For travelers in the know, San Francisco’s Mission District means one thing: high-quality and affordable hole-in-the-wall Mexican food. In fact, the first time I ever visited the Mission, I was with Kevin, who at the time was intent on finding the city’s best vegetarian burrito. He succeeded. I, meanwhile, was excited to tour a neighborhood featured in one of my favorite Matt Nathanson songs, “Mission Bells” (listen to it here). What we found, though, was so much more than amazing food and inspiration for an alt-indie song. In February 2016, exactly one year after Kevin and I first visited, I returned to the Mission to explore more of the neighborhood that the average tourist inexplicably stays away from.
I fell in love with the parks and identifiable architecture; the Mission is one of San Francisco’s most distinctive neighborhoods, and I will always appreciate the aesthetic unity. Bright, charismatic murals can be found on nearly every block, effectively transforming the neighborhood into some sort of outdoor art museum. And the parks! Mission Dolores Park ought to be on every travelers’ to-visit list:
One of the best parts about strolling around the Mission is the opportunity to enjoy massive works of street art in an array of vibrant colors. Some are abstract while others portray realistic scenes of rural life in Latin America. I spent nearly half a day simply seeking out murals, and below are a handful of my favorites:
It’s important to note that what makes murals so appealing also causes their existence to be precarious. One of the many reasons why I love street art is because it’s accessible and free to the public, allowing those who might not be able to afford museum tickets the opportunity to benefit from art. But, a mural painted on the side of a small shop can be a target for vandals or fellow street artists who decide to paint over it, so the murals pictured above may or may not exist the next time I visit.
I had never heard of a “parklet” before, which apparently denotes a relaxing space constructed on a city street or sidewalk. This wacky looking space above was relatively new as of February 2016, and I enjoyed seeing the city invest in a lower-income community where the dominant language spoken is Spanish. Along with Chinatown, the Mission is fighting gentrification hard, but it’s an uphill battle. The Mission is currently Ground Zero for gentrification, with some landlords even burning down buildings in an effort to force low-rent tenants out.
As a hobby baker, I wanted to check out the renowned Tartine, and I visited at 1 p.m. on a weekday afternoon only to find a line that stretched out the door and down the city block. As much as I love sampling new baked goods, I despise waiting in unnecessary lines (thanks, Mom, for handing this trait down to me). Instead, I wound up stopping by a small, no-frills joint promising authentic Italian cookies, and they were…terrible. They tasted stale and the entire shop itself looked unclean. Lesson learned: wait in the darn Tartine line.
If out-of-towners do visit the Mission, it’s to sample Tartine’s famous goods. However, as I hope these photographs show, there’s much more to the neighborhood than a pastry shop. In fact, after my visit six months ago, the Mission became my favorite neighborhood in the city to photograph – thanks it part to the fact that, like Chinatown, there’s always action happening on every street. 2:30 pm on a Tuesday? Many residential parts of the city are a ghost town. But not the Mission – and having visited and thoroughly loved Mexico, this small slice of San Francisco brought back some of my incredible travel memories without breaking the bank for an international flight.
And, in my opinion, the Mission is one of the best parts of San Francisco to explore on foot.