San Francisco – Best of the Mission District

Photo by torbakhopper

Finding art and local culture

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The term “hipster” seems to mean something different to anyone you ask, but mention the word in San Francisco and all eyes dart to the Mission District. Rich with dive bars, thrift shops and hole-in-the-way eateries, the Mission offers plenty to do for a fraction of the cash. In recent years, the neighborhood has developed, bringing in boutique shops, artisan food producers and renowned restaurants.

A pan-American community

A vibrant Hispanic community provides the sounds and flavors that make the Mission unique; it’s not uncommon to hear lively ranchera music emanating from taquerias filled with the scent of Mission burritos and tacos. You’ll also find El Salvadorian restaurants serving delights like pupusas, thick handmade tortillas stuffed with a wide option of savory fillings.

Where to start and where to go in the Mission District

Your journey through the Mission starts at 16th and Valencia, just a block away from the 16th Street BART Station. Here you’ll find numerous restaurants and nightlife locales. Head toward 14th for the famous biker bar Zeitgeist, or head toward 24th for a stretch offering plenty more. Worthwhile stops include 826 Valencia, otherwise known as the “pirate store” for its pirate-themed merchandise, a front for a literary center that helps children with their writing skills. Next door, Paxton Gate offers a curious look into the world of taxidermy, insects and gardening.

Arts and Culture

Culture is a mainstay in the Mission, and live music venues and theaters offer admissions at low cost. Art exists even in the streets, as Clarion Alley, a street art-filled corridor, can attest. Similarly, Balmy Alley, between Garfield Square and 24th Street, hosts the largest concentration of murals in San Francisco.

Dolores Park

No experience showcases the city more brilliantly than a weekend afternoon spent at Dolores Park. The beloved green area sits near the Mission Dolores, a historic church with a peaceful cemetery located within. The park is unmissable, as most people in the area are likely headed in that direction as if attracted magnetically. From the tennis courts to the playground to the affectionately nicknamed “Gay Beach” atop the hills of the southwest corner, all of SF culture is represented here, enjoying the sun and consuming things more or less legal. To top it off, Dolores Park offers a brilliant view of downtown San Francisco, one that is particularly beautiful in the late afternoon.

Festivals and Street Food

Mission District street fairs include the colorful Dia de los Muertos Festival of Altars procession that takes place after Halloween. An event hosted by the Mexican community, the celebration of the dead brings out illuminated altars and poignant memorials for lost loved ones. Throughout the year, you’ll also find street food and music fairs as well, including the San Francisco Street Food Festival (held in August).

Whatever “hipster” may mean to you, the Mission District offers exactly that along with its ironically trendy opposite. To miss the Mission on a visit to San Francisco is to miss the artistic soul of the city.

Explore Another San Francisco Itinerary

Best of Fisherman’s Wharf … Seafood and sea lions along the waterfront
San Francisco Gardens … Where gardens thrive on steep slopes, rooftops and barren sandhills
Fun, Food, Arts and Culture in the Embarcadero District … A walking tour from Ferry Building to Union Square
San Francisco’s Top Family-Friendly Adventures … Best attractions for the entire family
Yerba Buena: culture, art, innovation … A walking tour through the vibrant Yerba Buena neighborhood

And more related itineraries below.

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