Barbary Coast Trail–Old U.S. Mint to Telegraph Hill
Welcome to San Francisco! You’re gonna love it!
I decided to begin my San Francisco sightseeing with the Barbary Coast Trail. The Barbary Coast Trail is a walking tour that cuts across many of Downtown San Francisco’s neighborhood with stops along the way at several historic sites. In other words, it’s San Francisco’s equivalent to Boston’s Freedom Trail. I revisited most of these neighborhoods during subsequent sightseeing days, and I’ve tried to minimize overlap between these pictures and ones that will come later. Nob Hill is one neighborhood on the trail that I didn’t subseqeuntly return to. So I did an in-depth visit to Nob Hill on Day 1. (That comes in Part 2.)
“Barbary Coast” refers to the wild boom days of San Francisco created by the California Gold Rush of 1849. The Barbary Coast was named after the original Barbary Coast in North Africa. Both areas were notorious for pirates, slave areas, and dive bars. (In San Francisco, it was common for sailors to be shanghaied into maritime service.) One waterfront area of San Francisco was particularly concentrated with sailors, miners, and prostitutes. This was the heart of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast.
Old U.S. Mint
The Barbary Coast Trail begins in the South of Market (SOMA) District. The first stop along the trail is the Old U.S. Mint, with the above plaque out front. During its operating days, the Old U.S. Mint was known as the Fort Knox of the West. Early morning shadows made it difficult to get a good picture. Stay tuned for a better picture on Day 3, when I returned to SOMA.
Hallidie Plaza is best known as the spot where the famous cable cars turn around at the bottom of Powell Street. It was named after Andrew Hallidie, who invented the cable cars.
Author Dashiell Hammett worked in the Flood Building (above) as a detective with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. His work there inspired his novels, such as “The Maltese Falcon”.
Union Square, named for the Union Army during the Civil War, is San Francisco’s premier shopping and hotel district. I returned here on Day 3. But on Day 1, I stopped in the Westin St. Francis, one of San Francisco’s historic hotels. It was built in 1904 and survived the 1906 earthquake, but was destroyed by the resultant fire. Just a year later, it was rebuilt and reopened, becoming a favorite of dignitaries and celebrities. In 1921, actor Fatty Arbuckle was accused of manslaughter in the death of a young actress in room at the St. Francis. The trial was a sensation. He was acquitted, but his career was as dead as the actress.
I’m going back to Chinatown on Day 7, my last sightseeing day of the year. I can’t tell how my pictures will be, so I’ve got plenty of pictures from Chinatown here for Day 1.
If you’ve read any of my history on China, you know that the 19th century was miserable for China. Not surprisingly, thousands of Chinese came to America to find opportunity. Many found work building the railroads (as near-slave labor). Many of them settled in San Francisco when the work was done, creating the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. Everybody knows Chinatown is a major San Francisco attraction. I’ll go into more detail on Day 7.
Portsmouth Square, San Francisco’s first town square, is on the edge of Chinatown where it meets the Financial District. It’s a popular relaxation spot for residents of Chinatown, and it’s got a lot of history. In 1846, the first American flag was flown over San Francisco here. In 1848, the discovery of gold was announced here, and the rush was on.
Commercial Street is a very narrow street running from Chinatown down to the Embarcadero Center. Before the land was filled in, Long Wharf used to extend 2,000 feet into San Francisco Bay from the end of Commercial Street out to where the Ferry Building now is. The axis of the Embarcadero Center corresponds to where Long Wharf used to be. Commercial Street is a quiet stretch in boisterous Downtown San Francisco. I didn’t take any pictures there, but I’ll return on Day 7 to visit the Pacific Heritage Museum. The Pacific Heritage Museum is on the site of the first U.S. Mint on the West Coast, built to process all that gold.
All that gold (as well as all of the businesses that sprang up to service and supply the mining industry) created a need for banks. The banks came and set up shop on and around Montgomery Street. Soon, Montgomery Street became known as the Wall Street of the West. These banks turned San Francisco into the major financial center that it still is today.
Jackson Square is a pretty architectural district of historic buildings.
Old Barbary Coast
This neighborhood in the Jackson Square area was the bawdiest part of San Francisco in its boom days. The stretch along Pacific Street was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake. It was rebuilt, rejuvenating the area with somewhat less bawdy entertainment establishments. The strip became known as Terrific Street.
Beat San Francisco
The next stop on the Barbary Coast Trail is called “Beat San Francisco”. I think most people would just call it North Beach. North Beach was the West Coast HQ of the Beat Generation. Beat luminaries such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg were regulars at local establishments such as City Lights Bookstore and Vesuvio Cafe. I spent most of Day 2 visiting locations in North Beach, including the fantastic Beat Museum, so you’ll be able to see most of my North Beach pictures with Day 2’s set.
Washington Square is North Beach’s big, beautiful park. I returned here on Day 2. But I kept the pictures from Day 1 because it was such a gorgeous day.
Telegraph Hill is one of Downtown San Francisco’s 3 hills. (The other 2 are Nob Hill and Russian Hill.) Telegraph Hill rises above North Beach and is famously topped by Coit Tower. Long before Coit Tower was erected, a signal tower on top of the hill alerted San Franciscans to the arrival of ships. This signaling device gave Telegraph Hill its name.
The Barbary Coast Trail has a spur that climbs to the top of Telegraph Hill to reach Coit Tower. I knew I’d be visiting Telegraph Hill on Day 2, so I skipped it for now. The main part of the trail does run along the slopes of the hill. It brought me to what seemed to be a secret spot in Downtown San Francisco and to the first really stunning views of the day.
[Factual information is primarily gathered from Wikipedia, so you know it must be true. Information is also gathered from “The Official Guide To San Francisco’s Barbary Coast Trail.]