10 San Francisco

PopulationMetro: 4,727,357
Beautiful, smart and rich, San Francisco is unabashedly taking up the title as the capital of America’s West Coast.

San Francisco was a sanctuary city before the construct was wielded politically.

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. The city celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love in 2017.

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

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

Place 54
Product 26
Programming 22
People 92
Prosperity 73
Promotion 25

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 newly opened nearby Salesforce Transit Center serves 11 transportation systems and 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. But this one million square foot hub is a destination unto itself.

Its Grand Hall centerpiece features a soaring 118-foot light column, with plentiful natural light illuminating the massive space. Above, a 5.4-acre rooftop park features 16,000 plants, 600 trees, 13 mini botanical gardens, open grassy lawns, children’s play space, restaurant and café plus an amphitheater for outdoor performances. Free activities and events plus unique retail dining and shopping round out the visitor experience. Oh, and this being San Francisco, the building is wrapped in an undulating metal façade based on a geometrical pattern discovered by British mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose.

The Golden Gate Bridge Maarten Van Den Heuvel

The city’s public and (increasingly) private spending hints at the wealth in a city ranked #5 globally for GDP per capita and #15 for Global 500 head offices. The city’s biggest hospital is now the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, named after the founder of Facebook and his wife Priscilla Chan, who donated $75 million a few years back.

The promise of high salaries (in U.S. currency) means a torrent of global workers fueling the city’s ambition, with a foreign-born resident ranking of #20 globally and the fourth-best educated workforce on the planet. The Bay Area’s entrepreneurism 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.

The hills surrounding the city Christian Lunde

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. Its $2.4-billion budget for a project scheduled to be completed in phases from 2019 to 2022 is among the largest of its kind in U.S. history.

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 launched this year. Small demonstrations of openness and tolerance like 2017’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, 157,000 square foot expansion of San Francisco’s Moscone Center in late 2018, are banking on the world’s sustained pipeline into this former rebel territory now defining the mainstream.