San Francisco's quirky customs never die.

14 San Francisco Surprises

There's a lot that you probably already know about San Francisco, but even her famous landmarks have a few secrets:

  1. When visiting Chinatown remember to look up. Temples are historically built on the upper levels of buildings – to Signsbe closer to the gods. The Tin How Temple, 125 Waverly Place, is the oldest Chinese temple in the U.S.
  2. The United Nations was founded in San Francisco on June 26, 1945; the historic treaty was signed on the stage of Herbst Theatre in the Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness Ave.
  3. San Francisco Bay is the largest natural harbor and estuary on the West Coast.
  4. A designated national historic landmark, the world's first cable car rumbled down Clay Street on the morning of Aug. 2, 1873.
  5. Speaking of cable cars President Lyndon B. Johnson's daughter, Lynda, was ordered off of a cable car in 1968 for eating an ice cream cone.
  6. Some quirky customs never die. They still wash coins at the Westin St. Francis, a tradition that started in the 1930s to keep ladies white gloves from getting tarnished.
  7. If the U.S. Navy had prevailed the Golden Gate Bridge would have been painted black with yellow stripes to ensure greater visibility for passing ships. Consulting architect Irving F. Morrow rejected that color scheme as well as one that called for carbon black and steel grey, settling on orange vermilion, better known as International Orange. And in case you didn't know, there are approximately 600,000 rivets in each tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.
  8. There's a famous piece of apparel that got its start in San Francisco. The "birth of the blues" refers to Levi's jeans. In 1873 Levi Strauss & Co. created and patented the world's first blue jeans. Some vintage treasures are on view at company headquarters, 1155 Battery St.
  9. San Francisco has 40-plus hills; the most famous are Twin Peaks, Nob Hill, Russian Hill and Telegraph Hill.
  10. San Francisco claims a number of food firsts including the martini (although some contend it started in Martinez a few miles to the east of San Francisco); the fortune cookie; America's oldest Italian restaurant, Fior d'Italia; Oysters Kirkpatrick; cioppino; Chicken Tetrazzini; Crab Louis and no visit is complete without sampling an It's It ice cream sandwich.
  11. Hum along now … the city by the bay has an official song – the rousing "San Francisco" and an official ballad, Tony Bennett's romantic "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."
  12. The first television was invented by Philo T. Farnsworth and transmitted its first successful electronic image on Sept. 7, 1927. A plaque marks the spot at 202 Green St.
  13. Bet you didn't know that quintessential New Englander, Robert Frost, was born in San Francisco.
  14. San Francisco is the only consolidated city and county in California. It is also the home of the oldest public high school west of the Mississippi – Lowell H.S. Some of its famous graduates include actors Benjamin Bratt, Carol Channing, scientist Dian Fossey and Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer.