One of the best places to go for good inexpensive food is the Mission District. Browse the sidewalk markets, examining tropical fruits and Latin condiments in the many markets here, or hang out at the Spanish, Mexican, Salvadoran, Honduran, and other Latin Style restaurants (see my restaurant tips). While the neighborhood is a bit on the gritty side, it's quite safe virtually anytime, and the sunny weather in this part of town can be a warm relief from the fog and drip of downtown, Fisherman's Wharf, or anywhere on the west side of town. The center of the Mission District is at 16th and Valencia. One way to get there from downtown is to take BART to Mission and 16th, and then walk a couple blocks east. A few blocks further east, one will find Mission Dolores, the original San Francisco settlement. Several blocks back toward downtown on Mission is the old Mint, a survivor of the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. A few blocks south, and the murals of Clarion Street can be found. Another favorite itinerary is to take a Muni trolley or the faster Muni rail line to Castro, at Church and Market. Browse the Castro District for awhile, and then hike down 16th into the Mission. The Roxie Theater is one of several theaters in town to see foreign and culture films at a discount ticket price. There are numerous bars and bookshop cafes to check out in the Mission District.
The Mission District is a great place to spend and afternoon eating and shopping. Despite some gentrification, the Mission is still very much the City's Hispanic epicenter. Mission Street in particular will remind you very much of a Mexican Main Street.
The Mission proper is a very large area, but the "hipster" or "tourist" Mission - containing lots of thrift stores, burrito joints, and cafes, is the area between 16th and 19th Streets up and down, and Dolores and Mission left to right. This is part of what some maps call the Inner Mission. The Outer Mission is not as hip, but still has some great restaurants, particularly along 24th Street near Potrero.
My favorite thing to do in the mission is to walk down Mission or Valencia streets and poke around the incredibly tacky Mexican and Chinese junk shops. Mission is especially good for CHEAP luggage, shoes, clothes, whatever. If you're on a budget, do your shopping here!
The Mission is, for the most part, a relatively safe neighborhood. Not always, though.
One area to be wary around is the BART station at 16th & Mission. The plaza here is always crowded with bums, drug dealers and junkies. The good news is that it rapidly gets better as you move south towards 17th Street, or west towards Valencia. What you DON'T want to do is go east. First, you'll hit notorious Capp St. If you want to have fun with a San Franciscan, tell them your hotel is on Capp St. and watch what kind of reaction you get! Capp St. is well known for its junkie prostitutes, and if you see the hookers here you'll swear off sex for good! South Van Ness from around 16th to 24th is only marginally better, and is also a well known gang hangout. Definitely avoid these streets at night.
The Mission can be dirty, gritty, and occasionally dangerous, but it's worth checking out. Just stick to the main streets and shopping areas and practice your street smarts and you'll be fine. And full.
Check out my photos series of abandoned movie theaters...
Certainly the oldest building in San Francisco is Mission Dolores. Newer Catholic Churches have been built beside and collapsed during the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, while the four foot thick adobe mud walls, huge hand split timbers, and lime plaster of Mission Dolores miraculously settled and survived. The tour of the Mission provides the best historical perspective on the peninsula of San Francisco prior to the cramped and congested city for which it is now famous.
A self-guided tour is easy, typically uncrowded, and soulful, about 30 minutes. The donation fee is $3-. Examine closely the Chapel's alter artwork, much of which was imported from Mexico or made by the local Ohlone Indians. The Ohlone Indian Museum helps one to appreciate the indigenous population that lived in the area prior to discovery by the Spanish in 1770's. In the cemetary in the back are buried early mission padres and a governor of Alta California, among other notable historical figures. The bookstore has an excellent collection for the fascinating and turbulent short history of California. Hours and other visiting information is provided in the mission's link below.
I disagree with VT member Karenincalifornia, numero uno among the Top 5 for SF, for her misinformed assignment of Mission Dolores to the Castro District at this website. Her assignment runs counter to both historical and geographical information. Castro District begins at the three way intersection of Castro, Market, and 17th streets. If one walks the 5 blocks east, they will walk downhill until Church Street, where the MUNI tunnel and Dolores Park are located. At that point, the terrain flattens out into the Mission District proper, with another two blocks walk to Dolores Street. Walk left on Dolores for another 2 blocks to Dolores and 16th, and you are at the center of the Inner Mission District, in front of Mission Dolores itself. However, both Castro and Mission Dolores can be appreciated within one afternoon.
