Earthquake Facts

Earthquake Info for San Francisco and the Bay Area

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Are you searching for interesting earthquake facts for San Francisco and the Bay Area? Discover what causes them and some of the famous shakers in our region.

Earthquakes are a part of life in San Francisco and California. Since I've lived here, I've only really felt about a half a dozen of them. Of those, only one experience was a little scary. It also happened to be the largest one in the area since my arrival more than a decade ago.

1906 earthquake mural
A Rincon Center mural depicting the devastation
from the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco.

Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.

San Francisco Earthquake Facts

What I didn't realize when I moved here was that there are a number of earthquakes everyday throughout California. The good news is that most of them are a 3.0 or smaller, so you can't even feel them.

The smaller ones are necessary and welcome since they help relieve some of the tension in the fault lines. If the tension gets too high, then larger earthquakes occur. Learn more about what causes earthquakes.

In a year, California has tens of thousands of earthquakes. Another one of the earthquake facts is that around 5,000 or more of those are in and around the San Francisco Bay area. Even though there are a large number every year, the likelihood of you feeling one while you visit is pretty small.

There are 5 to 6 large fault lines that run through the region and many other smaller fault lines that branch out from these larger ones. The most notable and recognizable is the San Andreas fault, which runs under the Santa Cruz Mountains, up through the Peninsula, near the Golden Gate Bridge, through part of Marin County and then out to the Pacific Ocean.

Another notable fault line in the area is the Hayward fault. This one runs through the east side of the San Francisco Bay area. It runs through Hayward, up through Berkeley (the Berkeley football stadium runs right on top of this fault) and north into the bay.

The other fault lines around the area are not as well-known as the San Andreas Fault or the Hayward Fault.

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Famous Earthquakes in San Francisco

One of the known earthquake facts is that San Francisco has had a couple of notable earthquakes. Geologists also predict that the 'big one' is yet to happen.

The most famous of the San Francisco earthquakes was the one in 1906. This one -- and the fire that followed -- destroyed a large portion of San Francisco. Read on to learn even more about this one and the devastation it caused for the city.

The second most famous one is the 1989 Loma Prieta. It occurred during the World Series game and was the first earthquake broadcast live on TV. Discover the details of this earthquake and which parts of the city were damaged during this one.

When Is the Big One Going to Hit?

So, you are probably also wondering about when the next one is predicted to happen. Well, this is a tough question to answer. Based on the most recent report released in 2003, geologists estimate that there is a 62% chance that a 6.7 or larger will hit the area in the next 30 years.

This is a tough statistic to grasp, since there are a lot of 'ifs' involved. However, they do estimate that the chances of the next big one hitting is more likely than it not hitting.

They also predict that it will hit closer to an urban area than the 1989 Loma Prieta. If this is true, then a lot more damage will occur than in 1989.

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Learn More About SF's Earthquakes During Your Visit

Almost any tour you go on or historical museum you visit, you will get the chance to learn a little more about the earthquake facts for this area of the county. Many focus on the big one, the 1906 earthquake and fire.

If you want to learn even more, the following museums and tours offer you a few more details.

Fire Department Museum: This is a cute little museum that talks about all the big events for the Fire Department in San Francisco. You get to see one of the first fire engines for SF (it's so cute!) and memorabilia from the 100+ years the fire department has been around. They also have a small exhibit on the 1906 earthquake. Many of the items shown burned in the hot flames that started shortly after the quake hit. It's a little off the beaten path and free to visit.

Wells Fargo Museum: The Wells Fargo Museum in the Financial District also has a small exhibit on the 1906 earthquake and fire. This one's great because it shows a map of the damaged areas. You will also see a few articles about the destruction. The image below also shows the headline from the local SF newspaper the day after it hit.

1906 SF newspaper

SF Public Library Walking Tours: The SF Public Library offers several free walking tours every day. At the moment, they offer three tours dedicated to the impact of the 1906 earthquake and fire. Two take you through the downtown area, which suffered the most due to number of people and the buildings in this area at the time. The third one takes you through the Presidio area, which is where many people ended up staying due to the loss of their home after this same earthquake.

Tips for Handling an Earthquake

There are a few things for you to keep in mind if you find yourself in one while visiting. Here are some earthquake facts and tips to remember:

  1. Stay Calm: The first thing is to remember to stay calm, since most of the earthquakes are small and do very little damage.

  2. Protect Yourself: Another one of the earthquake facts that most people don't realize is that most injuries are caused by flying objects. Protect yourself by crawling under a table and protecting your neck and head. Step away from the walls, windows, TVs or other large objects that could fall over or fly off the wall. DO NOT run outside, down the stairs or try to take the elevator during or shortly after an earthquake.

  3. Listen to Instructions: If you encounter a shaker while you are in your hotel, listen to the announcements on the loud speaker at your hotel. They will instruct you if you need to leave the building or if the damage is insignificant and you can stay in your room.

As I mentioned before, the odds of you finding yourself in one while visiting San Francisco are very, very small. If you do feel one, it will most likely be a really small, short earthquake with little or no damage.

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Hi there! I'm Jill Loeffler and welcome to my site. I've been exploring San Francisco for almost two decades and I can't wait to help you find the best things to do here! Thanks for stopping by and please contact me if you have any questions before your trip.

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