Spending our time untethering the mind, getting the fidgets out, exploring the in-between ideas, and learning kintsugi.

Three hours at Mission District of San Francisco

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A street in Mission District

A street in Mission District

After doing the touristy spots of the Wharf and North beach, Nob Hill, Chinatown and Union square, what is the next best thing San Francisco city has to offer. Is it the Golden Gate park or Crissy Field? In my mind, it is the Mission District. But it is a bit overwhelming to plan and navigate if you are new to the place. And, yes, it can be a bit scary seeing the run down buses and ghetto neighborhoods if you take a wrong turn. So, let me take you on a short walking tour that will be fun and full of local flavors.

Park the car at Hoff Street Garage and follow me. Are you hungry? I am. Let’s grab something fiery at El Castillito on Mission Street. If you know what you are ordering, great. If not, you will be safe ordering soft tacos with your choice of meat – big flavor but not a lot of food. Theirs are among the best I have had – fresh tortillas, not the tough and sticky kind but light and fluffy with air pockets in them, meat is soft and the salsas spicy, not watered down for non-native palates.

In any case, if you don’t like them, you can always a grab a sandwich at Dolores Park Cafe – we will be walking by this quintessential cafe in an hour or so. I am going for Oaxacan Deviled Shrimp, camarones a la diabla. How can you not order something that has “devil” in its name? Gotta be devilishly good, right? OK, my mouth is on fire. A beer please – to wash down all the capcisin.

Tacos at a Mexican restaurant

Tacos at a Mexican restaurant

Aaah… much better. That heat in my belly should keep me going for a few hours. I definitely need the walk now. First we will sample some murals of Mission District. We are now walking through Clarion Alley. Don’t mind the smell of piss. And, don’t get too close to the walls. Yes, we are perfectly safe here – it is barely noon and you can see the police station at the end of the alley.  Since you are energetically taking photos, I take it that you like it. Don’t forget the artwork on the road…

Now that we are feeling a bit overwhelmed with all that subversive modern art, let me introduce you to some subversive shopping – Good Vibrations. Not for kiddies this. OK, this is not subversive for the locals, who have enjoyed this store for a long time. Probably a better analogy would be to say that this is the Victoria’s Secret of adult store. Also, women centric, so if you are with a woman companion, you will not feel uncomfortable browsing or shopping here. It will be very tempting, so keep in mind your suitcase space.

View from Mission Dolores Park

View from Mission Dolores Park

From here, we will walk couple of blocks to Mission Dolores and catch a bit of old Californian history and architecture, and more importantly, some peace and quiet, cleanliness and godliness. The walls of the Mission, not the adjoining basilica, are the oldest standing walls in San Francisco. There is one other, in Presidio, but Presidio is not part of San Francisco.  Since you have never been inside, why don’t you enjoy it at your own pace. I am going to sit at the oldest cemetery – the only one within the city of San Francisco.  There is one in Presidio but again, that doesn’t count. Some of the graves here are old, as old as the Spaniards and Vigilantes.

Sometimes, the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society holds free tours of this mission, led by city locals. While they are not the most exciting tours in the history of tourism, they are indeed a good opportunity to meet an enthusiastic local storyteller.

Done already? Sorry, I must have dozed off for a bit there. Lets walk down the street towards Dolores Park. Big, clean, beautiful green park and full of locals – playing, eating, reading, taking a nap in the sun. Lets walk up the path a bit. You know how the city is, it goes up and it goes down. Good for digestion, don’t you know. And wait until you see the views. There you are. Isn’t it beautiful? And, yes, city is always cold. After breathing in all this chilled fresh air, I will revive myself with an espresso at Cafe Dolores. It is touristy but on a weekday afternoon if has a very cozy feel. I don’t mean small, just warm and familiar. The bi-rite creamery opposite is great place to stop if your heart is young or your kids are with you.

Kids playing in Balmy Street

Kids playing in Balmy Street

From here, we will walk to Valencia street and start walking towards 24th. There are a cluster of somewhat extraordinary shops here. I want to take you to a favorite shop of mine – Paxton Gate. They sell bones, fossils and other odd things. Don’t miss their rat angels in the back. The pirate store next door is also a fun place for window shopping unless of course, you are applying for a job with the Somalian pirates. If you like books, you will want to step into couple of our local favorites – Modern Times and Dog Eared Books.

We are nearly out of time, so we will head back to the garage. But if you have more time, you can always walk 24th street, see Balmy street murals, visit Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center, St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Galeria De La Raza and head back via Mission street.

Related links:

  1. Self guided walking tour of Chinatown (more)
  2. The second best hike of San Francisco – the stairs (more)
  3. The best urban hike of SFO, from Ferry Plaza to Fort Point (more)
  4. The best chocolates of SFO (more)
  5. If you want to see historical photos of Mission district, check this out.

4 Responses

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  1. […] Barrel on Valencia is a well reviewed coffee mecca in Mission District of San Francisco. The queues are long but is a good opportunity to watch city fashions. The space […]

  2. […] you are headed to S.F. and aren’t familiar with the area, I found this cool walking tour of the Mission that mentions many of these stops.  You may want to check it […]

  3. […] A trip to the Mission District can always be combined with plenty of cheap good eats, trip to the nearby Mission Dolores and the Mission Dolores park from where there is a beautiful view of the downtown skyline. Also, Valencia Street is great for shopping. For a step by step guide including a Google map, click here. […]

  4. […] You can combine a trip to the Mission Dolores with a walking tour of the Mission district. For a step by step guide, with photos and a Google map, click here.  […]

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