I really enjoyed my tour of Mission Dolores. I visited on a Wednesday morning when only a few people were around, and most of the time I found myself alone during the tour. The tour starts with the small chapel, beautifully washed in yellow light. The wooden altar was hand carved in Mexico and brought to the mission in 1780. The beamed ceiling is covered in multicolored motifs which are said to resemble the local Ohlone Indian decorative patterns. On the floor of the chapel there are a few plaques marking the burial sights of prominent locals. As you exit the chapel there is a diorama of the mission as it appeared in 1799. From there you can go into the new basilica which has some beautiful panels and stained glass windows. Next you'll find the small museum which houses different religious artifacts or things found during the restorations of the chapel. Inside the museum, on the left as you enter, a section of the wall plaster is cut away to show the thick adobe bricks. The last stop of the tour is the cemetery, where many local notables from the early times of the city are buried. If you read the names on the graves you'll recognize the names of many streets in San Francisco. The cemetery also holds the remains of more than 5000 Native Americans most of whom died in the measles epidemics of 1804 and 1826. The cemetery was green and peaceful and I saw a few hummingbirds. The entrance fee is $3 and $2 more if you want the audio tour.
This is a must-do.
It started in the 70's with a small group of muralists and has grown into a thriving community arts program dedicated to the beautification of inner-city environments, providing a creative outlet for emotional expression and nurturing positive collaborative experiences. Of an estimated 600 murals around the central San Francisco area, the lion's share are here along the streets and alleys of this vibrant, largely Latino neighborhood.
This is not graffiti.
Most of the works are commissioned pieces with the balance painted by youth and civic groups. Styles range from skilled artisans' nearly photographic detail to the wobbly brushstrokes of a child, with themes addressing everything from cultural pride to socio-economic oppression to bright, visionary dreams of the future. They are powerful, spiritual, angry, sorrowful, uplifting, joyful, peaceful, complex: impossible to view impassively.
The program, Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center, offers organized tours on the weekends, or just stop by their office (2981 24th St) for a $3 self-guided map. See the website for hours, tour info, history of the project, and great photos of some of the art.
Mission Dolores is San Francisco's oldest building, dating from 1791. Its formal name is Mission San Francisco de Asis but it became known as Mission Dolores from a nearby pond (long gone), La laguna de los Dolores (Lake of Our Lady of Sorrows). The small chapel was preserved almost intact, its 4 ft (1.2m) thick walls having survived two major earthquakes. When the Mexican government secularized the missions in 1834 to acquire their lands, Mission Dolores was transformed into a tavern and dance hall until finally in 1859 was reacquired by the Catholic Church and reconsecrated. Along the years the Catholic Church erected a series of larger churches alongside the old chapel to accommodate a growing congregation. The last of these, the basilica that can be seen next door was added in 1913. The facade of the basilica is highly ornated, which brings out even more the simple beauty of the mission chapel.
You've almost reached the end of your 24th St. mural walk (see previous tips). You are starving. Time to refuel. I'd put Dynamo Donut on my to-do list for the Mission 'cause the darn thing kept kept popping up during my research. Rumor had it that these were no ordinary donuts but hot little numbers with some big-time culinary reviewers lately so me thinks I must see what the fuss is about.
Hmmm... chocolate saffron? Apricot cardamom? Chocolate rosemary almond? Nope, not your average cop stop. The locals in the lineup swore that this Dynamo virgin must do the deed with nothing other than maple-glazed bacon apple. Bacon? Seriously? Absolutely, they say, and decide to hang around to watch the initiation. Never one to back out on a double-dog dare, I take the first, very tiny, very tentative bite - and find Shangri-La. OMG. Heaven opens. Angels sing. The locals smile.
Good coffee, too.
7am - 5pm, Tuesday-Saturday
9am - 4pm Sundays
The oldest building and the so-called birthplace of SF.
You can see an old chapel and a cathedral, a one-room-museum with artefacts of the 18th century when the mission was established (1776) and a small cemetery with old graves and lots of trees and shrubs and flowers.
The whole thing is relatively interesting to see it but I found the 3 $ entrance fee a little too high.
Interesting church mission with a long history in San Francisco terms. The Cathredral to the right was built in 1907 after the original church on that sight was distroyed during the 1906 Earthquake. The small misson survived and to this day it is the oldest building in San Francisco. Founded in 1776, the first mass was 5 days before the Declaration of Independence was signed.
The actual building on the left was completed several years later in 1791.
If Chinatown is Little Asia, then Mission is Little Mexico. My morning mural trek (see previous tips) wandered by shop windows of religious icons, sidewalk displays of clothing and trinkets and past outdoor markets of sunny fruits and jewel-toned vegetables. The smell of enchiladas and tamales and the sound of mariachi music wafted from tiny cafes, and mothers with little ones in tow chatted together over their marketing in soft, staccato Spanish. And everywhere there is color: anything that can be is painted, planted, dyed, tiled or otherwise adorned in vibrant, brilliant color.
I walked both 24th (Church to Hampshire) and a large section of Mission Street, down to Mission Dolores and the Women's Building, and perceived 24th to be the center of a friendly, tight-knit neighborhood. Mission St. is a main thoroughfare and while not lacking in activity, felt much more commercialized and gritty.
This is an area best visited in daylight and is rumored to have some of the best restaurants in the city for travelers on a budget. And do bring the kids - they'll be welcome here and cheerfully entertained with all the bright and shiny things to look at!
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