Western Neighborhoods Project is dedicated to the history of San Francisco's Richmond, Sunset, OMI and West of Twin Peaks districts.   read more ...

A Short History of the Sunset District

San Francisco's Sunset District neighborhoods include Golden Gate Heights, Inner Sunset, Outer Sunset, Parkside, and Parnassus Heights.

Sand, scrub, and more sand. Such was the foundation of the Sunset District.

The Park and Ocean Railroad line along today’s Lincoln Way began bringing weekend revelers to Ocean Beach in 1883. What the passengers saw to the south was a rolling cold desert of sand. On some maps, the area was described as the "Great Sand Waste." This part of the Outside Lands was added to the city of San Francisco in 1866. An 1868 map created the grid pattern of streets we know today, but while speculators bought lots, until the twentieth century it was almost all undeveloped dunes.

Between the 1860s and the 1890s, the Inner Sunset had nothing but a few dairies, ranches, roadhouses, dynamite factories that kept exploding, and an early elementary school. On the west side of today's Golden Gate Heights hills, Carl Larsen had a chicken ranch, and members of the Green family planted eucalyptus trees in today’s Stern Grove. That was about it.

Although real estate investors such as Aurelius Buckingham and Sol Getz later tried to claim credit, the Sunset received its name in 1889, when the firm of Easton, Eldridge and Co. marketed land it was selling on the east side of Mount Sutro as "Sunset Heights."

Buyers did not rush in. The Olympic Club built an athletics facility on the block between 7th and 8th Avenues along Lincoln Way, but made so little use out of it, that it was abandoned when the lease ended.

The 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition held in Golden Gate Park gave the Sunset some life. Newspapers nicknamed the fair site "Sunset City," and establishments such as the Little Shamrock (still serving drinks on Lincoln Way at 9th Avenue) moved in to accommodate the crowds.

The Inner Sunset slowly attracted more residences, often only small islands of two or three houses at a time. In the mid 1890s, enterprising bohemian artists created homes at Ocean Beach out of recycled horsecars and cablecars, naming the community "Carville." (More "respectable" residents of the Carville area soon called it "Oceanside.") In 1905, William Crocker's realty company began the first large housing development on the western edge with Parkside, built up around 20th Avenue and Taraval Street.

The 1920s and 1930s brought developers such as Ray Galli, the Stoneson Brothers, the Doelger Brothers, and others who took advantage of the availability of new FHA loans to construct row upon row of affordable single-family housing. By shortly after World War II, the sand dune desert had been filled in with a sea of stucco homes.

Sunset Articles

  • Streetwise: Fires in the Western Neighborhoods

    Fire has long been a fact of life in the Outside Lands. Frank Dunnigan checks some of the fires in the Western Neighborhoods in the post-World War II era. ( Jun 11, 2022)
  • Streetwise: West Side Murals and Mosaics

    Art can be found in many unexpected places in the Outside Lands. Frank Dunnigan looks at some of the great murals and mosaics that are or were found here. ( May 13, 2022)
  • Streetwise: Western Neighborhoods Under Construction

    The Outside Lands were developed over a long period of time. Frank Dunnigan takes us through a tour of some of these developments. ( Apr 9, 2022)
  • Streetwise: Old-Time Food & Drink

    What was your favorite place to dine in the Outside Lands? Frank Dunnigan reviews where we used to eat. ( Mar 10, 2022)
  • The Competition for Great Highway: A Historical Analysis - Introduction

    The history of the Great Highway is a long and complicated one. ( Feb 18, 2022)
  • Streetwise: Changing School Enrollments

    West side schools are ever changing. Frank Dunnigan looks at the past and present of education in the Outside Lands. ( Feb 12, 2022)
  • Podcast # 444: Olympic Club Hike N Dip

    It's the New Year and what better way to start it off than to take a dip in the frigid waters of Ocean Beach. Special guest, Jessica Smith, joins Nicole and Michael to explain the origins of the Olympic Club Hike 'N Dip. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Jan 22, 2022)
  • Podcast # 437: AP Giannini Middle School

    AP Giannini Middle School was one of many SF schools built in the 1950s to educate the growing baby boomer generation. Originally part of the Sunset Community Center, the school was named after a well known financier and San Francisco icon. This week, sharpen your #2 pencils as Nicole and Michael take you back to school. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Aug 27, 2021)
  • Podcast # 77: Great Highway (Repodcast)

    Open or keep closed? As life slowly returns to normal, what should be done with the currently closed-to-traffic section of the Great Highway? In this classic 2014 podcast, David & Woody provide some food for thought on the Great Highway's past and more recent history. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Jun 9, 2021)
  • Streetwise: Preserving a Sunset District Block

    Located at 1601 19th Avenue is the brick-fronted building that was constructed as Shriners Hospital in 1922-23. Frank Dunnigan takes a look remaking of this important Sunset District block. ( Jun 2, 2021)