San Francisco emerged, famously, with the Gold Rush and over the following century became America’s portal to the Pacific world. In this period the Bay’s shoreline developed as a regionwide port for defense and offense, with the most transformative period during World War II. In the postwar years the region sprawled, like Los Angeles. Today the nine-county Bay Area has more than 7 million residents. It’s a megacity, with a big wet hole in the middle. The Bay itself can be viewed as a geographic paradox: a place and a void. The collective Bay (composed of San Francisco Bay, San Pablo Bay, and Suisun Bay) both unites and divides the community of the Bay Area, giving identity to a region while separating its populace. The Bay is a back space where the hardened surfaces of the industrial city crumble into the water, as well as a shore front with designed parks and recreational marinas. It is intensely visited in places and nearly inaccessible in others; its beauty acclaimed, its dumping grounds unparalleled; its sparkling water refreshed from Sierra snowmelt, its sewer outfalls and urban runoff robust. Once intensely militarized, it is now, just as intensely, demilitarized. In a sense, the Bay is a natural entity, borne of great rivers draining the entire Central Valley of California; however, every inch of its shoreline today is the product of human activity, by either intent or incident.
Around the Bay: Points of Interest in the San Francisco Bay Region