(Note: This is part of my San Francisco neighborhood guide to be published individually, then in its entirety at completion. As a result of the ongoing business restrictions during the pandemic, some of the restaurants and retail businesses mentioned may close with no warning.)
The Mission Just south of downtown, the culturally rich Mission is the epicenter of all that’s hip and happening in San Francisco these days. Not surprisingly, its demographic skews young, or young at heart – a youthful presence that began growing sometime in the 1980s (especially on Valencia) alongside what was, and still is, the city’s Mexican and Central American community.
The neighborhood has seen a steady march of gentrification over that time, though you’ll still find plenty of grit, and a soulful creativity that shows out in the many colorful murals and wall art on building facades. The Mexican community has since shrunk, pushed mostly to the neighborhood’s south or east, as the urban hipster and professional presence has grown. For anyone searching for the culturally interesting or edgy, you’ll more than likely find it in the Mission. First and foremost is the culinary arts, with an array of innovative food offerings found in this epicenter of the city’s food scene. Name a cuisine and the likely ‘best of’ (or a close challenger) is here, most notably a host of fabulous Mexican eateries, creators of an actual food named after the neighborhood – the famed Mission burrito. If you plan a thorough exploration of the Mission lace up your walking shoes, there’s a lot of real estate to cover – over a mile across and almost two miles north to south, with more commercial options vs housing than anywhere in the city. The flavor of the neighborhood changes as you go, starting on the western border at Dolores Park, the most popular gathering spot in the Mission, if not the entire city. Show up on a sunny Saturday and the place is packed with picnickers, from ‘Gay Beach’ in the upper southwest corner to kids in the big fancy playground to tennis players on the north-side courts and hipster kids everywhere between. Stroll a few blocks east to Valencia St. and the main thoroughfare for coffeeshops, restaurants, craft beer and cocktail bars, music clubs, boutiques, antique/curio shops and bookstores, which spill along cross streets to Mission St. where you’ll find an increasing number of burrito and taco shops. You’ll find all kinds of interesting surprises as you go, including the leafy Capp and Shotwell streets (more glorified alleyways) that offer a quiet contrast to the always pulsing commercial spots. Move east of Folsom and you’re in an area of light industry and old warehouses, some converted to lofts and art or design studios. What’s left of SF’s art scene is here – working artists and galleries that throw the occasional weekend openings. It’s quieter here, more neighborhood-y, but there’s still plenty of points of interest. Most notably: Heath Ceramics, Southern Pacific Brewing, Tartine Manufactury, Flour + Water, lots of cozy little bars and one of my favorite coffeehouses – Atlas Café. The Mission can be car-choked, and parts can be funky/dingy in a not good way, but wherever you end up you won’t be bored in the most vibrant neighborhood in the city.
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