The 12 Best Documentaries About San Francisco

Sep 30, 2023 | Best Of, Geography, History

When people think of San Francisco, iconic landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars come to mind. However, there is much more to this beautiful city than meets the eye. Dive deeper into its culture and history with some of the best documentaries about San Francisco. These films offer a window into the lives of locals and the stories that define the city’s past and present. Whether you are a visitor or a resident, these documentaries will help you gain insight into the heart of San Francisco and why it is so beloved by its residents and visitors alike.


1. PBS documentary – San Francisco: The Way It Was

Discover this hidden gem and explore the old-school San Francisco! Take a trip back in time with PBS’s documentary, San Francisco: The Way It Was. Whether you remember some of these places or would simply love to discover them for the first time, this documentary is sure to take you on an exciting adventure. Follow along as the camera takes you through iconic neighborhoods that have been around for generations, giving you insight into what life was like before the digital age. Don’t miss out on this chance to explore the beauty and diversity of San Francisco! Experience the city as it once was before all the hustle and bustle of modern day living.

2. History of San Francisco 1: Birth of a City (1999)

San Francisco has a storied past dating back to the Gold Rush era. History of San Francisco 1: Birth of a City (1999) is a wonderful documentary that dives deep into this incredible city’s formative years. Delving into stories of fortune-seekers, immigrant communities, and the dreamers who sought to make their mark on the Golden Gate City, this documentary is a must-watch for anyone looking to better understand the city and its people. From colorful characters who helped shape the Bay Area, to tales of tragedy and triumph, this film brings viewers back in time to experience this amazing place’s humble beginnings.


3. History of San Francisco 2: 1900-1909, Into the Fire (1999)

Into the Fire (1999) sheds light on the tumultuous history of San Francisco between 1900 and 1909. This award-winning documentary delves into a period filled with labor strikes, public health crises and political upheaval. Witness the incredible fortitude of everyday citizens as they struggle to survive in an unstable environment. See how political and economic forces shaped their lives, paving the way for a brighter future. From the ashes of adversity, San Francisco rose to become one of the most dynamic cities in the world. Relive this remarkable journey with Into the Fire.

4. American Experience – The Great San Francisco Earthquake


5. History of San Francisco: 1900 to 1909


6. SF Heritage 50th Anniversary Documentary (FULL)

San Francisco is known as the City of Skyscrapers and Treasures. It’s a cultural melting pot, where people from all over the world come to experience its unique heritage.



7. What Happened to San Francisco? | CNN Presents The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper and Sara Sidner

What happened to San Francisco? CNN Presents The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper and Sara Sidner.The City by the Bay is not what it used to be. From its infamous tech boom of the late 90s, to its current political climate, San Franciscans are asking: what has changed in our beloved city? In an effort to get to the bottom of this question, CNN Anchor Sara Sidner has investigated the areas that have been most affected by the city’s changes.


8. We were attacked by a homeless mob in San Francisco | Documentary

My eyes widened in shock and my heart stopped when the back windshield of our car suddenly shattered. Shards of glass flew into the backseat, narrowly missing us. I frantically looked around for the source of the explosion, and soon discovered we had been attacked by a homeless mob.We were in San Francisco to create a documentary about homelessness for The Telegraph. As we explored the city streets, we were met with hostility from some of its denizens.



9. San Francisco Quake

Witness the incredible story of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, which shook San Francisco like never before. This powerful documentary takes you back to that unforgettable day and shares stories of those who experienced it first-hand. With amazing footage and interviews with survivors, this is one film you won’t want to miss! From tales of heroism and tragedy to the remarkable efforts that restored San Francisco to its original beauty, you’ll get an up-close and personal look at this unforgettable natural disaster. Experience what it was like to be there through the eyes of those who lived it – see how one city beat all odds and rebuilt itself after a devastating earthquake.


10. Ex-President of BOS: San Francisco Used to Be Safe — Here’s What Changed Everything | Angela Alioto

Angela Alioto, former San Francisco County Supervisor, sits down with Siyamak to talk about the drastic changes that have turned a once-safe city into one of the most dangerous places in the United States. She reveals her insights on how it all started and what has been done — or not done — to make a difference. From police reform to public assistance, Alioto shares her perspective on how San Francisco can reclaim its reputation and become the safe haven it once was. With the help of her expertise and experience, viewers will gain a better understanding of what needs to be done in order to make their city a place they feel proud to call home.


11. Former Drug Dealer Tells Why San Francisco Is Not Safe | Ricci Wynne

Ricci Wynne’s story of life and crime in San Francisco is eye-opening. He shares his firsthand experiences on the streets, and why he eventually decided to leave the city that was once his home. His account reveals a different side of the beloved city – one that has been hidden beneath its glamorous surface for far too long. Through Ricci’s own words, we get a glimpse into the harsh realities of life on the mean streets of San Francisco.


12. Why San Francisco Parents Are Outraged Over Math | Rex Ridgeway

Many parents in San Francisco are upset about the state of math education. Their complaints stem from a policy that is supposed to promote academic inclusion, but is actually having a negative impact on student achievement and leaving many feeling frustrated with the public school system. Rex Ridgeway, President of PTA at Lincoln High School in San Francisco, has seen this issue firsthand. He shares his insight on how math and inclusion policies have converged to create an unbalanced system that fails to provide adequate support for all students.

Read On – Our Latest Top Documentaries Lists

David B