During 2023, you can explore San Francisco’s magic year of festivals. There are more anniversaries this year than you can shake a stick at. Perhaps throw a piece of Ghirardelli chocolate at would make it more local. This year is a prelude to the 175th Anniversary of the California Gold Rush. This began what is now a whole series of creative landmarks.
Today, it is easy to explore San Francisco’s magic year of festivals as getting around The City (local spelling) is a breeze. Enjoy that breeze by walking The City streets to more than a dozen anniversary sites. Public transportation incudes the Muni Metro underground, the BART subway system, busses, taxies, and the ferries crisscrossing the bay. Über and Lyft began here, and Cruise, with its self-driving all-electric fleet of taxies, was the first to offer commercial service in a major US city.
San Francisco’s Famed Cable Cars
Moving people about is nothing new to San Francisco. The grandaddy of all movers is, of course, the cable cars. These began clanging up and down The City’s hills 150 years ago. They are, in fact, the only moving national historic landmark in the country. You may get a daily, weekly, or monthly pass to ride these and the other ancient street cars. You can see the oldest of the cable cars— #8—at the free cable car museum in the Washington-Mason Streets Powerhouse.
Golden Gate and Bay Bridges
Moving outside The City, you have two choices for iconic structures—the Golden Gate Bridge heading north and south or the Bay Bridge heading east and west. It was 90 years ago that construction of the Golden Gate Bridge began. Wearing its international orange color, it is one of the world’s most photographed bridges. More than 10 million people walk, bike, or drive across this bridge yearly. Take a festive trip across the bridge and return to view the stunning city scape.
One of the longest bridges in the US is the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. This double decker bridge transports about 260,000 users daily. The idea for this bridge originated at the time of the Gold Rush, predating the Golden Gate Bridge. Construction did not begin until 1933 and took until 1937. This results in the same 90th Anniversary as the Golden Gate Bridge. Part of the upper deck collapsed onto the lower deck in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The bridge closed for a month to complete reconstruction.
On a ferry, you can ride out to the infamous Alcatraz prison. Known as “the rock,” this is a popular tourist site. This year marks the 60th anniversary of its closing and the 50th year of its opening as a national park of 22 acres. The prison is most notable for two reasons. First, it once housed the notorious Al Capone, and secondly, it is also known for the misguided attempts to swim off the island. Overtime, 36 men attempted to swim away 14 times. They were either caught or didn’t survive the cold waters. Three men mysteriously escaped and are unknown today.
Back on land, two architectural landmarks jutting into view are the Coit Tower and the Ferry Building. Lillie Hitchcock Coit was an eccentric supporter of the San Francisco Fire Department. When she died in 1929, she left a large bequest to The City for beautifying its landscape. The result was a concrete tower (a fire hose?) atop Telegraph Hill, affording a view of The City and the San Francisco Bay. Ninety years later, this monument and the surrounding Pioneer Park attest to her generosity.
Even older, at 125 years, is the Ferry Building, the nexus of ferries traversing the Bay. This beaux-arts building has stood strong all these years, famous for surviving the famous 1906 and 1989 earthquakes. With the advent of bridges, its use declined, though ferry rides are still available. Today, the building has become a “culinary cathedral,” home to vendors and famers offering their merchandise and food products. Surrounding the building is the Embarcadero, an esplanade linking the San Francisco Giants’ home and the popular Pier 39 in Fisherman’s Wharf.
San Fracisco Arts
The arts have always played a part in San Francisco’s history. The San Francisco Opera has offered its song for 100 years, making it the third longest-surviving opera company in the US. A mega performance showcasing its musical history takes place in June.
Right behind the Opera is the San Francisco Ballet. It is celebrating its 90th Anniversary with nine world premieres by nine outstanding world choreographers. This ballet company is proud to be the nation’s oldest ballet company.
Celebrating 70 years of progressive literature is the founding of City Lights Bookstore. The poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti brought anti-authoritarian and alternative culture into The City. The result was the ”beatnik” era of free love. This literary landmark has grown over the years. It now houses three floors of books with expanded offerings still advocating for the freedom of thought.
From food to music to clothing, The City also celebrates the venues which have contributed to its fame. John’s Grill turns 115 years old this year. You may have heard of this eatery as it was Sam Spade’s haunt in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. It was the first restaurant to open after the 1906 earthquake. It was and still is the place to see and be seen by San Francisco’s elite.
The music scene in San Francisco celebrates the 40th anniversary of SFJAZZ, as well as the 10th birthday of its new Center. This Center is the first stand-alone structure in the country built for jazz. The goal was to establish a two-day festival. Now this festival is one of the top jazz festivals in the world.
Last but not least, how could we overlook the proliferation of Levi jeans. Levi Strauss opened a dry good store with the advent of the Gold Rush. He catered not only to the gold rush miners but also to workers in general. They needed something tough for their work. He chose denim and secured the pieces with metal rivets. This riveting process resulted in blue jeans known the world over.
From the rough-and-tumble days of the California Gold Rush to the days of mega computers, San Francisco has been on the forefront of new developments. These have taken the form of iconic bridges and buildings, as well as the creativity in the arts. It would be a worthwhile venture to explore San Francisco’s magic year of festivals. It would also serve as the kickoff for the next century of epic events in The City.
Fact: The Beatles gave their last full concert at Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966
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