"Whoever after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the abominable word 'Frisco', which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of a High Misdemeanor, and shall pay into the Imperial Treasury as penalty the sum of twenty-five dollarsnote Worth about $500 in today's money."
If there's an ideal place for a Chase Scene involving cars, it's definitely San Francisco, California.
Really close to the San Andreas fault, San Francisco has a lot of incredibly steep hills crisscrossed with streets. But of course, these streets must intersect, and these intersections must be level and horizontal, otherwise the cars will tilt sideways while turning. As a result, many streets in San Francisco are long, alternating series of flat intersections and steep slopes, similar to stairs — the perfect place for grabbing a lot of Slo-Mo Big Air.
Of course, this is a Discredited Trope to many familiar with the area. San Francisco's streets are very narrow, often crowded, and stop and go in nature, and the charming little cable cars (that climb halfway to the stars) run in city streets, sometimes necessitating urgent lane-changes on the part of automobiles in their vicinity. note Seriously. Cable cars have priority over everything; the iconic "ding ding!" is your cue to pull over to the right immediately, because the cable car is not stopping for you.Lombard Street is a particularly bad street to take when fleeing, as there is a large back up of the cars of tourists that wish to drive down the famed road, in addition to the eight switchbacks between Hyde and Leavenworth streets from which said fame derives. Despite being a horrible idea, Bullitt (and lately, Driver: San Francisco as well) inspired too many teens who now try to do it.
In almost any film or TV show, the cable cars will be made to seem almost everywhere, with the stock establishing shot a cable car cresting over a hill lined with Victorian houses while the Golden Gate bridge is framed in the background. In reality there are only three lines, they serve a very small part of town (primarily the wealthy part of town), cost almost three times as much as other public transit, and are almost always packed with tourists who wait in long lines to ride them. Many residents have never ridden them, preferring the rest of the Muni system, which consists of buses, streetcars, the Market Street Subway (streetcars from downtown to the western and southern districts of the city), and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit).
In addition to car chases, San Francisco is known for its countercultural roots (the Beatnik movement and hippiedom were both born here) and its large gay community. Thanks to both of these, there's a popular (and not entirely unfounded) stereotype that San Franciscans are very far to the left of the American mainstream, especially on social issues, to the point where some conservative pundits use the term "San Francisco values" (as contrasted with "Americanvalues") to describe this. There is some truth to this belief, as San Francisco does have the highest percentage of gay residents of any city in the U.S., coming in at a whopping fifteen and change percent of the entire city's population — and those are just the ones that are open about it. Its closest rivals are Seattle, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Boston, not one of whom tops thirteen percent. Also, Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and famed liberal ideologue, represents a Congressional district covering most of the city.
Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, decreed the page quote condemning use of the nickname "Frisco". Use of the term today will immediately peg you as an out-of-towner, and will result in the same kind of eye-rolling a 50-something authority figure will receive when trying to use "cool" slang amongst teenagers. San Francisco is "The City." Oakland, the city across the bay, is "The Town." There does seem to be recurrence of the term among some of the younger locals, perhaps for reasons of irony.
San Francisco is, of course, just one city on the Bay. Oakland has been growing for some time, as well as the cities of the Peninsula. San Jose has the rest of Silicon Valley between it and San Francisco. Although most deny it, San Jose is now larger than San Francisco, in part due to San Francisco being on a peninsula and not having room to expand. However, you only call it the Peninsula for the parts south of the city (i.e. San Mateo County). This is similar to how, to New Yorkers, Long Island only refers to Nassau and Suffolk Counties despite geographically including Brooklyn and Queens.
Wearing flowers in your hair is not advised these days. Especially if you're a guy. Unless you're into that sort of thing. If so, then for the aforementioned reasons, you've chosen a wonderful place to be.
Stereotypical portrayals set in the 19th century will generally either center on the Gold Rush or with San Francisco portrayed as the "New York of the West". Those in the early 20th century tend to show it as a blue-collar port town, perhaps with a major US Navy presence, and still the largest city on the West Coast. The '50s characterization trends towards beatnik stereotypes and will be set in North Beach, while the '60s shifts that to hippies in Haight-Ashbury. If set in the '70s or '80s, tropes will tend to focus on either the homosexual population, inner-city crime, or, at the latter end of the spectrum, the AIDS crisis. The mid-to-late '90s is likely to be dominated by the dot-com boom. Stories with Chinese-American protagonists will most likely be set here as well, as the city has long been a hub of Chinese immigration in the West.note Over 20% of the city's population is of Chinese descent, and the city's Chinatown is the oldest and most iconic in America, and was the largest by population for many years before being surpassed by New York's.
