We Don’t Say ‘FiDi, San Fran’
Most locals call it San Francisco’s Financial District, and we don’t really shorten that. It’s where the skyscrapers are but you can still see the sky. If you’re from New York CIty, you would think of this as midtown and downtown in one. A native of Melbourne, Australia would refer to it as the CBD (Central Business District), and Londoners say The Square Mile or The City.
Since it’s at the foot of surrounding hills and adjacent to the waterfront, it’s where everything began back in the days when the only way to get around was on foot or under sail. Today, several dozen bus lines, a number of streetcars and the California Cable Car line pass through.
Hungry for Heritage
Since San Francisco’s Financial District is a historic neighborhood, some of the city’s best and oldest restaurants are here.
If you came to Tadich Grill for seafood a century ago, it wouldn’t have looked all that different. Starched white tablecloths are standard at California’s oldest restaurant, where cozy booths, dark wood paneling and milk glass lanterns hung from 15-foot ceilings are much the same today. They’ve been serving diners on a first-come, first-served basis since 1849, when gold nuggets were accepted as payment. These days, most credit cards will do in place of gold.
Established in 1851, a bronze plaque outside Old Ship Saloon (298 Pacific Ave.) explains how the space is converted from an authentic 19th century sailing ship. Sam’s Grill (374 Bush St.) was opened by an Irishman known as “The Oyster King” in 1867. Schroeder’s (240 Front St.) legacy dates to 1893, where today’s patrons enter a Bavarian-style beer hall to raise steins to accompany Wiener Schnitzel and pretzels. These legacy restaurants feature regularly on the city’s top 100 lists, so many residents and visitors alike make a beeline for them.
Unlike many cities where the financial district goes quiet after hours, historic Jackson Square is a dining destination, home to several of San Francisco’s top names representing Greek, Italian-Californian and French cuisine: Kokkari Estiatorio, Cotogna, Bix, and the two-star Michelin Quince, housed in a 1907 brick and timber landmark building.
Along Columbus Avenue, where the Financial District borders North Beach, a dozen bars, Italian caffés, bakeries and restaurants offer legacy San Francisco experiences: Tosca Café, Vesuvio Café, Caffé Trieste, Original Joe’s, Comstock Saloon and San Francisco’s oldest dive bar (with live music) known simply as The Saloon at 1232 Grant Avenue.
Historical Markers Show the Way
Within two-tenths of a mile surrounding the Transamerica Pyramid, 11 historical plaques explain highlights of California history. These mark the headquarters of California’s Hudson’s Bay Co. in 1841, where the Connecticut-built Niantic whaling ship was grounded in 1849, the first U.S. Branch Mint in 1854, the western headquarters of the Pony Express.
Look down, too. Embedded in some of the Financial District’s sidewalks are markers for the Barbary Coast Trail, a 3.8-mile path weaving its way through several adjacent historic neighborhoods. Those who follow it may be shocked at the lurid tales of Gold Rush Days, when the tent camp town called Yerba Buena exploded from a population of a few hundred to more than 25,000 in a matter of one year.
Wells, Fargo & Co. Overland Stage
A free museum at the ground floor of the Wells Fargo office at 420 Montgomery Street provides an interactive experience for would-be Pony Express riders. Two original one ton gilded stagecoaches are on display, visitors can climb aboard and take the reins of a replica overland coach. Showcases display gold nuggets, mining memorabilia and scales, historic banknotes, telegraph and morse code machines while a four-minute film provides more background.
Did You Know?
- The California Street Cable Car, which passes through the Financial District, was built as a double ended car, since there is no turnaround on California Street.
- The famous Pony Express mail delivery service lasted for only 18 months in 1860-1861.
- The Transamerica Redwood Park at the base of the pyramid is a lovely, serene POPOS (privately owned, public open space) with benches, a water feature and a statue of Mark Twain.
- In 1864, Mark Twain was the only full-time reporter at the San Francisco Daily Morning Call, a newspaper with offices at 612 Commercial Street.