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San Francisco History

Since its early days as a small settlement surrounding a small Spanish fishing village named Yerba Buena (Good Herb), San Francisco has endured numerous ups and downs - all of which have helped shape the modern city. Its origins lie with the Native Americans, who had cultivated the area before being kicked out by the Spanish in 1769.

Mission Dolores and Yerba Buena quickly grew and were joined by military fort, the Presidio of San Francisco. In 1846, California was claimed by the United States and the next year, the city became San Francisco.

The Gold Rush of 1848 inspired a huge amount of migration from the west but also from the east. The mix of ethnicities and the lack of laws made for a chaotic civic atmosphere, with militias and mobs ruling the town. For the next decade, the city’s growing immigrant population outstripped infrastructure, and epidemics were commonplace.

By the 1860s, the city had become more civilised. The cable cars arrived, as did the Golden Gate Park, while a bohemian population of writers thrived. Dubbed the ‘Paris of the West’, the city flourished until 1900 when an outbreak of plague decimated the population.

More misfortune followed, with a devastating earthquake hitting in 1906, destroying 80% of the city and causing around 3,000 fatalities. A new San Francisco grew from its ashes and in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge was completed.

In the 1950s, the Beat movement built on the city's love of literature and it became a magnet for hippies, young rebels and bohemians. Counter-culture flowered in the Haight Ashbury neighbourhood culminating in the famous 1967 Summer of Love. It was here that the gay community fought for and found a home in Castro and Polk Street.

Rapid growth in the 1970s was followed, after a brief pause in the 1980s, by the dotcom boom of the 1990s. When it crashed, the city was left reeling. Today, San Francisco has regained its lost ground and is now the West Coast’s financial and technology capital.

Did you know?
• Isadora Duncan, the ‘Mother of Modern Dance,’ was born in San Francisco in 1877.
• The United Nations Charter was drafted in a San Francisco hotel in 1945.
• Joshua Abraham Norton declared himself Emperor of America in the city in September 1859.

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The Scarlet Huntingdon

Visible from much of the city, this luxury retreat sits opposite Grace Cathedral at the highest point of Nob Hill. All 134 guestrooms are individually decorated and each has great views across the city. Chandeliers and plush upholstery fill the public areas, and if you can tear yourself away from the vistas, the hotel also has its own spa.

Harbor Court Hotel

Perched on the city's eastern coastline, the Harbor Court offers an unrivalled view of the Bay Bridge. Its 131 rooms contain an entertainment centre, high-speed Wi-Fi and a moderately sized sitting room. Sleeping quarters combine traditional and contemporary furnishings, and some beds are canopied. Windows are double-glazed to block out traffic noise and Ozumo Japanese restaurant next door offers room service.

Seaside Inn

Close to the Seaside would be a more apt name, as this motel-style place is several blocks inland. Nevertheless, it is only a 10-minute walk from the attractions of the Marina District. Rooms are simple but very comfortable, with both breakfast and parking free. Moreover, the attractive neighbourhood of Cow Hollow, filled with trendy bars and restaurants, is only a short stroll away. Book in advance for the best deals.

Clift Hotel

Nearly a century old, the Clift is a local landmark set amid the theatre district. Once known for its striking red panelled interior, it is now adored for its Philippe Starck makeover. The designer waved his creative wand back in 2001 and turned the Clift into one of the must-see hotels in San Francisco. Proof lies in the Redwood Room bar, where locals fond of a little luxury gather. The 372 guest rooms are small but elegantly decorated in shades of violet and grey. Egyptian cotton sheets, Wi-Fi and in-room massage and spa services add to the luxury.

Twin Peaks

Don't fret, this hotel has nothing to do with David Lynch, but is named after its neighbourhood between Lower Haight and The Castro. It offers one of the few acceptable budget options within easy reach of the downtown districts. Rooms are basic, and if you really want to save money you'll have to share a bathroom, but you can't argue with the price.

Orchard Hotel

One of San Francisco's smaller boutique hotels, the Orchard has 104 guest rooms, including nine suites. Luxuries include quality linens and toiletries, Balinese wood, black granite bathroom countertops, plush bathrobes, surround-sound DVD and CD players, Internet and mini-bars. Complimentary European breakfast buffet is served downstairs.