4 San Francisco

PopulationMetro: 4,577,530
Beautiful, smart and rich, San Francisco is unabashedly taking up the title as the capital of the Left Coast.

San Francisco was a sanctuary city before the construct was wielded politically and frothed up from opposite sides.

It long welcomed sea- and road-weary travelers.

Then life-weary ones—the young, untethered and ambitious who immortalized the openness of like-minded community and the enlightenment that San Francisco’s fog- and mist-diffused light seems to coax. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love.

But today’s world-changers know that the fastest way to making a mark (and your own freedom) is ambushing long-held assumptions with technology and a new perspective from one of the peninsula’s 49 hills.

Place 77
Product 38
Programming 36
People 86
Prosperity 94
Promotion 28

The Golden Gate Bridge, radiating through the Pacific fog, is still the same welcoming beacon to new arrivals it’s always been.

But today, it’s joined as an icon for the world’s talented and ambitious by new monoliths on the horizon. Earlier this year, the 1,070-foot Salesforce Tower at First and Mission Streets became the city’s tallest structure, complete with local artist Jim Campbell’s rooftop art installation comprising 11,000 lights and video screens that project daily scenes from around the city. The nearby Salesforce Transit Center just opened a publicly accessible rooftop park with 60 species of trees, a 1,000-foot-long fountain, a picnic meadow and a playground. If that doesn’t hold one’s attention, the major transit hub below whisks locals, employees and tourists to the East Bay, north to the wine country of Sonoma and Napa, and (of course) south to Silicon Valley—and even further, to Monterey.

The new Salesforce tower

The city’s public and (increasingly) private spending hints at the wealth in a city ranked #2 in Household Income in the country (second only to San Jose, an hour south) and its fifth-most Fortune 500 head offices. The city’s biggest hospital is now the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center after the founder of Facebook and his wife Priscilla Chan donated $75 million three years ago.

The promise of high salaries (in U.S. currency) means a torrent of global workers fuelling the city’s ambition, with the fifth-most foreign-born residents and second-best educated workforce in America. The Bay Area’s entrepreneurialism is uniquely connected to the local world-renowned universities, with Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, able to accommodate local knowledge and skills gaps and broker funding for nascent start-ups. Education and capital are rarely an issue for the right idea.

San Francisco Cable Cars

The inflow of people into San Francisco is why SFO, the city’s airport, is a hive of renovation, build-out and innovation that will welcome new talent and their families. The all-time record of 55.8 million passengers in 2017 will continue to grow in the coming years, especially with new airlines and routes to China, Mexico and Europe launching this year. Small demonstrations of openness and tolerance like last year’s first airport naturalization ceremony by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services San Francisco District send the message that the city is open for international business.

Much larger ones, like the $550 million, 305,000 sq.-ft. expansion of San Francisco’s Moscone Center in December, are banking on the world’s sustained pipeline into this former rebel territory now defining the mainstream.