that line the Bay showcase its history. They belong to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Italian fishermen who were drawn to San Francisco during the Gold Rush.

Forest Hill

Forest Hill exists on the south and west sides of Twin Peaks. It was originally called Mount Parnassus in 1886 when Adolph Sutro planned for thousands of Bluegum eucalyptus trees to be planted in celebration of Arbor Day. However, 12 years after Sutro died in 1898, his heirs hired A.S. Baldwin to assess the land. He eventually bought the area to be developed by the Newell-Murdoch Company into a residence park, completed in 1913. It became known as Forest Hill for its pines, cypress, and eucalyptus trees.

Golden Gate Park

Andrew Smith

Golden Gate Park was a wasteland of dunes owned by the United States government until the City and County of San Francisco’s petition for it succeeded in 1866. Surprisingly, the term “Golden Gate,” which is also the name of San Francisco’s famous bridge, doesn’t come from the Gold Rush. Its origins come from John C. Fremont naming the Golden Gate Strait in his 1848 memoirs.

Haight-Ashbury

Aboutmytrip

San Francisco’s hippie epicenter got its hyphenated name from two men: Henry Haight, a banker who became the 10th governor of California in 1867, and Munroe Ashbury, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors between 1864 and 1870. Both men were actively involved in the development of Golden Gate Park.

Hayes Valley

torbakhopper

This high-end area of San Francisco used to be full of prostitution and crime. It was named after an Irish immigrant, Colonel Michael Hayes, who allegedly dueled with pistols and supported slavery. He constructed a beautiful Victorian home in the 1880s for individuals to enjoy their vices, but he also had ulterior motives: The home was a bid to extend a streetcar line into the area.

Ingleside

Ingle is Celtic for "fireplace," while an ingleside is the area beside it. That’s why Cornelius Stagg named his new roadhouse The Ingleside Inn in 1885. Within a few years, locals referred to the whole area as Ingleside.

Lakeshore

Lakeshore gets its name for its proximity to Lake Merced. Originally named “Laguna de Nuestra Senora de la Merced” (“The Lake of Our Lady of Mercy”) by Captain Don Bruno de Heceta in 1775, the surrounding area was developed in the 1950s after the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department acquired jurisdiction from the Public Utilities Commission.

The Marina

Shayan

Directly west of Cow Hollow overlooking the Bay is the Marina. Before its stunning houses were built, it consisted of tidal marshlands and dunes. After the devastating 1906 earthquake decimated parts of the city, residents gathered debris and put it here. It became the area’s foundation. In 1915, the Marina served as the location of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Its close proximity to the water and harbors helped inspire San Franciscans to rebuild and grow their city.

The Mission

Big Swift

Father Palou was a Spanish priest in the 18th century. He established a church on June 29, 1776 at Laguna de Dolores. It became the first building in the city and was named Mission Dolores. A few years later in 1783, the church moved to what we now know as 16th and Dolores. It’s the base of the Mission today.

Mission Bay

Eric Fredericks 

Mission Bay describes the neighborhood’s location, which is east of Mission and west of the Bay. The area’s development started in 1998 and showcases San Francisco’s radical growth due to the Internet, with start-up offices replacing the neighborhood’s former rail yards.

Nob Hill

Sharat Ganapati

Nob Hill is named after its early settlers from the late 1800s. They were reportedly a highly successful, criminal bunch. “Nob” comes from Nabob, a Hindu word describing wealthy, powerful Europeans making their fortunes in the East. The “Nobs” included “Bonanza King” James Flood and James Fair. But perhaps most important were Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Leland Stanford. They were known as the Big Four, a group that invested in the first intercontinental railroad. The neighborhood remains affluent to this day (locals sometimes refer to it as “Snob Hill”).

Noe Valley

torbakhopper

Pio Pico, the Mexican governor of California in 1846, gave approximately one-sixth of San Francisco to Jose de Jesus Noe. The land was called Rancho San Miguel before Noe began to sell it in 1852. Today, the land he owned includes Noe Valley, the Castro, Glen Park, and more.

North Beach

Dustin Gaffke

In its early days, North Beach was an actual beach until the coast was augmented. Immigrants from Europe, South America, and the Australian penal colonies made their way to the Barbary Coast’s North Point docks. As such, its name is a geographical marker for the neighborhood’s spot in the Bay. The late 1800s saw an influx of Italians making their way to the area, also making it San Francisco’s Little Italy. According to legend, the Italian-Americans allegedly saved the area, draping their houses in wine-soaked blankets to avoid fires caused by the 1906 earthquake.

