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Answering the 66 most burning questions about San Francisco

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Ask via Google and you shall receive

The SF skyline seen behind the main cable of the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo via Shutterstock.

People want to know about San Francisco—and they’re turning to Silicon Valley for answers.

Not actually to the Valley itself, but rather to its technology via tools like Google searches, many of which take the form of a question. Curious what the rest of the world wants to know, Curbed SF consulted search compilation tool Answer the Public, which summarizes query data from Google and Bing and breaks down what questions people search for most often.

Some of the most common inquiries about the city over the past 12 months were impossible to answer—either because they were malformed, redundant, or simply too strange—but of the top results that manifest as clear and concise questions that can be substantively addressed, here are the answers to what inquiring minds want to know about SF, in no particular order:

  • Are San Francisco cable cars free? No. Owners of a Muni FastPass/Clipper Card can ride cable cars as often as they like, just like any other Muni vehicle. Everyone else has to pay $7 for a one-way trip.
  • Are San Francisco beaches warm? It depends on the day, the time of year, and the fickle whims of the weather gods. But as a rule of thumb, SF beaches are often colder and windier than those in other (read: southern) California coastal cities.
  • Are San Francisco streets dirty? Absolutely. San Francisco Public works reports that “the city responded to more than 116,000 street and sidewalk cleaning requests between July 2018 and April 2019 , and 76 percent of those were responded to within two days.” Since City Hall’s mandated goal is 95 percent, this is considered a poor performance. In the city’s most recent public survey, 57 percent of those polled say they believe street cleanliness has gotten worse since 2018.
  • Are San Francisco waters shark-infested? Conservation group Save the Bay says that six shark species are native to the San Francisco Bay, ranging from the broadnose sevengill shark—an eight-foot Goliath that mostly eats other sharks—to the comparably minuscule spiny dogfish, which grows to three feet in length and brandishes poisonous barbs. None are generally dangerous to humans.
  • Are San Francisco buildings earthquake-proof? San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection (DBI) enforces seismic standards for new buildings and incentivizes upgrades for existing buildings. However, DBI warns that “with older, existing buildings, it is difficult to require retroactively higher seismic design standards” and “there are no reliable statistics on the potential number of damaged or collapsed buildings in the event of a major earthquake.”
  • Are San Francisco hotels expensive? The San Francisco Travel Association reports that in 2017—the most recent year for which the association has data compiled—the average guest at a San Francisco hotel spent just less than $250 per day on accommodations.
  • Are San Francisco garter snakes poisonous? According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the only snakes native to California with poison potent enough to harm a human are rattlesnakes. San Francisco garter snakes are harmless and are among the most beautiful snake species in the world. They’re also endangered and in need of critical protections for their Bay Area wetlands habitats.
  • Is San Francisco safe? The San Francisco Police Department recorded a violent crime rate of 749 incidents per 100,000 residents for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, which is significantly higher than the FBI’s most recent (2017) U.S. average estimate of just less than 383. But it’s also significantly lower than the rate in 36 other major U.S. cities (those with populations of 200,000 or greater) in 2017, some of which see thousands of reported crimes per 100,000 residents.
  • Is San Francisco a county? San Francisco is both a city and a county. According to the California State Association of Counties, SF is one of the state’s original 27 counties circa 1850. Much of the territory that was once SF County became San Mateo County in 1856.
Photo via Shutterstock.
  • Can San Francisco survive an earthquake? It always has.
  • Can a tsunami hit San Francisco? Stanford seismologist Greg Beroza says that the San Andreas fault beneath SF “doesn’t raise the ocean or drop it” and can’t generate a tsunami in the usual way. But a quake in San Francisco could plausibly cause an undersea landslide or similar phenomena off the coast that might generate such a wave. Tsunamis that originate in other countries sometimes hit SF, but there’s never been any major damage to the city recorded from any such waves, which usually dissipate by the time they reach California shores.
  • Can San Francisco get a hurricane? Opinions vary. However, no major hurricane-force storm has ever made landfall anywhere in California in recorded history.
  • How did San Francisco get its name? On January 30, 1847, Chief Magistrate Washington Bartlett decreed, “To prevent confusion and mistakes in public documents, and that the town may have the advantage of the name given on the public map; it is hereby ordained, that the name of San Francisco shall hereafter be used in all official communications and public documents, or records appertaining to the town.” Previously, the city was called Yerba Buena, but the powers that be decided it was more convenient if both the city and the bay bore the same title.
