Gold Rush Transforms San Francisco

Black and white image of boats in the marina.
Boats in the marina.

Look south past Fort Mason, toward the city, and try to imagine this area without the trees, buildings and skyscrapers. When California became a state in 1846, the first government seat was 150 miles away in Monterey and San Francisco was a sleepy port town. There were less than one thousand inhabitants in the city; sailors, fishermen, whalers, and fur trappers lived in temporary wood frame shacks around the waterfront. Except for the Presidio and Mission Delores, young San Francisco had few permanent buildings.

In January 1848, gold was discovered in the Sierra Nevada foothills and San Francisco was changed forever. People flocked to California from all over the world to seek their fortune. Almost overnight, the gold rush transformed San Francisco into a booming city filled with makeshift tent-houses, hotels, stores, saloons, gambling halls, and shanties. By 1849, as the gold rush fever swept through the country, the city's population exploded to a staggering 25,000. Because of the rapid population rate, city managers could not build shelter fast enough to accommodate everyone.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Last updated: March 2, 2021