Pacific Heights

Aboutmytrip

Pacific Heights is south of the Marina and stands tall at 371 feet. Similar to Russian Hill and Nob Hill, the early residents of the late 1800s were very wealthy. They made their way to the area after the cable-car line was built to the neighborhood.

Parkside

William Crocker bought what is now Parkside from Adolph Sutro in July 1905. Its name refers to its proximity to the trees at Pine Lake, which was then called Laguna Puerca.

Potrero Hill

Bernt Rostad

Don Francisco de Haro, the former Alcalde of Yerba Buena, acquired a land grant in 1835 to graze cattle from the Mission, which sits directly west of the neighborhood. It was called Potrero Nuevo then, which translates to "New Pasture." The area eventually dropped its nature-inspired surname when the city’s mayor, Dr. John Townsend, divided the land into a grid in 1849. Companies like the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company and the Western Sugar refinery made the area their industrial base. Potrero stands 300 feet high.

The Presidio

Amanda

Presidio means "fortress" in Spanish. Established in 1776, it’s the oldest installation in the western part of the United States. It initially served as an outpost for Spain’s military until Mexico took it over. Twenty four years later, America gained control in 1846. The Presidio was an active installation until it was passed over to the National Park Service in 1994. Two years later, Congress developed a federal agency to preserve its historical and scenic integrity.

The Richmond

An Australian-born art dealer, George Turner Marsh, thought the Inner and Outer Richmond resembled sand dunes from Richmond, Australia. At least that’s how one story goes. Others credit a man named George Fletcher for coming up with the name. The area rose to prominence after the 24th mayor of San Francisco, Adolph Sutro, built transportation services to it.

Russian Hill

Patrick Nouhailler

Russian Hill is known for Lombard Street’s sharp curves, beautiful architecture, and cable cars. It originated in 1850 when a minister, Bayard Taylor, discovered seven marked graves at the top of the hill, which sits at 343 feet. Little is known about who the buried men were. Some say they were merchant sailors, while others say they were fur trappers. But their tombs were inscribed in Cyrillic, giving the hill its name. Unfortunately, the markers were removed during Russian Hill’s development in the 1850s.

SoMA

torbakhopper

SoMA, an abbreviation for South of Market, might sound like a SoHo knockoff to New Yorkers. In a way, it is. Market Street runs from the port of San Francisco into Eureka Valley and the industrial SoMA sits directly underneath. But originally its name was South of the Slot, referring to the apparatuses that carried cable cars.

Sunnyside

Wikimedia Commons

San Franciscan Behrend Joost was supposed to provide dredging services to create a canal in Panama in the late 1880s. It was a failed attempt, but left him with enough money to start the “Sunny Side Land Company,” which bought and developed the land in the 1890s.

The Sunset

SF Brit

The Sunset used to be called Outside Lands, a name now reserved for the city’s yearly music and arts festival in Golden Gate Park. However, the once barren land remained property of the United States government from 1848 until 1866, and it’s unknown exactly when Outside Lands became The Sunset. Some claim a property owner and developer, Aurelius Buckingham, named it so. A separate theory suggests the California Midwinter Fair of 1894, also called The Sunset City, was the source of inspiration. Still, there’s also speculation it was the result of a neighborhood organization.

Telegraph Hill

Roger Wollstadt

Telegraph Hill was a semaphore built in 1849 used to identify ships entering San Francisco. The Spaniards called the area Loma Alta before that, which translates to High Hill. It also has one of San Francisco’s best landmarks, Coit Tower, as well as an invasive species of parrot, cherry-headed conures, originally from Ecuador.

The Tenderloin

Ken Lund

The Tenderloin isn’t far from Nob Hill and Russian Hill. In fact, its boundaries are blurred. Many locals call the northern side underneath Nob Hill the Tendernob. Despite its ritzy neighbors, the Tenderloin gets a bad rap as a home to drug deals, prostitutes, and confrontational strangers. This gritty disposition helped the Tenderloin earn its name. Police officers working there in the 1930s were compensated with higher wages, and they took to calling the area "tenderloin," after the better cuts of meat they could afford.

Twin Peaks

Melodie Mesiano

Twin Peaks was originally called Los Pechos de la Choca in the 18th century, which translates to “Breasts of the Maiden.” The adjacent peaks’ elevation is 922 feet, giving it some of the best views of the Bay Area. The name changed after Americans took control of San Francisco in the 19th century.