  • How do San Francisco cable car works? Market Street Railway, a nonprofit “focused on preserving historic transit in San Francisco,” explains that “cable cars have no engine or motor. The power source is centralized in the cable car barn and powerhouse at Washington and Mason Streets. There, powerful electric motors drive giant winding wheels that pull cables through a trench beneath the street, centered under the cable car tracks.”
  • How is San Francisco weather? Mercurial. As Golden Gate Weather explains, “winds are channeled over and around the City of San Francisco by the terrain, resulting in pronounced differences in the weather across relatively short distances,” a phenomena known as microclimates. Depending on the season, rain, fog, heat waves, hailstorms, and even rare snowfall may manifest. The proverbial wisdom is that SF is usually colder and windier than visitors expect on any given day.
  • How is San Francisco air quality? Usually pristine. On the Environmental Protection Agency’s 500-point Air Quality Index, San Francisco rarely breaks a score of 50 and thus has “good” air quality on most days. However, there are rare exceptions.
  • How is San Francisco public transportation? The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) reports that in April of 2019, SF city buses and trains were on time—no more than one minute earlier or four minutes late—just 54.8 percent of the time. In the previous year, the on-time rating ranged from 53.1 to 57.2. In the city’s most recent annual survey, only 40 percent of those polled gave public transit an A or a B grade, down 19 points from the year before.
  • How is San Francisco traffic? Analytics firm INRIX estimated in 2018 that San Francisco drivers averaged 79 hours sitting in traffic jams during peak travel times the previous year, making it the fifth most congested city in the world in the company’s rankings.
  • How far is San Francisco from Los Angeles? Google measures the distance as 383 miles by highway or 347 miles by air.
  • What is San Francisco known for? In January of 2019, San Francisco-based PR firm Bospar asked what people in Canada, the UK, New Zealand, and Australia associate with San Francisco. The most popular response was the Golden Gate Bridge. The bay itself came in second place, followed by Alcatraz. The 49ers and the LGBTQ community also stood out.
  • What San Francisco neighborhood should I live in? Consult Curbed SF’s guide for choosing an SF neighborhood.
  • What San Francisco building is sinking? Technically many of them, but people are almost certainly thinking of Millennium Tower in this case.
  • What’s San Francisco minimum wage? On July 1, 2019, the city’s minimum wage will become $15.59 per hour, up from $15.
  • What is San Francisco sales tax? 8.5 percent.
  • What is San Francisco’s ZIP code? SF has 51 ZIP Codes. For a complete list and map, consult the federal government’s data portal. ZIP Codes numbers have a higher numeric value on the west coast than in eastern states, so by the time you get to the Bay Area every ZIP starts with the number nine. The second two digits in a ZIP specify the neighborhood delivery route, and the last two identify the nearest post office.
  • What is San Francisco’s area code? Since 1950 San Francisco has used the 415 area code. In 2015, in response to a shortage of phone numbers created by the cell phone industry, the city started handing out the 628 area code, which caused some consternation with locals.
  • What is San Francisco’s time zone? Pacific Time. During daylight saving time, it’s known as Pacific Daylight Time. For the rest of the year, it’s Pacific Standard.
  • What is San Francisco sourdough? Popular Science reports that San Francisco sourdough bread’s distinctive taste is the result of “lactobacillus sanfranciscensis,” a local bacteria “that produces lactic and acetic acids.” The most widely commercially sold bread claims a recipe that dates to the Gold Rush; in fact Boudin Bakery’s marketing materials include a dramatic tale of how the family’s matron ran into a burning building to save the “mother dough” during a bakery fire.
  • What is San Francisco Bay Area? The Bay Area is broadly recognized as nine counties with rough proximity to the San Francisco Bay: San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Sonoma, Santa Clara, Marin, Napa, and Solano.
  • When was San Francisco founded? The Spanish built their first structures in what would become later become San Francisco—the Mission and the original Presidio, the former of which still exists—in 1776. The first residential structure was raised in 1835, according to the plaque on Grant Street marking the spot.
  • When was San Francisco earthquake? United States Geological Survey records the time as April 18, 1906, 5:12 a.m.
  • When was San Francisco earthquake, 1989? October 17, 1989, 5:04 p.m. It occurred at the start of game three of the World Series, featuring the San Francisco Giants versus the Oakland A’s. Reflecting on the events 25 years later, former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos noted that the baseball game indirectly saved many lives because it meant that a lot of people were not on local freeway as they usually would have been before the structures collapsed.
  • When is San Francisco Pride? In 2019, June 29 and June 30. Here’s a look back at every SF Pride since 1970.
