San Francisco skyline and Bay Bridge from Treasure Island
The Ohlone Indians had settled on the coast between Big Sur and the San Francsico bay where they could take advantages of the geography and the mild climate of the area: the fog that temperates the forests, the fresh and salty water mix that diversifies the water fauna and flora and the fact that the isthmus was narrow and therefore protected them from intrusion.
Many European explorators had indeed sailed by it without seeing it in the 16th century. Sir Francis Drake was to land at Point Reyes instead. In 1769, it was Gaspar de la Portola who first mentioned the bay, which was settled by a handful of Europeans in 1776.
The Gold Rush fostered a demographic explosion of the city (from 1,000 to 25, 000 people over a year). Even though some newcomers arrived by land, most came by boat and many ships did the journey around the Cape Horn or from Panama. Theses 49ers would land in the Yerba Buena cove, and stay there because both passengers and crew would leave the vessels to reach the Sierras in search of Gold. The bay was soon packed with deserted boats : in the summer of 1850, it was recorded that 500 ships were anchored in the cove.
Many of these abandoned ships were then used as shops, saloons, hotels or abodes; some buildings were also erected in between on piles. Other vessels were broken apart and the wood and metal used to build houses. The city passed many extension bills to turn the floating city into land; as a result, the whole area was filled with sand and by the end of the 60s, the area almost looked like any other districts. However, many houses were built on ship decks and you just needed to visit the cellars to find out! A seawall was constructed around the new area and is approximately the limit of the Embarcadero boardwalk. North Beach was not a beach anymore!
Old and recent excavations or construction works have unearthed some of these historical ships, the most famous one being the Niantic, excavated in 1977 (part of it buried under the Transamerica Pyramid).
Golden Gate bridge
Fishermen on the wharf
When the Gold Rush started to decline, Californians turned to fishing. The salmon was an important trade as well as crab. A large Chinese community arrived and developed an important fishery by the bay, and would sent back to China dry fish, shrimps and shellfish. In the 1860s, Italians immigrants settled in the Norhth Beach district. The first wharf dedicated to fishing was built in 1884. However in the 20th century, pollution struck the fishing industry hard , especially regarding oysters and salmon. In the 30s, the sardine fishing industry boomed, and continued until the early 50s.
Oysters served in San Francisco
The fishing industry today
The fishing activity includes fish processing located on Pier 45. San Francisco is regarded as the fish capital of the West coast: the most important sport fishing is salmon catching, but it is now limited due to a lack of fish returning to spawn new generations. The famous dungeness crabs are still caught by the San Francisco fishermen.
Californian fishermen’s cabin
More services today
The port of San Francisco stretches over 7.5 miles along the bay and offers cargo services, a cruise dock, a fisherman’s wharf for commercial and sport fishing, and many passenger ferry services to Alcatraz, Sausalito and Oakland. The cruise industry welcomes 200,000 passengers every year mainly sailing to Alaska and Mexico.
Useful links (click on title):
On a tour of San Francisco : view of the piers
Video links (click on title):