Union Square

Tony Fischer

Union Square is San Francisco’s main cultural center for retail shopping. There’s also an urban park bordered by Geary, Powell, Post, and Stockton Streets. But it was originally built and named in 1850 by San Francisco’s first mayor, John Geary, inspired by the pro-Union rallies that took place there before and during the Civil War.

Visitacion Valley

Wikimedia Commons

Legend has it that Visitacion Valley got its name in 1777 when friars got lost in the Bay Area’s fog. As it lifted, they found themselves in the valley on the same day as the feast of the Blessed Virgin. Some suggest they saw a vision on a rock.

The Western Addition

Aboutmytrip

As San Francisco expanded beyond its west boundary on Larkin Street in the 1850s, the result was the geographically named Western Addition. However, this section of San Francisco can also be broken into different neighborhoods that have their own distinct names. For example, the current Japantown was built in 1968, but its history extends back to the 1920s and 30s when Japanese immigrants filled 30 blocks. They were forced out during World War II, and in the 1950s when the area was being gentrified. The Fillmore District was named after President Millard Fillmore at the end of the 19th century. NoPA, a fairly recent term, is used to describe the area North of the Panhandle, an elongated section of Golden Gate Park.

BONUS: Alcatraz

Ramey Logan

Spanish naval officer Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala called Yerba Buena Island, the small spot that sits between San Francisco and Oakland, Isla de Alcatraces, which translates to “Island of the Pelicans.” Seventy two years later, the United States military began fortifying a different island in the Bay, Alcatraz Island, inspired by Ayala’s pelicans.

11 Apps That Will Make You Feel Smarter

Deagreez/iStock via Getty Images
Deagreez/iStock via Getty Images

Encased beneath the delicate surface of your smartphone is what seems like practically all the knowledge in the world, both past and present. This is, in a word, awesome. It’s also, in a different word, overwhelming. Deciding you’d like to take advantage of that unfettered access to learn a thing or two is easy—deciding where to start isn’t quite so straightforward. To jumpstart your quest to pick up some information without making any serious financial or time commitment, we’ve assembled a list of apps that will definitely make you feel smarter, no matter what topic you’re interested in.

1. Today in History

This free app takes the daunting yet admirable goal of “wanting to learn more about history” and breaks it up into daily digestible pieces that cover events, births, deaths, holidays, and more from a variety of time periods and places. You can browse by category—technology, entertainment, science, and sports, to name a few—or you can visit the “events” tab to see a timeline of important events from years past. The stories are paired with engaging images, and you can personalize notifications to occur just once a day or much more often. In addition to helping you fill in the gaps of your historical knowledge, it’s also an often-heartening daily reminder of just how far we’ve come in the world (and great fodder for water-cooler conversation when you have nothing to say about the weather).

Download: iOS

2. TED

In the last several years, TED Talks have become an extremely popular way to learn about topics you may not have thought to seek out on your own. Having said that, you don’t necessarily have time to watch a TED video every time one appears on your Facebook timeline. The TED app is a perfect way to keep track of the latest and greatest TED videos on your own time—you can see what’s trending, get personalized recommendations, download videos for offline viewing, and save videos to your own watch list. There’s even a “Surprise Me!” feature that will offer you a video recommendation outside of your interests.

Download: iOS, Android

3. DailyArt

Even if you can pick a Picasso painting out of a lineup, how deep does your art knowledge really go? DailyArt educates art aficionados and rookies alike by serving them one artwork each day from a collection of more than 2000 pieces, complete with all of its basic information and history, plus some interesting behind-the-scenes details about the artwork and/or artist, too. You can swipe through past days’ entries, explore more than 700 artist biographies and information about more than 500 museums, and even bookmark artworks to your own list of favorites. It’s a low-investment way to foster a passion for art, whether or not you have one to begin with.

Download: iOS, Android

4. Flipboard

In a world where you end up completely behind the times just by neglecting to check a certain app for a few hours, it can feel impossible to stay on top of what’s going on. Flipboard makes it easy by aggregating both news and social media in one streamlined place. You decide which news sources and topics will appear in your feed—from there, all you really need to do is flip through the content, and Flipboard will update your feed based on what you interact with and suggest other topics you might be interested in adding. There’s also an even simpler “Daily Edition” feature, a daily roundup of the top stories from each category.

Download: iOS, Android

5. Lumosity

Lumosity begins with a 10-minute “Fit Test,” a series of three games that evaluate cognitive ability in areas like memory and attention span. It then uses your scores to devise a personalized brain-training program with games guaranteed to improve those scores. While information-based apps help you fill your brain with new knowledge, Lumosity helps you feel like you’re actually expanding your brain’s boundaries in ways that will make daily life easier. For example, if you specify that you’d like to work on losing fewer objects and better remembering people’s names, Lumosity will offer you a game that targets those areas of your brain. And, since you probably have a few minutes to kill every day while waiting for a bus to come or water to boil, why not give your brain a little exercise?