  • When is San Francisco Fleet Week? October 6-14. The Fleet Week tradition began when the bay had several active U.S. Navy bases but these days is one of the only times military craft visit the waters off SF.
  • When is San Francisco Film Festival? The San Francisco International Film Festival usually runs in April.
  • When is San Francisco auto show? The 2019 SF International Auto Show is set for November 28 through December 2.
  • When is Hamilton in San Francisco? The touring production plays at the Orpheum Theater through January 5, 2020. This is only the show’s second appearance in San Francisco after an acclaimed—and frequently sold out—2017 tour.
  • When to travel to San Francisco? Frommer’s suggests the fall to take advantage of the city’s mildest weather. Summers in SF are proverbially cold and foggy, though climate change has visited heatwaves in recent years.
  • Where in San Francisco is the Full House house? 1709 Broderick Street in Lower Pac Heights. Note that the house only served for exterior establishing shots on the show. Most of the significant production took place in a studio in LA. In recent years, neighbors have complained about the amount of traffic generated by interest in TV land’s favorite home, exacerbated by the sequel series Fuller House.
  • Where is San Francisco airport? SFO is actually located on the outskirts of South San Francisco—a separate community—about five and a half miles south of the city, accessible via BART or the 101.
  • Where is San Francisco 49ers stadium? The 49ers play home games at Levi’s Stadium, 4900 Marie P DeBartolo Way in Santa Clara, roughly 45 miles away from the city. The team moved from San Francisco proper in 2014, but continues to reference the city’s name in branding purposes. The team’s longtime home Candlestick Park was demolished in 2015.
  • Where is San Francisco Giants stadium? Since 2000 the Giants have played home games at Oracle Park in San Francisco located at 24 Willie Mays Plaza. For years the ballpark was known as AT&T Park, but computing giant Oracle bought the naming rights in early 2019.
  • Where is San Francisco downtown? Locals will argue this one for ages, but conventional wisdom holds that the Financial District north of Market Street, south of Broadway, and east of Montgomery Street comprise the bulk of downtown. Nearby neighborhoods like South Beach, the East Cut, Union Square, Yerba Buena, Jackson Square, the Tenderloin, the Embarcadero, and eastern SoMa may or may not be included.
  • Where is San Francisco Chinatown? The blocks within the boundaries of Powell, Kearny, Broadway, and Bush Streets comprise Chinatown. The Dragon Gate is located at the intersection of Bush and Grant Street. Note that this relatively small area makes Chinatown one of the most densely populated areas in the United States.
  • Which San Francisco cable car is best? That’s a matter of opinion, but the oft-overlooked California Cable Car consistently has the shortest lines.
  • Who is San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback? The team currently lists Jimmy Garoppolo as the staring quarterback, with CJ Beathard, Nick Mullens, and Wilton Speight on the bench.
  • What is San Francisco 49ers’ record? In the 2018-2019 season the team went 4-12, finishing third in the Western Division.
  • Who is San Francisco’s mayor? SF voters elected Mayor London Breed the 45th mayor of San Francisco in June 2018. Breed also briefly served as Acting Mayor starting at the end of 2017, after the unexpected death of Mayor Ed Lee. She’s up for reelection in 2019 thanks to the fact that San Francisco has odd-year local elections and that she’s presently serving what would have been the remainder of Lee’s final term.
Photo via Shutterstock.
  • Who are the San Francisco Board of Supervisors? The eleven-person Board of Supervisors serves as the lawmaking branch of San Francisco government, a role similar to that the city council in most cities. Supervisor Norman Yee currently serves as board president, with Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Hillary Ronen, Vallie Brown, Catherine Stefani, Sandra Lee Fewer, Gordon Mar, Matt Haney, Rafael Mandelman, Shamann Walton, and Ahsha Safai filing the other seats.
  • Who is San Francisco’s tax collector? Surprised so many people want to know, but David Augustine has served as SF Tax Collector since 2013. Tax collector is an appointed position in San Francisco, chosen by the city’s treasurer.
  • Who is in jail in San Francisco County? The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department will disclose the names of those currently held in city jails, either via phone or online query, but will not identify anyone who has been released.
  • Who is moving to San Francisco? According to the U.S. Census, San Francisco’s population has grown by more than 78,000 people since 2010. The male population grew by nearly 41,000, the female population by nearly 34,000. The number of foreign-born residents grew by more than 19,000, while the number of people identifying as two or more races grew by over 15,000. The city’s median age stayed flat.
  • Who is San Francisco de Assisi? An Italian friar who lived from 1181 to 1226 and was canonized in 1228. St. Francisco is most famous for his strict vows of poverty and outsized affection for animals.
