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San Francisco Culture Explained

March 13, 2023 By CityPASS

San Francisco culture is something that you need to experience to understand. This California city has a long history of blending cultures and peoples together, resulting in the iconic city that we know today. It’s an epicenter of art, music, food, and so much more, perfectly intertwining the stories of the people who call San Francisco home.

If you’re ready to explore the culture in San Francisco, here’s what you need to know.

What Makes San Francisco So Unique?

The San Francisco Bay area is a global center for the arts, sciences, and economic activity. The Bay Area is a hub not just for top-notch universities, start-ups, and tech companies, but also for all kinds of art and creativity. In addition to being the home of huge companies like Twitter, Airbnb, and Levis, it also has world-class museums, theaters, and music.

Exploring the hilly streets of San Francisco, you’ll find stunning architecture unique to the city. You’re probably already familiar with the iconic Victorian houses on the hill made famous by Full House, but each neighborhood reflects the people that live there.

Chinatown, for example, has the highest population of ethnically-Chinese people outside of China and the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. Traditional architecture, food, and shops make it feel like you’ve been transported from San Francisco into a bustling neighborhood in China. San Franciscans have heritages from around the world, and these stories play out on the city’s streets.

Key Features of San Francisco Culture

The San Francisco cultural scene offers so much to see and do that it’s impossible to fit it all into just one trip. What makes it so exciting is the diversity you can explore when it comes to just about everything: food, art, and music, to name a few. San Francisco is a true melting pot in every sense of the word.

San Francisco's Interesting History

People have lived in San Francisco for centuries, with the earliest inhabitants dating back to 3,000 BC. Indigenous groups lived here for millennia until the first Europeans arrived in 1769. Spanish explorers continued visiting the area in the following years, eventually founding a mission and village. Spain then ceded the California mission to Mexico in 1821, and the city continued growing. Mexico ceded the territory to the U.S. in 1848.

By the mid-19th century, San Francisco's population was largely a mix of European settlers and Mexicans, but the city exploded with the Gold Rush of 1849. California then became a state in 1850, and the city of San Francisco continued to flourish, bringing in a new wave of immigration from China. Chinatown began to develop, Victorian houses were built, and the city’s cable cars soon zipped down the streets. From there, San Francisco only continued to grow and modernize.

Incredible Cultural Sights

If you’re ready to see the sights, start with some of the city’s top museums, like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), which houses 33,000 pieces of artwork. Internationally recognized, this gallery features works exclusively from the 20th century in several mediums.

Looking for something kid-friendly? Try the Walt Disney Family Museum, which explores all things animation and innovation. Both the permanent galleries and temporary exhibitions explore the man behind the mouse from the very beginning and his lasting legacy.

If you want to break free, there’s no better way to see San Francisco than by bike. Bay City Bike bike rental has everything you need to get started. Explore the city’s parks, like Golden Gate Park, or cruise the route from the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito for awe-inspiring views. Bay City Bike offers guided tours around the city, some of which are paired with a trip to Alcatraz!

Popular Cuisines

San Francisco’s food culture reflects the groups of people who settled in the city over its history. Each community brings something to the table. You’ll find Mexican dishes with an American twist everywhere throughout the city, but you should definitely stop in the Mission District to try a San Francisco-style burrito. Wrapped in foil and stuffed with beans, rice, and other fresh ingredients, it’s a tasty way to try the Mexican flavors that have developed here for decades.

And it doesn’t end there! Craving Italian? Head to San Francisco’s Little Italy in North Beach. Want to have an authentic dim sum experience? Make your way to Chinatown. Because San Francisco is on the water, the seafood here is sublime. Make your way to Fisherman’s Wharf to try the fresh catch of the day at any number of restaurants in the area.

Street Festivals and Events

San Francisco has many free street festivals and events throughout the year. They cater to all kinds of interests, like music, food, crafts, and culture. Some of the top festivals during the year include:

  • Chinese New Year Street Festival and Parade
  • Saint Patrick’s Day Parade and Block Party
  • Glen Park Festival
  • Mission Carnaval Celebration
  • North Beach Festival
  • Union Street Festival
  • Fillmore Jazz Festival
  • Haight Street Fair
  • Fleet Week San Francisco

This is just a sampling, but there’s something new going on just about every weekend in San Francisco.

Diversity of Population

One thing that makes San Francisco so unique is the people who live there. San Franciscans are quite diverse, as people from countries all over the world have made the city their home. San Francisco attracts people from all walks of life, including artists, techies, musicians, actors, and much more.

San Franciscans take great pride in the diversity and inclusion their city promotes. Everyone is welcome here, opening the door to immigrants, international students, tourists, and transplants from other American cities.

Lesser-Known Facts About San Francisco Culture

Did you know that San Francisco often hosts Broadway tryouts and pre-Broadway events? The city's theater scene is thriving, with tons of theaters, music venues, and stages where you can take in a show. Many original shows head to Broadway in New York after a beginning run in San Francisco. Along with theater, San Francisco has a very active and distinct improv community. Catching a live show — either improv or theater — is a unique cultural event you won’t want to miss.

Experience San Francisco Culture at a Discount

Take a deep dive into San Francisco culture and make the most of your trip by purchasing a CityPASS® ticket. Depending on the length of your stay, you can choose from two different options. The San Francisco CityPASS® ticket gets you into four of the city’s top attractions and saves you up to compared to buying individual tickets. The San Francisco C3® ticket allows you to enter three attractions and save up to .

Whichever package you choose, a San Francisco CityPASS® ticket is your way to save big and see the best the city has to offer!

San Francisco Lodging

To get the most out of your stay in San Francisco, we recommend finding lodging near San Francisco's top attractions. Use this map to find the right lodging for you:

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