San Francisco is an iconic city, filled with landmarks known the world over. From Coit Tower, to the Transamerica Pyramid to the Ferry Building, San Francisco has its fair share of memorable structures. Far and above the most prominent is the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge got its name for spanning the straight between San Francisco and Marin Counties known as the Golden Gate. What many do not know is how the Golden Gate truly got its name.
California, The Golden State, achieved statehood in 1850 following the rush of prospectors searching for gold after its discovery in January 1848. With the gold rush came miners from all over the world, and San Francisco, as the nearest port city, quickly became a beneficiary of the influx of travelers. The one and only entrance to the San Francisco Bay was the Golden Gate, frequently shrouded by fog, concealing calm waters for ships to unload passengers and supplies for new residents. It would make sense for the Golden Gate to be named as the entryway to the Golden State. Unfortunately, this is untrue, as the Golden Gate received its name in 1846, two years prior to the discovery of gold in the territory.
The straight connecting the Pacific Ocean to the area now known as San Francisco Bay was first discovered by European explorers in 1769. Juan Francisco Ortega, a Spanish scout party leader, traveled north past the San Francisco Peninsula to find the straight. Six years later, another Spanish explorer Juan de Ayala was the first to sail a boat through the straight. Until the 1840’s the straight was named “Boca Del Puerto de San Francisco” or the Mouth of the Port of San Francisco.
American explorer, solider and politician John Fremont was first to call the Golden by its current name. Fremont named the straight the Golden Gate on July 1st 1846. In his memoirs he wrote “To this Gate I gave the name of “Chrysopylae”, or “Golden Gate”; for the same reasons that the harbor of Byzantium was called Chrysoceras, or Golden Horn.” The entrance of the Bosphorus straight in Turkey, in the entrance to the city of Istanbul is very similar topographically to that of San Francisco. The entrance to Istanbul is home to a horn shaped gulf, or “Golden Horn”, while the entrance to San Francisco is buttressed by the hills of Marin and San Francisco, symbolically a Golden Gate entrance.
The Golden Gate is one of the most beautiful natural features of the San Francisco Bay Area. The Bridge that spans it is one of the most iconic in the world, and the state in which they exist owes its early growth to a gold rush. Despite the Golden Gate being a part of the Golden State, the names aren’t directly related.
Sources: Erwin Gudde, California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names.