Emperor Norton Celebration, September 17th @ 1PM (Commercial Street)

After a series of business reverses that led to his bankruptcy in August 1856, Joshua Norton on September 17, 1859, publicly declared himself “Norton I, Emperor of the United States” — a few years later adding the title “Protector of Mexico.”

Over the course of 20 years, Emperor Norton — as he was less formally known — distinguished himself as an early champion of the values of fairness, tolerance, self-determination, and the common good that are so strongly associated with his adopted city.

In so doing, he became — and remains to this day — one of San Francisco’s favorite folk heroes.

Earlier this year, in April, the City and County of San Francisco added “EMPEROR NORTON PLACE” as a commemorative name for the 600 block of Commercial — and shortly afterward placed an “Emperor Norton Place” street sign at the northwest corner of Montgomery and Commercial Streets.

The public is invited to celebrate this milestone on Sunday, September 17th from 1PM – 4PM on the Northwest corner of Montgomery and Commercial Streets.

Other events during the afternoon include a special Sunday opening of the San Francisco Historical Society Museum, at 608 Commercial Street, with:

+ Exhibit of original Norton ephemera — cabinet card photographs; Norton “bonds” signed by the Emperor; etc.
+ Fun educational Norton-focused activities for kids
+ Historical plaque scavenger hunt
+ Museum tours

View the public invite on Facebook


Mad Ave Meets Golden Gate Park, Advertising, Souvenirs, and More presented by Chris Pollock,

Part of our culture is based on the premise that someone’s worth allows them to earn money and, in turn, allows them to spend it on something they deem worthy. It’s the job of those advertising agencies, known by the moniker of Madison Avenue, to entice you to part with some cash in favor of their client’s product. With the fame of Golden Gate Park’s existence since 1870 has come the park’s use to sell many different kinds of things. For some it was the park’s co-location relative to residential real estate lots where the park was the “hook.” Also, there have been many forms of product promotion from grass seed, lawn mower, playground equipment, and canned fruits, to name a few. Souvenirs have also been another product to hawk. And none of these ever provided the park one red cent of income.!

Christopher Pollock has been the first Historian in Residence for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department since 2016. His latest publication is San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park: A Thousand and Seventeen Acres of Stories (Norfolk Press, 2020) and in process is San Francisco’s Parks (Arcadia, 2023). His various articles can be found in Eden, journal of California Garden and Landscape History Society, California History, published by University of California Press, and Outside Lands, journal of the Western Neighborhoods Project.

Tuesday, September 12th @ 6:30PM (in-person attendees should arrive at 6PM to accommodate filming.
Register for tickets here: www.SFHistory.org/Live

Watch the Re-broadcast: Richard Brandi’s Garden Neighborhoods

View the Presentation here: www.SFHistory.org/RichardBrandi

Walking Tours

Our walking tours provide a first-hand experience of San Francisco’s history. Tours include historical themes that embrace San Francisco’s rich history with subject experts who led the tours. We know you’ll in joy learning about the City’s iconic history with tours that include the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, Fisherman’s Wharf, the gold rush, the Barbary Coast to name a few.

**** Additional Tour Information ***

General public admission, $20 per person (non-members) -Additional donations at checkout are always appreciated and keep the ticket price low.

Free for members with 100% off discount code. Check your SF History E-newsletter, which goes out the first week of every month, for the membership code. Apply at check-out.

Please note that Unspeakable Vice tour general admission tickets at $30 each and $10 for members. Attendees must be age 21.

Tour length: Approximately 90 minutes

Maximum attendees: 20 people on a first-come,first serve basis

In case of rain, tour will be rescheduled

historical SF harbor


If you need any assistance, please email Chris Griffith at chris.griffith@sfhistory.org

1906 Earthquake and Fire: Chinatown’s Devastation and Renewal

Before dawn on April 18, 1906, the San Andreas Fault ruptured, sending shock waves racing across San Francisco. The city was abruptly wakened to witness a firestorm that would last three days and destroy almost everything within sight. Vibrant and densely populated Chinatown was swiftly engulfed by a raging fire on Day One, its inhabitants dispersed like embers in the wind. With Chinatown destroyed, city politicians and power brokers decided that this was an opportune time to relocate the Chinese community. Powered by an irrepressible resilience, the Chinese community re-imagined Chinatown and built it back better.

Tour led by Expert, Jack Grippi

  • Saturday, August 26th at 11AM

Register at www.SFHistory.org/1906Tour

Gold Rush and Sunken Ships

Experience how San Francisco went from a trading village to a metropolis. You’ll learn about the hidden remains of sunken ships and artifacts from the Gold Rush.

