Several dozen photographs from around San Francisco, all taken by George Robinson Fardon in 1856, have just resurfaced via the digital collection of Southern Methodist University's libraries. Among the places you'll sort of recognize are South Park, Alcatraz Island, and Old St. Mary's Cathedral in the Financial District. You definitely won't recognize the site of the actual North Beach, when it was a beach. We've done some then-and-now side-by-sides as well, because those are always fun.
Fardon's photos were originally published in 1856 in a volume called "Photographs of the Most Beautiful Views and Public Buildings of San Francisco" and were republished in 1999 by Chronicle Books in a book called San Francisco Album: Photographs 1854-1856.
Keep in mind that this is just 8 years after the first discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848, meaning that 8 years prior San Francisco was a tiny settlement of about 200 people and California had still belonged to Mexico. The population boomed in those 8 years to well over 30,000 (by some accounts it was around 36,000 already by 1852), and by the year you see photographed, the city was quickly transitioning from a landscape of shacks and ramshackle wood structures, to the country's west coast financial center, with big stone banks, churches, over 60 hotels, and mansions.
And by the way, the photographs may look deserted, like they're of an abandoned city save for the ghost image of a horse here and there. But that's because the exposures on these photos were so long they didn't capture any people who would have been in motion.