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10 Fun Facts About San Francisco You May Not Know

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You think you know a lot about San Francisco? Well let’s see how many of these fun facts you already had stored in your noggin. You’re about to be so much better at SF trivia.

1. Alcatraz was the only federal prison to offer hot-water showers, supposedly to dissuade prisoners from attempting to swim in the cold San Francisco Bay if they tried to escape.

2. The average depth of the San Francisco Bay is only as deep as a big swimming pool at approximately 12–15 feet deep. Large ships in the bay must follow deep underwater channels that are maintained by frequent dredging.

Graphic by Doug Griswold

3. In the 1860s, two stray dogs named Bummer and Lazarus became local celebrities, and their exploits were celebrated in the local papers. They were often associated with Emperor Norton.

Photo from wikipedia

4. Believe it or not, BART used to be fun. For a few months in 1976 and 1977, the Powell Street Station was home to a six-sided Atari machine in an effort to fundraise more money. 

Photo by Gary Fong/Chronicle 1976

5. Much of San Francisco is built on top of old Gold Rush era ships as a result of the city’s shoreline expansion.

6. San Francisco citizen and eccentric Joshua Abraham Norton self-declared himself the Emperor of the United States in 1859, lived a life of (mostly failed) diplomacy, and even issued his own money. 

Photo from wikipedia

7. In 1968, a Japanese pilot named Captain Kohei Asoh accidentally landed an airliner in the San Francisco Bay, and when asked about it he reportedly said: “As you Americans say, I fucked up.” This blunt acceptance of responsibility is known as the “Asoh Defense.” 

Photo from the SF Examiner, 1968

8. The San Francisco International Airport is supported by 267 columns that each rest on a steel ball bearing, allowing the ground to move 20 inches in any direction during an earthquake.

9. There used to be an annual Masturbate-a-thon to raise money for charity, and the record was 10 hours

Photo by Deon Black

10. San Francisco used to be called Yerba Buena, with the earliest report dating back to 1792. The phrase is Spanish for “Good Herb,” referring to the aromatic plants (mostly in the mint family) that grew native to the shoreline.

What are some of your favorite fun facts about San Francisco? Leave them in the comment!

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Jenna Homen

Jenna Homen

A Bay Area native, Jenna used to live in San Francisco and spent large amounts of her time ruminating on the happenings, history, and idiosyncrasies of San Francisco.