The first club in Northern California was formed in 1934 when Redwood City Toastmasters Club #27 (renamed Donald L. Bogie in 1980, in honor of the 1943-1944 District 4 Governor and a charter member) was formed. That club soon sponsored a second club, Lee Emerson Bassett Toastmasters Club #33. Clubs Forty Niner Toastmasters Club #49 (now Sierra 49ers) and Downtown Toastmasters Club #56 followed quickly. In the fall of 1937, these four clubs petitioned Toastmasters International to become a District. The petition was approved and District 4 became the fourth district in Toastmasters International and included all of California north of the Tehachapi Mountains.

The first District 4 Governor, Frederic J. Perry of Palo Alto, was elected in 1938. As the District grew, portions were split off to form new districts. The present boundaries were set in 2016, when District 101 was formed from the portions of District 4 south of Palo Alto. District 4 now includes the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, and portions of Santa Clara County.

Dr. Ralph C. Smedley, the founder of Toastmasters, worked for the YMCA in San Jose and formed a speaking club in San Jose as he had in other cities where had worked. Like the other clubs in the other cities, the club gradually died out after Dr. Smedley was transferred. Taking the experience he had gained through the formation of these clubs, Dr. Smedley formed a new club in Santa Ana, which later grew into what is now Toastmasters International. Dr. Smedley had a special affinity for District 4 and was a frequent visitor to our District, attending many of our District Conferences. He last visited District 4 just a couple of years prior to his death in 1965.

District 4 Governors and Directors have always worked hard to support the clubs in our District. Donald Bogie served as Governor during the Second World War. Because of gas rationing, he visited the clubs in Northern California and the Central Valley by bus, taking a week or more at a time.

In the early days, District 4 had a District Governor with two or three Lieutenant Governors serving specific portions of the District. In 1963, District 4—more than 1,000 members and 55 Clubs—adopted a line structure with a District Governor, a Senior Lieutenant Governor and Lieutenant Governors of Education, Administration, and Communication.

In 1978, the positions of Division Lt. Governors (now called Division Directors) were created and the position of Senior Lt. Governor was dispensed with. In 2016, in keeping with the other Districts throughout Toastmasters International, District 4 adopted its current structure with a District Director, Program Quality Director, Club Growth Director, and Public Relations Manager.

District 4 has been honored many times over the years. Since 1968, it has been designated a President's Distinguished District seven times (most recently for 2001-2002), a Select Distinguished District five times (including the first time that the award was made in 1979), and a Distinguished District seventeen times. Since the inception of the Excellence in Education Award at the beginning of the Toastmasters year 1991-1992, District 4 has met all educational requirements and has been recognized at the Toastmasters International Hall of Fame 24 times. Its District Bulletin was selected a "Top Ten" District Bulletin twelve times. In 2012, District 4 won the Toastmasters International District Brand Showcase Materials for our November 2011 conference program, signage and web page.

In 1971, the District adopted the title, "The Golden Gate District." The following year the District commissioned a symbol showing the Golden Gate Bridge with a large number 4.