San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate (credit: Laurie Jo Miller Farr)

You probably know where to find San Francisco’s best burgers and craft beer, great hikes and knockout views. You might even know the exact number of stairs at the Lyon Street Steps. But the folks at say that only one of those answers will help you win any trivia quiz prizes, and you can imagine which one that would be. We’ve picked a few facts from the city’s quirky past that quizmasters could have up their sleeves for the San Francisco history category. Know these tidbits and impress.

Lincoln Highway marker, San Francisco (Credit: Laurie Jo Miller Farr)

How The Golden Gate
Got Its Name

The name has nothing to do with the fact that California is known as the Golden State. Nor has it any connection to the 1849 Gold Rush. It’s not about the International Orange paint on the bridge, either.

This waterway got its name in 1846, before any of these things occurred. The Golden Gate was named by U.S. Army Captain John C. Fremont for its resemblance to the Golden Horn passage that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara at the entrance to ancient Constantinople, modern day Istanbul.

The true story is the Golden Gate got named after the passage where Europe meets Asia by a Georgia native who is buried in New York.

Legion of Honor’s lawn in Lincoln Park, San Francisco (Credit: Laurie Jo Miller Farr)

Spot The ‘Main Street Across America’ Marker

If you’ve been to see the fine art treasures at the Legion of Honor, you’ve stood at the western terminus of the first transcontinental automobile road in the United States. Lincoln Highway once spanned 3,389 miles across the nation as the two-lane first paved road across America, linking San Francisco’s Lincoln Park to New York’s Times Square. You’ll find the westernmost terminus of the original 2,436 road markers placed by Boy Scouts in 1928. Look near the golf course border beside the Muni bus shelter facing the museum. It displays a Lincoln portrait medallion set into the cement post with a small plaque reading, “This Highway Dedicated to Abraham Lincoln.”

Martinis (credit: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)

On Shaky Ground As Birthplace Of The Martini

Nobody knows whether San Francisco is, in fact, the birthplace of the fabled cocktail. Probably it is….or, maybe not. Thirty-six miles away, aptly-named Martinez, Calif., lays claim as well. Martinez tells the story of an unnamed prospector traveling through, wanting a special drink to celebrate his good fortune.

The City of Martinez says that in 1983,”The Court of Historical Review in San Francisco ruled that the martini was invented in San Francisco,” but goes on to say, “not before the liquid evidence was ingested by the presiding judge.” See the plaque in a Martinez parking lot at Alhambra and Masonic, referencing the encounter as 1874, raising Gold Rush questions. San Francisco supporters point to showy bartender, “Professor” Jerry Thomas of the Occidental Hotel, author of the 1887 cocktail manual, “The Bar-Tenders Guide,” to back up their claim. 

Views of San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (Credit: Laurie Jo Miller Farr)

Our Hills And Hulls

Everybody knows that Telegraph Hill and North Beach were once waterfront and the Financial District was the red light district known as the Barbary Coast, right? We walk on streets that were once the shallows of the bay, with the hulls of 400 or so flat-bottomed scow schooners buried under our feet. The lone survivor is the 1891 Alma, part of the collection at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. See California Historical landmark #88 at 505 Sansome Street at the “Site of Ship Niantic” plaque. More hulls are regularly encountered by BART engineers, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission inspectors and construction crews at the Candlestick Park site, remains of 19th-century vessels that plied the bay delivering hay, salt, bricks, pork, coal and lumber.

President Warren G. Harding (Courtesy of the National Archives/Newsmakers)

President Harding’s Sudden Death

On the morning of Aug. 3, 1923, the nation awoke to the shock of headlines that read, “President Harding Dies Suddenly, Stroke of Apoplexy at 7:30 p.m., Calvin Coolidge is President.” The 58-year-old U.S. President Warren G. Harding had intended to address the World Court in San Francisco following a visit to Alaska. That was cancelled when he felt unwell. However, the president rallied during the San Francisco stopover. He was comfortably settled in at the Presidential Suite at Market Street’s luxury Palace Hotel with his wife, Florence, having her read the newspapers aloud when he suffered an immediately fatal seizure.

Laurie Jo Miller Farr loves walkable cities. A tourism industry professional and transplanted New Yorker by way of half-a-lifetime in London, she’s writing about the best of the bay and beyond for Yahoo, USA Today, eHow, and on