Tour led by Lana Costantini or Thom Jackson

  • Saturday, September 16th @ 11AM (Led by Thom Jackson)

Register at www.SFHistory.org/GoldRushSunkenShips

Fisherman’s Wharf: A Fishing Heritage and Tourist Mecca

Join us for an exploration of Fisherman’s Wharf, the most popular free attraction in San Francisco, to discover how commercial fishing coexists with the modern tourist Mecca. Learn how Native Americans, Chinese, Italians, whaling sea captains, and sport fishermen all have harvested seafood from the waters of San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

Starting at the Musée Mécanique at Pier 45, we will walk to the Maritime Museum at Aquatic Park, a flat, under-two-hour stroll. Along the way, you’ll hear stories about World War II ships, a San Francisco theatrical production called The Cable Car Nymphomaniac, and the crisis that “broke the mold” for Irish coffee glasses.

Tours led by Corrie Conklin

  • Saturday, August 26th @ 11AM (Led by Maggie Bening
  • Saturday, September 9th @ 11AM (Led by Maggie Bening)
  • Saturday, September 16th @ 11AM (Led by Corrie Conklin)

Register at www.SFHistory.org/FishermansWharfTour

Barbary Coast and Jackson Square: Pleasure Seekers and Merry Makers

Explore the beginnings of the “anything goes” city through its culture, food, and vice. Is it so different today? Discover how the City by the Bay reflects its glorious past and continues as a trend-setting urban playground.

Tours led by expert, Corrie Conklin

Tour Dates & Times:

Saturday, August 19th @ 11AM
Saturday, September 23rd @ 11AM

Register at www.SFHistory.org/BarbaryCoast

Unspeakable Vice: Queer North Beach Before the Castro

Starting at the San Francisco Historical Society, we’ll zig zag our way by more than a dozen lost queer bars, concluding with a round of drinks at the site an infamous lesbian hook-up spot on Grant. Hear how the “unspeakable vice” of the Victorians found its place and, through the process, gained a voice. Starts at 608 Commercial St. and ends at Maggy McGary’s pub at 1353 Grant Ave in North Beach. This exciting new tour includes a free drink at Maggy McGary’s, included in the tour price.

Notes: 21+, Limit 1 free drink per guest, Maggy McGary’s end 1353 Grant Ave

Tours led by expert, Shawn Sprockett

Tour Dates & Times:

Saturday, July 15th @ 11AM
Saturday, August 12th @ 11AM
Saturday, September 16th @ 11AM

Register at www.SFHistory.org/UnspeakableVice

Secrets and Stories of San Francisco’s “Wall Street of the West”

Tour led by Thomas Jackson

Travel back in time to discover the stories and significance of the companies and people whose names adorn Financial District buildings. In addition to Silver Kings, the Big Four, and renowned bankers, this tour will introduce you to many others who “mined the miners” to create wealth beyond any normal imagination.

  • Tour unavailable

Visit Our Museum Exhibit!

SF Lost Landscapes SFHS exhibit

San Francisco’s Lost Landscapes

This special exhibit showcases an extensive assemblage of rare maps, lithographs, photographs, and paintings of early San Francisco from three private collections.

SF Lost Landscapes SFHS exhibit sponsors

Gold Rush Walks for KidsWalking-tour-san-francisco-historical-society-barbary-coast Gold Rush Walks for Kids

Our trained guides offer free walking tours for elementary school focused on the Gold Rush. This walk directly addresses grade 4 social studies standards, but students in grades 3–6 are welcome to attend. Please call 415-537-1105, Ext. 6, for more details.

Self-Guided Walking Tours

Tours of ‘Old Town’ SF
Not up for an in-person event yet? Give our self-guided walking tours a try. These walks also begin at 608 Commercial Street. You can download them for free on the App Store or Google Play. Search for “City Explorer San Francisco” and look for the walks with the SFHS logo. Or, scan the QR code with your smartphone or tablet.

SFHS Virtual Walking Tours

Self-Guided Tours Led by SF High School Students

Walking Tours of Golden Gate Park!
Walking tours of Golden Gate Park led by San Francisco high school students, the winners of the 2020 Fracchia Prize, are now available as mobile apps. Download the walks for free and start exploring “Everyone’s Park,” with freshly minted historians as your guide. Choose from:

  • “Botany and Horticulture: Symbols of Flourishing Against the Odds” by Winnie Quock, George Washington High School (1st Place Winner)
  • “Horticultural History: Learning About San Francisco’s Past Through the Garden Gems of the City’s Favorite Park” by Indigo Mudbhary, Lick-Wilmerding High School (2nd Place Winner)

* COMING SOON * “It’s a Ringer! One Perfect Day in Golden Gate Park” by 3rd Place Winner Luke Zeponni, Abraham Lincoln High School

SFHS Virtual Walking Tour - Golden Gate Park

* Special thanks to SFHS Volunteer Gloria Lenhart for creating our mobile history apps. *