Though less frequently a trope, San Francisco is also particularly known for its large homeless population, which shows up primarily when a creator showed their work and generally has a point to make with it.
And please don't forget your heart (or your head) when you leave.
Since their last revival, the Teen Titans have lived in San Francisco.
So does Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as it turns out. Her actions have put an end to magic, vampires are a known threat but if she or anyone else kills one that doesn't actively harm humans it will trigger a war, and she currently works for Kennedy as a bodyguard.
The chase scene from the film The Rock is one of the best examples of a car pursuit in that city.
This might be the best example, because it includes nearly every San Francisco and chase scene stereotype in the span of a few minutes. Obscene wealth (it's a Ferrari chasing a Hummer), the Camp Gay Hummer owner and hairstylist, a bottled water truck playing the role of a Fruit Cart, a crashing cable car, a wheelchair race, talking on a cell while driving and a hipster on a dirtbike. Yay!
Bullitt has perhaps the archetypal example and one of the first movie chase scenes to be filmed at real speed rather than having the film sped up.
Another comedic version climaxes the Goldie Hawn-Chevy Chase vehicle Foul Play. ("Far out!")
Freebie and the Bean has a chase scene that ends with a car flying off the (now-demolished) Embarcadero Freeway and landing in the apartment bedroom of an elderly couple.
Parodied in the Starsky & Hutch movie, where doing this wrecks the car. This scene was probably meant as a parody of Bullitt.
Perhaps the only thing filmmakers love to do more than a San Francisco car chase is to destroy the Golden Gate Bridge, as giant monsters, crashing spaceships, supervillains, and natural disasters frequently topple (or at least bust up) the famed span on film. It's worth noting that the 75 year old structure is remarkably sturdy in real life, still considered seismically stable even on its diamond anniversary in 2012.
The silly-ass Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, a 1965 comedy staring Vincent Price, has possibly the longest, silliest (rear-projected) car chase ever down San Francisco's Lombard Street - part on location, part green screen, as the antagonists & protagonists switch between on cars, trollies, & even a boat on wheels. Vincent Price makes a great show of looking carsick through it.
Although most of Interview with the Vampire features flashbacks set in New Orleans and Paris, the Frame Story is set in San Francisco. The Scenery Porn is a little more creative than most, if for no other reason that that it emphasizes the less famous (but far more widely used) Bay Bridge rather than the Golden Gate.
Decades before the disaster films of the 70s, the 1936 eponymously named film tells the story of rival saloon owners, a singer and the 1906 earthquake. The scenes during and after the earthquake are still terrifying to watch today.
San Francisco is the primary setting for the first and third books of William Gibson's Bridge Trilogy, Virtual Light and All Tomorrow's Parties (the second book, Idoru, takes place mostly in Tokyo). The city is depicted as struggling to recover from a massive earthquake (a lot like it was in real life in the early 90s, when the first book was being written), and much of the action takes place in a shantytown constructed on the ruins of the Bay Bridge (from which the trilogy gets its name).
San Francisco and the nearby area is the primary setting for The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey.
Little Brother is set in San Francisco after a hypothetical terrorist attack on the Bay Bridge.
In The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, most of the characters live in San Francisco. It later turns out that the Dark Elders have turned Alcatraz into a prison for monsters that they plan to release on the city as the first step in their campaign to take over the world.
In Percy Jackson and the Olympians, San Francisco is considered dangerous territory for demigods since Mount Othrys, the Titans' fortress, is currently located on top of Mount Tamalpais.
An episode of The Evidence had a murderer attempt to kill someone by sabotaging their brakes so they would fail on one of San Francisco's steep hills. The sabotaged car ends up ploughing into the detectives' car.
During The Sixties, the Presidio was still a working military base (though so low security you could drive through it). It's since become a park managed by a national trust, making it almost impossible that Starfleet could ever build there now.
In a crowning stroke of irony, there is one famous company that owns a significant amount of property there today: Lucasfilm.
Charmed is set, but clearly not filmed, in San Francisco. Almost every episode begins with Scenery Porn of the city. The manor exteriors are in LA.
