One of the wealthiest districts in the city sits at the very northern tip of San Francisco with views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The commercial center runs along Chestnut and Union streets. Most of the Marina was built up to celebrate the rebuilding of San Francisco after the earthquake in 1906. Ironically, much of it was poorly built and was damaged in the earthquake in 1989. The Exploritorium is attached on the West side and has over 500 exhibits of light and color, sound and music, patterns of motion, language and other natural phenomena. Marina Green, a stretch of green grass running along the edge of the Bay, is a favorite place for jogging, strolling, picnicking and kite flying. Spanish soldiers established Adjacent Fort Mason Center, located at Marina Boulevard & Buchanan, in 1797. Former military warehouses and piers now house museums, art and cultural groups. Reach the 24-hour information line at 415-979-3010.
The story of San Francisco's Marina District is the story of land and water repeatedly and dramatically altered by nature and by human development. Eight thousand years ago, American Indians lived on the dunes and near the tidal marshlands that today are the sites of apartment buildings, luxurious homes and some of the city's trendiest shops and restaurants. When the Spanish arrived here in 1776 and established the Presidio -- on the Marina's western border -- the marshlands looked pretty much the same as they would over a century later, in 1906, when the city of San Francisco was shaken and then burned by its first devastating earthquake and the resulting fire.
It wasn't until the aftermath of the big quake that major development began in the Marina. Tons and tons of brick and rock rubble from destroyed downtown buildings were brought over and dumped into the Marina's marshlands, forming an initial (and unstable) foundation for development. A few years later, when the site was chosen as the location of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco had the impetus it needed to turn what began as a haphazard dumping ground into a breathtaking exhibit of architectural beauty.
The Panama-Pacific, and its iconic surviving building the Palace of Fine Arts, introduced the city to the commercial and residential development possibilities of the recently formed prime waterfront real estate. In the decades following the exposition, apartment buildings, homes and businesses sprouted up rapidly and in great numbers until the Marina had become one of San Francisco's most desirable places to live, work and visit. Until 1989, that is, when another earthquake rocked the city and sparked 27 fires citywide, including the devastating Marina blaze, and many of the area's poorly supported buildings collapsed atop the unstable ground. The Loma Prieta earthquake was a wake-up call for Marina developers; the reconstruction effort brought with it new standards of earthquake-sturdy construction, and within a decade the Marina had been rebuilt and revamped with a shiny new face and s stronger bone structure.
Today the apartment buildings, shops and restaurants seem to be bursting at their seams with beautiful, young and fit 20- and 30-somethings. The singles scene is hopping on Friday and Saturday nights, with lots of fresh-faced postgrads with cocktails in one hand and cell phones in the other. Union is arguably the best street in the city to window-shop the hours away on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and, a few blocks down, Chestnut has an incredible variety of high-quality restaurants catering to every palate.
If you're looking for diversity or an edgy or progressive feel, the Marina probably isn't your neighborhood -- unless you count Fort Mason, which hosts a bounty of cultural museums and nonprofits. Overall, this is the land of SUVs, chic fashion and killer spa treatments. Love it, or leave it to the pretty young things who call it home or home-away-from-home.