  • Why is San Francisco expensive? Traditional economic wisdom holds that San Francisco’s rapidly swelling population and relative dearth of new housing creates scarcity that drives up demand and thus the cost of housing. Alternatively, many local agitators persist that the growth of high-paying jobs in the Silicon Valley tech sector have drawn wealthy residents to the area—the city’s median income increased by almost $25,000 since 2010, according to the U.S. Census—and provoked artificial price inflation and gentrification to take advantage of the influx of wealth.
  • Why San Francisco is the best place to live? Consult Curbed SF’s guide to 101 reasons to love San Francisco.
  • Why San Francisco is the worst city? In city polling conducted early in 2019, SF residents cited the cost of living, the cost of housing, the unreliability of public transportation, the homeless crisis, and concerns about street cleanliness as the top complaints about the city.
  • Why is San Francisco so cold? First because the Pacific Ocean sees average water temperatures in the low 50s along the north coast during the spring and summer, which cools the air. Then ocean air and fog (which forms when cold ocean air hits warmer air along the coast) push through the Golden Gate—the only significant break in the coastal mountains for miles in either direction—and chills San Francisco, particularly during those summer months.
  • Why is San Francisco foggy? See above.
Golden Gate Bridge in the fog. Photo by By Pack-Shot/Shutterstock
  • Why San Francisco is famous? San Francisco has had many claims to fame over the years, ranging from 20th century counterculture to the current tech boom, but it all started with the Gold Rush and the descent of thousands of fortune seekers onto the city in 1849 and subsequent years. John Sutter, the man who owned the mill where gold first turned up in 1848, hoped to keep it t himself until he could extract as much as he could on his own. But local merchant Samuel Brannan blew the secret with his famous publicity stunt of running through the streets crying, “Gold from the California river!” Among the things Brannan sold: mining equipment.
  • Why San Francisco so many homeless [sic]? Multiple variations of this question appear in the rankings, none of them in the form of a complete sentence. Be that as it may, the high cost of housing and everything else in SF significantly exacerbates the homelessness problem. Many SF residents living on the streets also have serious health problems that make recovery more difficult: 37 percent report drug or alcohol abuse, 35 percent face psychiatric or emotional conditions, and 27 percent have physical disabilities. According to the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, “The current adult shelter system has 1,203 shelter beds for adults over the age of 18,” a fraction of the estimated homeless population. For the record, Coalition on Homelessness Director Jennifer Friedenbach argued in 2016 that SF’s homeless population per capita is comparable to other major cities, though the estimated homeless count has grown significantly since then.
  • Will San Francisco go underwater? The Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy group that lobbies for policy to circumvent potential environmental disasters, warned in 2018 that sea level rise over the next 30 to 80 years could swamp thousands of Bay Area homes. However, of an estimated 13,000 homes at risk in those models, only 270 were in SF.
  • Will San Francisco’s housing market crash? San Francisco’s voracious housing market has slowed in recent years and even (barely) showed signs of contracting in the first half of 2019. Economists are currently divided over whether Initial Public Offerings by major SF tech companies will create a monster in the market. As for the possibility of a crash, nobody can see the future, although on a long enough timeline significant declines will eventually happen—though possibly not in our lifetimes.
  • Will San Francisco rent go down? State and local lawmakers, analysts, and wonks all have potential solutions to help keep rents in check. Many promote increasing supply through greater production of new housing; others tout rent control and other market restrictions; and some hope to open up housing stock by finding some way to curb the number of homes kept vacant by short-term rental moguls or out-of-town and overseas buyers. Rents have slowly declined month-to-month—and even year-over-year—but so far no plan has significantly driven down housing costs.
  • Will San Francisco ever be affordable? Not likely.
  • Will San Francisco have another earthquake? According to USGS’s Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast, there’s a 93 percent probability of a 7.0 or larger earthquake occurring somewhere in California by 2045. The danger is more pronounced in Southern California—seismologists project a 19 percent chance of the southern San Andreas Fault generating that quake, compared to jet 6.4 percent for the portion running beneath SF. However, the Hayward Fault, which runs beneath Oakland but will certainly cause damage in San Francisco if a big one hits it, has significantly higher odds of disaster in the near future.
  • Will San Francisco run out of water? The U.S. Drought Monitor declared California drought-free last year—the first time since 2011. Climate change poses the danger of future droughts and significant changes in the way that Californians think about our water supply in the future. However, Leon Szeptycki, executive director of Water in the West at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, argued in 2018 that the odds of a significant water shortage in a major California city “are very, very low,” thanks, in part, to the diversity of sources from which the state draws water.