The Mission District defines the unmistakable reality of San Francisco’s quirky microclimates. When visitors experience one of the city’s signature foggy summer days, there’s always the option of heading for the Mission, just as European missionaries did when they settled here in 1776. Frankly, it’s often sunnier in the Mission.
San Francisco’s First Neighborhood
Mission Dolores, San Francisco’s oldest structure, is a small adobe chapel at 16th Street and Dolores Street with an adjoining cemetery. Dedicated in 1791, it was sixth in a chain of 21 religious missions established along California’s coast. Today, both the simple chapel and the ornate basilica, added in 1918, are home to an active congregation. Visitors are welcome to have a look around.
Picnics and Palm Trees
Head two blocks south along Dolores Street’s boulevard of palm trees, where 14 grassy acres of Dolores Park are typically filled with local residents who come to socialize, sunbathe, picnic, play frisbee and people watch.
The Golden Hydrant
At the edge of Dolores Park at 20th Street and Church Street, vigilant sightseers may notice the fire hydrant painted in gold. For reasons still unknown, water flowed from this hydrant during the four days of fires that consumed 80 percent of San Francisco following the earthquake of 1906. To this day, the hydrant receives a fresh coat of gold colored paint every April 18th.
Head to the heart of the Mission District via the steep inclines of the Liberty Hill Historic District. The picturesque collection of well-preserved 19th century houses on Liberty Street survived the fires, successfully halted before reaching the south side of 20th Street, due to the efforts of hundreds of volunteers and one fortuitous hydrant.
The Face of Change
While San Francisco has long been recognized as one of the world’s leading culinary destinations, few would have guessed the center of that activity would be the Mission District. Reflecting significant 21st century shifts from a post-World War II working-class Hispanic neighborhood of taquerias, bodegas, Ma-and-Pa retailers to one of dot-com entrepreneurs and tech executives, gentrification has been massive in the Mission, currently a favorite neighborhood for Silicon Valley shuttle bus commuters. Dozens of trendy bars, gastro pubs and restaurants serve up imaginative handcrafted cocktails, locally brewed craft beers, artisan ice cream, small batch roasted coffees, international and fusion-themed cuisines. Cozy lounges and swish clubs keep late hours for live bands, DJs and night owls.
As social pundits debate the pros and cons of such changes, they’re apparent to visitors on streets such as Mission, Valencia and Guerrero, where one can shop for a $10,000 bicycle or pick a second hand one up for $10 at a sidewalk sale.
Murals of the Mission
Creative energy is a distinguishing feature of the Mission District, as much in evidence on the walls of its buildings as it is in the kitchens of its restaurants. Visitors shouldn’t miss the outbursts of color and message on display on the exterior walls of The Women’s Building at 18th Street between Guerrero and Valencia; at Clarion Alley between Mission and Valencia Streets and 17th and 18th Streets; and at Balmy Alley located parallel to Treat Avenue and Harrison Street between 24th and 25th Streets.
MaestraPeace Mural at the women’s non-profit is a widely-acclaimed storytelling project by seven female artists done in 1994. In the alleyways, the raw art constantly changes. It expresses social issues of the day, as new murals are painted over existing ones by talented artists.
Did You Know?
- The Roxie is the oldest continuously operated cinema in the United States, since 1909.
- Foreign Cinema isn’t a cinema; it’s a top restaurant where films are projected on the wall of its enclosed patio every night.
- America’s best burrito is at La Taqueria, Mission and 25th Streets, according to the 2014 ESPN website.
- Garfield Park at 25th Street and Harrison Street was identified as the city’s sunniest place by Golden Gate Weather Service’s meteorologist.
- At its crest, Dolores Park has a wonderful view of the downtown skyline.