What's buried
Audio Tour Introduction

What's Buried & Why

About 65 ships lay buried deep below the streets of downtown San Francisco. All have their own secrets and stories you’re about to discover. But why are they there? The shape of the city holds a clue. 

Seawall Concrete Pour
Tour Stop 1: The Seawall

San Francisco’s Seawall

Running underground for three miles along the Embarcadero, San Francisco’s seawall literally holds downtown San Francisco together. It protects dozens of buildings from erosion and collapse. Discover how the seawall works, why it was built, and how it might fare during a major earthquake.

Painting of the Telegraph Hill
Tour Stop 2: Telegraph Hill

Telegraph Hill

Telegraph Hill has been forming its identity over millions of years. Hear how the forces of geology, explosions, waterfront construction, and telegraphy helped shape the history of the city’s most iconic hilltop.

boats on the yerba buena cove
Tour Stop 3: Yerba Buena Cove

Shifting Shoreline

This place has been reborn again and again. Hear about its past as the shore of a muddy San Francisco Bay inlet, as a bustling waterfront of wooden piers, and as an open river valley during the last ice age.

Cisterns Fire
Tour Stop 4: Cisterns

Water Underground

Freshwater has always been a valuable resource on the San Francisco. Today, you’ll find that water buried underground. Gigantic cisterns help ensure the city’s ability to fight fires. And underground creeks flow through the soils, giving us a glimpse of the city’s watersheds. 

Niantic card
Tour Stop 5: The Niantic

Ship Becomes Building

When the cargo ship Niantic arrived in San Francisco, it was abandoned by its crew. So entrepreneurs imagined that the ship might have a second life as a building in this burgeoning city.

General Harrison
Tour Stop 6: General Harrison

Charred Wood & Booze

Hear and smell what it’s like to dig up a buried ship from the gold rush, and find out what was inside. Nearby, discover a major civil rights milestone in California history.

Assassination of James King by James P Casey
Tour Stop 7: Fort Vigilance

United Against Corruption

Corruption and crime were rampant in the city during the late 1800s, so citizens took matters into their own hands, forming the Vigilance Committee, a self-organized militia to promote justice.  

Rome tunnel
Tour Stop 8: Transit and Exchange

Underground and Across the Bay: Transit & Exchange

The foot of Market Street has for centuries been a hub of travel and exchange. Hear about the excavation of a transatlantic sailing ship, the rise and fall of an elevated freeway, and the international exchange across the Bay among indigenous cultures.

Ohlone Indians in a Tule Boat in the San Francisco Bay
Tour Stop 9: Yelamu Shellmound

Yelamu Shellmound

For thousands of years, the Yelamu indigenous people lived on this land. Hear how and why they created a gigantic shellmound, which was a sacred place of burial and a repository for activities of daily life.

Sand Dunes
Tour Stop 10: Sand Dunes

City of Sand Dunes

Look back in time and envision San Francisco covered in sand dunes, some anchored by plants, others migrating in the winds. Hear where these dunes came from, what lived among them, and how most were later flattened and covered over with streets and buildings.

Charles Hare Lighter
Tour Stop 11: Ship-Breaking Yard

Recycling Old Ships

Sailing ships from the Gold Rush were abandoned in the Bay by their crews. Recycling the raw materials became an active business here in the late 1800s. Hear about the lives of Chinese workers who broke up these ships, and how archaeologists excavated the remains of a long-buried whaling ship.

Chinese shrimp worker
Tour Stop 12: Rincon Hill

Fishing & Terraforming

During the Gold Rush, the southern side of Rincon Hill was the site of a Chinese fishing village, home to more than 200 fishermen and their families. The summit of Rincon Hill carries a different history—one of expensive homes, and the wholesale reshaping of the hill in the name of construction and commerce.