Time for another edition of the San Francisco Profiles series and I am really excited about this one! The Mission is an area I have very little knowledge of and yet I know it is one of the most fascinating areas of San Francisco.
San Francisco is a city of many, many vibrant “villages” and getting to know each one from a local perspective has been a real treat. At the end of the interview I have included some additional spots to check out should you choose to visit the Mission District.
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The moment I decided to create this series, I knew I wanted to get my ex-colleague, Elle, to write about the Mission. She has lived there for a long time and sees the area for all the good and the bad, and celebrates its heritage and uniqueness. Being that she and her husband are child-free foodies, they eat out, drink out and get out a lot, so Elle knows her stuff! I am beyond thrilled to have her here!
The Mission District with Elle
My favorite aspect of The Mission District is its rich history and the concentration of spectacular art and murals that reflect the wealth of creativity here.
I am lucky enough to live on Treat Street, just one block from Balmy Alley, where murals abound in various styles; the topics of these bold paintings range from politics, art, religion, and spirituality to loss and hardships endured by the families and ancestors of those who have lived in the Mission for many years.
Clarion Alley is equally as mesmerizing. But you don’t have to stay in one spot–from 16th to Mission Street to Valencia, to 24th Street and even in some areas of the Outer Mission, a stroll through the Mission can be filled with amazing art reflecting cultures that have melded together in this very unique area of San Francisco.
Least Favorite Thing About the Mission
I have had the privilege to live here in the Mission for nine years and I’ve seen drastic changes. Despite the gang violence that sometimes still occurs, the addicts in my back alley, or the homeless sifting through our trash, my least favorite thing is actually the gentrification that is taking over and homogenizing the Mission.
Gentrification can bring positive things in some respects–we have seen this in the revitalization and the beautification of some Mission areas, as well as a proliferation of new businesses including shops and restaurants. But the very things that make the Mission interesting are in danger of disappearing.
But the influx of predominantly white, wealthy tenants is resulting in skyrocketing rents and home prices. One negative result of this is the Ellis Act evictions of many Latino families and older, poor tenants who have resided here for decades, who are left homeless due to greedy landlords who want to sell their buildings to a growing pool of wealthy buyers.
This is a heated topic in my neighborhood right now and it pains me to see this happening before me as I am seeing fewer Latino families and more yuppies taking their place with nothing to offer the community.
What Makes the Mission, The Mission
Originally settled by immigrants and working-class families, the Mission was once very affordable and artists and musicians flocked here. Latino culture commingled with artistry and a bohemian spirit, forming the genesis of what is now one of the hottest neighborhoods in SF.
Since Spanish missionaries settled here in 1776, the Mission has been a center of Latin culture and arts, and there are many small Latino galleries, institutions, businesses, and families that took root here. From Mission Dolores where Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo was once filmed, to Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts to the Brava Theater, to the Brava Theatre where I once saw Sandra Berhardt, the Mission is filled with so much to see and do! You can eat, shop, drink, admire art, and walk.
The Mission is also the warmest spot in the city, which makes it even more pedestrian-friendly.
The Mission is home to so many delicious, original coffee spots but hands-down, my favorite is Philz. Philz started his business making one cup at a time, and it really does make a difference. What separates Philz from the rest for me is the friendly service and the variety of roasts offered. I’ve visited more than a few other coffee spots, like Ritual, that are hot in “the Mish” right now and at times, service can be downright rude, and the other well-known shops often don’t even have roasts that aren’t “in” right now.
The only negative about Philz is that because he’s so great at what he does, his coffee is featured on Virgin America airlines (go, Phil!), you can barely get in there on the weekend so I avoid it in favor of Bello Coffee, another quaint (and not yet overrun) spot.
Drink Spots & Hangouts
I do love a good cocktail but depending on your mood, you may choose to wander into a different kind of establishment. My favorites are really unpretentious dives that aren’t overrun by hipsters (although that’s nearly impossible to come by now). My picks are the 500 Club (who doesn’t love that iconic sparkly martini sign?) and El Rio, which also has live music depending on the night.
Zoe’s on 24th is a great place to hear for a fancier drink, and it also has good food that goes beyond your usual bar fare. The Revolution Cafe is still an amazing place to go for jazz, blues, and overall Mission flair. Finally, Bender’s often offers their small stage to great local entertainment and it’s still one of the most unpretentious spots around.
My husband and I have been visiting the St. Francis Fountain since we moved the Mission and no matter how many breakfast spots I visit, they just don’t compare.
It’s a retro diner, complete with a fully stocked candy counter, ice cream shakes galore and original signage. They serve up really huge plates of beautiful breakfast comfort food with a Cali twist, and great service to boot. Not only do they offer vegetarian and vegan options, but they also serve divine huevos rancheros and Guinness floats. If you’ve never had a Guinness float, you should change your life by ordering one here.
You just can’t spend time in the Mission without visiting a taqueria. It’s like going to Paris and not visiting the Eiffel Tower!
There are way too many amazing taquerias to mention here, but one my standby spots is El Metate, known for their fish tacos. El Metate is family owned and no matter what I order there, it’s always hot and delicious. I also have to mention Pancho Villa because it’s a Mission staple and whenever I’m on 16th street, I stop there for a taco. You just can’t go wrong there.