Download: iOS, Android

6. Vocabulary.com

This app—which both TIME and Fast Company called “addictive”—is worth the one-time cost of $3 for its dictionary alone, which includes definitions, helpful notes about how the word is usually used, and example sentences pulled from actual news articles. In addition to the dictionary, the app boasts an algorithm-based system for learning vocabulary where you play games to earn points and collect achievement badges. There are also more than 50,000 word lists that you can choose from, which cover everything from GRE prep to words in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

Download: iOS

7. NASA

Between the recent 50th anniversary of the moon landing and the ever-present hope for a Mars landing (not to mention all the space-related movies, both Star Wars and otherwise), NASA is definitely hot right now—and its app is a great way to stay awestruck and in-the-know. In addition to featuring more than 17,000 images, 360-degree videos, launch updates, and breaking news stories, it also includes a tracker for the International Space Station (ISS), and it’ll even send you notifications when the ISS is visible from your location.

Download: iOS, Android

8. National Geographic’s GeoBee Challenge

The description of National Geographic’s GeoBee app opens with “This is a challenging game, so it's not for beginners...but do keep in mind that the National Geographic GeoBee is meant for kids in grades 4-8. Are you smarter than a 4th grader?” Though you’re probably not entering an elementary school geography bee any time soon (or ever), this app will help you find out how you’d fare as a participant—and, of course, give you the opportunity to improve your knowledge of world geography. After a few rounds of answering multiple choice trivia and locating places on an interactive map, you’ll never again feel lost while reading international news headlines.

Download: iOS, Android

9. Daily Random Facts

With an average of 4.8 out of 5 stars from about 20,000 Apple user reviews, this Monkey Taps app practically needs no other endorsement. By just reading a sentence or two every day, you’ll quickly build an impressive arsenal of the type of grab-bag information that’ll make you everybody’s first choice for their trivia team. The app includes interesting facts about history, science, sports, life hacks, animals, the human body, and more—all you have to do is enable push notifications (or remember to visit the app every day on your own).

Download: iOS, Android

10. TheSkimm

If someone bottled that heavenly feeling of knowing what’s going on in the world and sold it to you for $3 a month, would you buy it? That’s basically what TheSkimm has done. Every weekday morning, the app feeds you need-to-know, nonpartisan news stories that’ll only take you about five minutes to consume. In addition to the daily digest, you can also listen to audio episodes that cover important news, read longer stories that break down complex topics like immigration and Brexit, and even get book, movie, and recipe recommendations. Not only does TheSkimm make you feel like you’re capable of understanding basically everything, it also does a great job of explaining how and why global news is relevant to you.

Download: iOS, Android

11. iNaturalist

When you stop to smell the flowers, the iNaturalist app will tell you what kind of flowers you’re actually smelling. Snap a photo of any plant or animal in your area, and iNaturalist will use crowdsourced image data to identify the species. With more than 400,000 users, there’s a good chance iNaturalist already has enough images of your mystery organism to provide you with the correct answer—but if not, you can also chat with knowledgeable scientists and naturalists within the app who may know the answer themselves. And, of course, it works both ways: Your uploaded images will help other curious observationalists identify flora and fauna in the future, and you can even explore the map to see which species have been logged around you.

Download: iOS, Android

Welcome to Cool, California. Population: 2520

Alan Levine, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Alan Levine, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It’s not hard to find U.S. towns with some pretty weird (and sometimes depressing) names, so we shouldn't be surprised that people have the option of settling in the tiny town of Cool, California.

Initially named Cave Valley, due to the limestone formations nearby, the town popped up around 1849 during the California Gold Rush. The population eventually grew to 4100 people.

It's unclear when the town went from Cave Valley to being Cool. One legend suggests that a beatnik named Todd Hausman bequeathed the name after passing through in the 1950s, but the veracity of that story is doubtful since the Cool Post Office was founded as early as 1885. According to Condé Nast Traveler, records show that a reverend named Peter Y. Cool came out to pan gold and settled in the town in 1850, possibly serving as the source of the change.

Whatever the origin of its name, the town of Cool has ample branding opportunities. There’s the Cool Grocery Store and the Cool Beerwerks brewery and restaurant, which specializes in Hawaiian-Japanese fusion cuisine. Cool has held the Way Too Cool 50K Endurance Run every year since 1990.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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