The Truth Behind San Francisco’s Most Untrue Myths

by Jessica Saia

San Francisco is a city rich with natural beauty, significant history, and LIES. Sure, everyone likes to have a few “fun facts” up their sleeve, but if you believe everything you hear, it’s only a matter of time before you’re at a work dinner telling your boss’s husband about how if you French braided all the suspension cables in the Golden Gate Bridge you could make a wig big enough for the sun. And he’s like, “What? That can’t be right.” And then you have to quit, again.

With all the dubious myths floating around this town, it’s hard to know fact from San Fran-fiction. Who can you really bay-lieve? Cable car? More like FABLE car!

Here, I’ve put together a list debunking some of the most egregious SF trivia.

1. SAN FRANCISCO IS BUILT ON SEVEN HILLS.

False. While there were only seven named hills when the city was founded, there are seventy-one hills in San Francisco, sixty-three of which have names. The remaining unnamed hills are unofficially known as Hippie Hill, Pill Hill, Hike Mountain, Sneak Peak, Mount Pointy, Corona Heights 2, Hill-tel California, and Big Raisin.

2. MARK TWAIN ONCE SAID, “THE COLDEST WINTER I EVER SPENT WAS A SUMMER IN SAN FRANCISCO.”

False. Historians recently uncovered that Twain was describing an elderly plumber he met in a French cookie factory who’d lost his glasses. What he actually said was, “The oldest squinter I ever met was a plumber in Cannes’ Nabisco.”

3. THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE IS BEING PAINTED CONTINUOUSLY, END-TO-END.

False. In Benjamin Moore’s dreams, maybe. Everyone believes this, yet no one’s ever seen anyone painting the bridge. Have you?

4. COIT TOWER WAS BUILT TO RESEMBLE A FIRE HOSE NOZZLE.

False. Coit Tower was built to resemble a 200-foot fireman blowing out a single candle, but I think we can all agree that the architect didn’t do a very good job.

5. THERE’S A FLOCK OF BABY PIGEONS THAT CAN BE SPOTTED ON TELEGRAPH HILL.

False. No one knows what a baby pigeon looks like.

6. BAY AREA RAPID TRANSIT (BART) WAS ALMOST NAMED FREMONT AREA RAPID TRANSIT.

False! Listen, if someone tells you this they are MESSING WITH YOU. I’m not going to say why, but just trust me!

7. THE MOVIE MRS. DOUBTFIRE WAS NOT ONLY SET IN SAN FRANCISCO, IT WAS BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

False. Well, partially true. I’ve been using cake frosting as a bedtime face moisturizer religiously, since long before the movie came out. “Sprinkles, not wrinkles!” my mom would say, even though I do actually have a lot of wrinkles. And night ants.

8. RICE-A-RONI IS THE SAN FRANCISCO TREAT.

False. Nice try, but no. The jingle is catchy, but at first whiff out of SFO you know this is a Hamburger Helper town. On hikes I like to eat it straight out of the box!

9. THE ONLY NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK THAT ISN’T STATIONARY IS SAN FRANCISCO’S CABLE CARS.

False. FALSE! I don’t know how this bogus “fact” ever even originated. There are nearly three thousand National Historic Landmarks in the U.S.; in what world would it make sense that ONE is “cable cars” and every single other one is fancy pieces of paper with matching envelopes?

10. NO ONE HAS EVER ESCAPED FROM ALCATRAZ ISLAND.

False. I went in 2011 when my parents were visiting; a bird pooped on my jacket, and we left.

11. A BIRD POOPED ON JESSICA SAIA’S JACKET DURING A FAMILY TRIP TO ALCATRAZ.

False. Two birds pooped on my jacket, but I thought two birds sounded made-up.

12. SAN FRANCISCO IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE CITY IN THE UNITED STATES.

False. Just kidding! But I think it’s really great.

Jessica Saia is a staff writer for the magazine. She was the visual content producer at The Bold Italic and now works as a writer and producer at Capital One. “What’s in your wallet,” am I right? She wrote that. (JKJK I did NOT write it, don’t put that.)