Dinner on the Town
My favorite dinner spot in the Mish is Dosa on Valencia. If you’re American, this isn’t the Indian food you grew up with. A Dosa is a south Indian crepe, for lack of a better description; they serve a variety of interesting salads, curries, apps and exotic cocktails all made with organic, farm-fresh ingredients and plenty of veg options, as well as options for gluten-free and other folks with food allergies.
Having been to South India just a few months ago, I can attest to the fact that this is authentic South Indian cuisine!
The one place I like to at least drive out-of-towners by is the Buddhist temple, Hua Zang Si, on 22nd street because it is a gorgeous building. Generally speaking, you cannot just wander in there, but if you are truly interested and are respectful about it, the monks will welcome you for a tour.
Similarly, I have taken my family to see the beautiful Balmy Alley and other art galleries to admire all of the great energy that has been funneled into the beautiful Mission District.
Here are other great spots in San Francisco's Mission District:
EAT – Breakfast/Brunch:
> Tartine Bakery (600 Guererro St) eat EVERYTHING here.
> Dynamo Donut (2760 24th St) maple apple bacon and more.
> Radish (3465 19th St) eco-friendly built resto with gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options.
> Balancoire (2565 Mission St) French resto with live music and burlesque…for brunch!
> The Doctor’s Lounge (4826 Mission St) pink grapefruit mimosas and hangover hash.
> Grub (758 Valencia St) peanut butter french toast and fried chicken, oh yeah!
EAT – Lunch/Dinner:
> Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem (2323 Mission St) known for their tater tots, great wings, and beers served in Mason jars.
> The Sycamore (2140 Mission St) Boston-style roast beef sandwiches, modest space, but sunny patio!
> Luna Park (694 Valencia St) goat cheese fondue, enough said.
> The Vestry (777 Valencia St) casual comfort-food spot in a former funeral home!
> Blue Plate (3218 Mission St) Mac ‘n cheese, fried chicken, meatloaf…the classics done right.
> Poc Chuc (2886 16th St) Yucatan food included the house specialty poc-chuc (barbecued pork).
> Pal's Takeaway (3066 24th St – inside La Movida wine bar) get Dave's house-smoked brisket sandwich.
> Tortas Los Picudos (2969 24th St) amazing tortas including a great chorizo torta.
> Stuffed (2788 Mission St) pierogies to die for, open super late!
> Nombe (2491 Mission St) sake and izakaya menu.
> Manos Nouveau (3115 22nd St) delicious Peruvian food.
DRINK – Bars:
> Southpaw (2170 Mission St) whiskey and house-brewed beer joint that serves great BBQ too.
> Homestead (2301 Folsom St) solid dog-friendly neighborhood bar.
> Shotwell's (3349 20th St) one of San Francisco's few remaining saloons.
> Monk's Kettle (3141 16th St) 200 rotating beers.
> Sightglass coffee (3014 20th St) slow-drip coffee heaven.
> Coffee Bar (1890 Bryant St) try their Havana Latte.
> Four Barrel Coffee (375 Valencia St) often voted as the best in the city (and country).
SWEETS (all the BEST ice cream shops in the city are here!):
> Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream (2790 Harrison St) try the Secret Breakfast ice cream or their amazing Tin Roof Sundae.
> Mitchell's Ice Cream (688 San Jose Ave) handmade, small-batch, lots of unique flavors.
> Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakeshop (3692 18th St) best-salted caramel around, also try strawberry balsamic.
> Mission Pie (2901 Mission St) banana cream pie has my number, but try the walnut or lemon shaker too!
> Anthony's Cookies (1417 Valencia St) best chocolate cookies in the city!
> Heath Ceramics (2900 18th St) environmentally conscious, aesthetically pleasing ceramics.
> Minxy's Boutique (3043 24th St) vintage clothing and jewelry.
> 826 Valencia Pirate Supply Store (826 Valencia St) because you have to!
> Needles & Pens (3253 16th St) great shop to find local artists goods.
THINGS TO DO:
> Visit Delores Park (Dolores and 18th St) absolutely gorgeous views of the city.
> Visit Mission Dolores (Dolores and 16th St) the city’s oldest building and first mission.
> Edible Excursion food tour, they've got 2 great Mission tours, one for 18th Street and one for 24th Street.
> Do a Mural Tour with Precita Eyes Muralists.
> Adult mini golf at Urban Putt (1096 S Van Ness Ave) formerly a mortuary now a San Francisco-themed miniature golf with boozy sippy cups.
> Inn San Francisco (943 South Van Ness Ave) Bed & Breakfast in an 1872 Victorian mansion.
> While the Mission has a great balance of residential and commercial spaces, lodging is a bit tough to find. Your best bet for living like a local here is renting a private home or apartment via services like Airbnb. They have a great guide for the Mission District that includes some of their locations to rent.
WHAT OTHERS SAY:
Here are other posts and guides from a few other local sources.
> Local blog, MissionMission
> Local blog, Mission Local
> Mission SF Twitter feed @MissionSFNews
> Refinery 29, Street Walker: Where To Eat, Shop, And Play On 22nd Street!
> New York Times, 36-Hours in San Francisco [Mission]
> Rock & Roll Bride, Honeymoon Travel Guide San Francisco
> Have Ashley, San Francisco Mission District
How about you? Do you have any Mission District additions? Have you been to this area of San Francisco? Did you find this post helpful for a future trip?
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