San Francisco: A History (part 1)

My affection for this city is growing, and lately I’ve been researching its history. I feel like I need to understand SF’s past in order to fully appreciate the city today.

mission dolores c.1791

I have a friend who was actually born here (a rarity, I’ve discovered), and I love hearing him recite the history lessons he’s known since childhood. You see, I grew up in Georgia, and I can talk ad nauseam about its history (13 original colonies, slavery, Sherman’s March). But I know very little about California’s history. My friend was telling me about something called a mission, and I was embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even know what that was.

Spanish settlers arrived on the Pacific coast of North America in the mid-1700’s. The settlers were interested in converting the natives to Catholicism, and set up several outposts of evangelism, called missions. The first mission was established in San Diego in 1769. Over the next fifty years, 21 missions were set up from San Diego to Sonoma, spaced approximately one day’s journey apart by horse. There was a road connecting the missions called El Camino Real (The Royal Road). Over the years, El Camino Real gave way to modern highways, principally Routes 101 and 82.

thanks to

In 1894, an effort began to commemorate the important route, so iron bells were erected as mile-markers along the road. There were 450 bells total. I really don’t understand why they put up bells instead of, say, signs. Did they ring the bells as they passed by? Can you imagine traveling by horse and stopping every mile to ring a bell? What would happen if you didn’t ring it? Any of my readers know?

“There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
this could be heaven or this could be hell”

from photo dictionary

Today, one of the missions is still operating as if it’s 1850. You can visit San Juan Bautista and get a glimpse into the life of the settlers 160 years ago. (1 hour south of SF

photo is from

  • Missions:
    1. San Francisco de Solano (Sonoma Mission) (1823). Sonoma County.
    2. San Rafael Arcángel (1817) . Marin County.
    3. San Francisco de Asís [also known as Mission Delores] (1776). San Francisco County.
    4. San José (1797). Alameda County.
    5. Santa Clara de Asís (1777) Santa Clara County.
    6. Santa Cruz (1791). Santa Cruz County.
    7. San Juan Bautista (1797). San Benito County.
    8. San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo (1770), also known as Carmel Mission. Monterey County
    9. San Antonio de Padua (1771). Monterey County.
    10. Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (1791) . Monterey County.
    11. San Miguel Arcangel (1797). San Luis Obispo County.
    12. San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (1772). San Luis Obispo County.
    13. La Purísima Concepción (1787). Santa Barbara County.
    14. Santa Inés (1804). Santa Barbara County.
    15. Santa Bárbara (1786). Santa Barbara County.
    16. San Buenaventura (1782). Ventura County.
    17. San Fernando Rey de España (1797). Los Angeles County.
    18. San Gabriel Archangel (1771). Los Angeles County.
    19. San Juan Capistrano (1776). Orange County.
    20. San Luis Rey de Francia (1798). San Diego County.
    21. San Diego de Alcalá (1769). San Diego County.

One Year Ago

I started this blog exactly one year ago today. I can’t believe I’ve been here a whole year! It’s amazing to think back about all the things I’ve seen and learned. This coming year is going to be just as excited… I hope!

In other news, Barney’s on 24th street now serves a falafel burger that is absolutely delicious. I’m not a vegetarian and even I love it!


What’s in Your Wallet?

Capital One has this ad campaign that features the vikings taking trips to various locations and creating mayhem because, well, they’re vikings. The most recent commercial shows the gruesome group vacationing in San Francisco.

Here’s the ad:

I was watching the commercial wondering if they actually filmed the ad here in the city. And if so, where was the footage taken. I had some free time today, so I scoured the interwebs looking for location information.

First, you see the head viking (Garth, I’m told) sitting at a table with the GG Bridge in the background. This shot was filmed at Battery Spencer, an old military base on the Marin side of the bridge. (Located at McCullough and Conzelman Rd, Sausalito, CA. Check out this panoramic view!)

from the commercial

photo courtesy of The SF Chronicle

Read more about Battery Spencer in this SF Chronicle article.

Then, you see them scaring the tourists as they ride a cable car. The cable car comes up over a hill, skyscrapers on each side, and the Bay Bridge in the background. Thanks to Google street view, I determined that if you stand at the corner of California St and Powell St and face east, you’ll see this exact view. You see the Hartford Building on the left (square windows), and the Chong Hing Bank on the right. The building in the foreground on the left (you only see the ledge), is the University Club on Powell St.

In a side note, this is the cable car I should’ve taken that day I went to Grace Cathedral.

from the commercial

courtesy of comic book boy


In the next scene, the vikings are eating dungeness crab at Fisherman’s Wharf. If you remember, I called this Crab Heaven in my Wharf article. Garth is standing there paying for his crab and then the other guy walks up and you can see more of the background.

I have to admit that I can’t figure out exactly where this footage was taken. I know where the wheel/sign is, but I’d have to go down there to get the exact angle. Unfortunately, I’m home with a sprained ankle, so a trip to the Wharf is not in the cards today.


The gang definitely sees all the best parts of SF, because they go to Napa Valley next. I didn’t have to work very hard to figure out this shot because the answer is in the comments if the youtube video. This is the Cuvasion Estate Winery. You can take a tour and taste the wines for $20 (1221 Duhig Road, Napa, CA. I think I should go there and then write about it.

eww, viking shoes in our snobby wine

courtesy of

The last scene in the commercial shows the vikings buying tie dye in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The two guys are standing very near the intersection of Haight St and Ashbury St. I used google street view to match the buildings in the background, but I wasn’t able to get the exact angle. This is another situation where I would benefit from a functioning ankle.

whoa, dude...

photo courtesy of google street view

So there you have it. I can confirm that the Capital One commercial was actually filmed on location in San Francisco. If they visit again, they should call me. I’ll be their tour guide!

Population Demographics

I am fascinated by the diversity of people in the Bay Area. I have met so many different people from different countries and I love learning about their heritage. I met somebody that just moved here from London 7 days ago!!

Here is some data from the US Census Bureau

my favorite part is the 10,000 people per sq mi in SF

click to enlarge

My latest cultural experience came yesterday at work. My coworker brought Chinese mooncakes to share in honor of the annual Lunar Festival.

traditional Cantonese cakes on the left, Mandarin on the right

What is a mooncake? It’s a dense cake (think fruitcake) made from lotus flour that has a semi-cooked egg in the middle.

What is the Chinese Lunar Festival? It’s a celebration of the brightest full moon of the year. In Chinese custom, this is the first day of the fall harvest. This year, the bright moon shined last night, september 12 (so I guess you missed it). Traditional festivities include mooncakes, matchmaking, burning incense in reverence to deities including Chang’e, Fire Dragon Dances, and the moon rabbit.

I found out that there was a big celebration in Chinatown this past weekend. I promise I’ll go next year.

This is one of the main reasons why I love SF. I thought I’d have a regular day at work but instead I got a lesson in Chinese culture!!

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