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San Francisco Sights

Portsmouth Square

  • Plaza/Square/Piazza

Updated 05/05/2014

Fodor's Review

Chinatown's living room buzzes with activity. The square, with its pagoda-shape structures, is a favorite spot for morning tai chi; by noon dozens of men huddle around Chinese chess tables, engaged in not-always-legal competition. Kids scamper about the square's two grungy playgrounds (warning: the bathrooms are sketchy). Back in the late 19th century this land was near the waterfront. The square is named for the USS Portsmouth, the ship helmed by Captain John Montgomery,

who in 1846 raised the American flag here and claimed the then-Mexican land for the United States. A couple of years later, Sam Brannan kicked off the gold rush at the square when he waved his loot and proclaimed, "Gold from the American River!" Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island, often dropped by, chatting up the sailors who hung out here. Some of the information he gleaned about life at sea found its way into his fiction. A bronze galleon sculpture, a tribute to Stevenson, anchors the square's northwest corner. A plaque marks the site of California's first public school, built in 1847.

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Sight Information


Bordered by Walter Lum Pl. and Kearny, Washington, and Clay Sts., San Francisco, California, 94108, United States

Updated 05/05/2014


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