Nash Bridges also took extensive advantage of filming in San Francisco, including museums, piers, and enough landmarks to deeply satisfy viewers who live in the city. The show's production was headquartered on Treasure Island and brought $2 million of business to San Francisco per episode.
In the final episode of Frasier, Frasier is offered a TV gig in San Francisco, but is at first hesitant. His agent tries to persuade him by implying the advantage of being a straight man in a city where, supposedly, so many men are... not interested in women.
Full House is based here in the area surrounding Alamo Square park.
Aaron Spelling's '80s drama Hotel was set in San Francisco, a change from the New Orleans setting of the novel and film it was adapted from.
A Late Arrival Spoiler in How I Met Your Mother is the time Lily broke her and Marshall's engagement in a panic and ran off to San Francisco for three months. References to San Francisco in this context occur from time-to-time in the show, for example: Lily (who is notoriously lustful) mentions that it was the longest stretch of time she had ever gone without sex, driving her crazy to the point where, when one of San Francisco's famously frequent earthquakes occurred, she got off on the vibrations.
McMillan and Wife
Alcatraz is set here (though, as with many others, filmed in Vancouver).
A large number of racing games feature San Francisco as well, though in those games, it usually makes sense that the streets are empty, since they've been closed off for a race.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas features a parody of San Francisco called San Fierro. Although there are examples of the famous stairway streets, the whole city is quite small, and they are few and far between. Other famous parts of San Francisco, including the thick fog and the twisting road on the steep hill, are thrown in for good measure. Lombard Street makes an appearance as "Windy Windy Windy Windy Street," and the Transamerica Building (the tallest in the city) as the "Big Pointy Building" — both decent enough descriptions.
The city is quite small in real-life as well; it's only about seven miles on each side...and many parts of that are generally considered to be "the middle of nowhere".
A disproportionate number of Sega Dreamcast videogames featured San Francisco (or locations heavily based on it):
Interestingly, the two driving stages in the game are "Highway 101" and "Highway 280". Although these are actualhighway names, the stages themselves don't resemble the highways they're named after.
Super Runabout: San Francisco
The San Francisco Rush series of Driving Games is two-thirds Exactly What It Says on the Tin. It also has spectators. Who scream in terror when a racer careens out of control at them, and it's possible to jump the entire length of Lombard Street.
One of the second Destroy All Humans! game's locales is "Bay City", which is essentially an Expy of this city. As the game is set in 1969, the area is full of hippies and hippie culture.
One of the tracks in Mario Kart 8 is a combination of San Francisco and New York City, complete with steep streets and cable cars.
The Nancy Drew PC game Message In A Haunted Mansion took place in San Francisco. Though it didn't make much use of the scenery (being something of a Bottle Episode that only took place in one location,) it did involve the infamous 1906 earthquake in part of the backstory.
Parodied on The Simpsons in the form of a Troy McClure movie entitled Goodtime Slim, Uncle Doobie, and the Great Frisco Freakout.
"There's more than one way to get high!"
Also on The Simpsons: when they're escaping from Alcatraz by swimming, Lisa says "Swim to San Francisco!" Homer responds with the classic line: "I'm not made of money! We'll swim for Oakland!" From the episode "Bart-Mangled Banner", written by John Frink; No evidence so far to suggest he lived in the Bay Area, though.
Jackie Chan Adventures, is based in the Chinatown neighborhood and the city gets front row seats to some of the magical activities of the main characters and vilians. It almost gets destroyed in the a couple of episodes.
Monsters vs. Aliens features a big battle in San Francisco, complete with car chase (sort of; Ginormica uses cars to skate down the streets) and a Monumental Battle on the Golden Gate bridge.
In one episode of Kim Possible, Shego and Senor Senior, Junior go to San Francisco to steal the last intact copy of the Tome of Treachery. Shego ends up fighting Kim, and both Junior and Ron have trouble finding a parking space. (Locals can assure you that parking is truly miserable. Bike, if you're up for the hills, or use the public transportation.)
While animated series are usually set to fictional cities or towns, The Mighty B! and Robotboy both take place in San Francisco.
The South Park episode "Smug Alert!" ripped into the city for its obsession with hybrid cars. The reduction of smog from their cars was causing a massive cloud of smug to ravage the western U.S.