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About the Mission District
The Mission is one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in the entire city with some of the best things to do to keep you busy in San Francisco. It’s packed with super trendy restaurants as well as some of the most fun and down-to-earth bars in the city. What you’ll notice here is that there are two vibes— a historical/cultural vibe as well as a modern/happening vibe. There’s a special mix of residents and cultural influences—a pretty large Latin American community lives here (which translates to authentically delicious food) among other artists and students. The intertwining of “old” and “new” truly makes the Mission one of my favorite neighborhoods.
There are two main streets here— Valencia and Mission. Valencia Street is lined with many artisanal coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and bougie boutiques, while Mission Street is home to some of the best tacos and burritos in the United States. (You heard that right, La Taqueria won “Best Burrito in the US”). On side streets and alleyways, vibrant murals can be seen from left and right. At night, the neighborhood is bustling with locals and visitors alike trying to have a good time. And don’t worry, the Mission is frequently visited by Bay Area natives so you can be sure you aren’t just mingling with a bunch of tourists.
The Mission has an unusual microclimate that actually works in your favor if you’re like me and really don’t enjoy wind and fog (what SF is notorious for). This means it’s often sunnier and warmer than other parts of the city, which makes for perfect Dolores Park weather! More on that below.
Things to Do – Mission District
Looking for the best burrito in the US? Well then you’ve got to check out La Taqueria— it’s as authentic as it gets. The Carnitas Burrito here was voted the best burrito in the country, according to The Daily Meal. The interesting thing is that their burritos don’t come with rice (saving you calories here so you can spend it on dessert)! Definitely pair your burrito, taco, or quesadilla with their green salsa, made in-house. You’ll have to wait in line, but if you come during non-peak hours, the wait flies by.
Dolores Park is one of the main landmarks in the Mission and one of the top reasons why I love the Mission so much. It’s absolutely the perfect place to grab some food, have a picnic, and sunbathe on a sunny day (not to mention the great opportunities for people watching). The best part of all, the people who come here are actually locals. If you grab a spot higher up on the hill, you will be treated to some outstanding views of downtown San Francisco. Bring a blanket, a football, a pair of sunglasses and some speakers and you’re sure to have a great time.
Murals at Balmy Alley / Clarion Alley
The Mission has held a proud history of street art since the ‘80s, and is particularly known for its neighborhood murals. For the best works of art, your best bet would be to take a detour down some alleyways. Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley are two of the neighborhood’s best streets to see densely painted walls.
Secret Foods Walking Tour
Join the Secret Foods Walking Tour if you’re a foodie or are hungry and just want to learn more about San Francisco and the Mission District. Sample six classic dishes from bakery-style cookies to San Francisco clam chowder, and learn about the neighborhood with your guide between bites.
As one of the centers of San Francisco nightlife, the Mission is perhaps best explored after dark. Beauty Bar is a glittery pink sensation with a Ryan Gosling-themed bathroom (seriously, if you love Ryan Gosling, you’ll love this bathroom). For dive bars, head away from Valencia and roam towards Mission Street – Amnesia, The Homestead, and Knockout are all winners. If you’re looking for some low-key dancing, check out Bruno’s (appeals to a younger crowd, has 2 dance floors each with different music) and Double Dutch (smaller venue, always bustling with locals). If you happen to be there on a Wednesday, check out “Wing Wednesday” for cheap beer and chicken wings at Teeth.
For a more curated selection of clothing, Afterlife Boutique, No Shop and Wallflower carry marked-up but curated vintage pieces, while Mission Thrift and Community Thrift Store offer an large selection of inexpensive items with more of a thrift vibe.
Shop at the Pirate Supply Store
Shop for a good cause! This one of a kind store sells a whole slew of pirate goods, including eyepatches, hooks, doubloons, messages in bottles, and more. It’s definitely a store of curiosities and the best part— all proceeds go to support the non-profit literacy charity 826 Valencia.
Perfect rainy day venue. This 14-hole indoor mini-golf course, nestled in a historic Victorian building, will easily brighten your day with LED motion sensors, virtual simulations, booming sound effects. It’s animatronic heaven, as it was designed by engineers, roboticists, and industrial designers. To extend your experience there, upstairs is a bar and restaurant outfitted with arcade games.
Four Barrel Coffee
I love the industrial/hipster vibe and decor of this coffee shop. The coffee is always perfect, made with professionalism each time. Seating is plentiful so it’s a great place to start your morning or rest in between stops during your day of exploration.
Eat a bunch of ice cream
You must check out one of the following, or even all three. Humphry Slocombe, Mitchell’s, and Bi-Rite Ice Cream. Humphry Slocombe carries interesting and powerful flavors such as Vietnamese Coffee, Secret Breakfast (bourbon and cornflake), and Jasmine Lychee. Bi-Rite offers popular flavors such as Salted Caramel and Snickerdoodle (my personal fave) and is conveniently located right next to Dolores Park. Last but not least, there’s Mitchell’s, carrying exotic flavors such as Ube, Macapuno, Mexican Chocolate, and Pistachio. None of them fail to delight me and my friends whenever we go.
Mission Pie is like an oasis in the middle of the bustling street that it is on. Head here after dinner for tranquil cafe vibes (perhaps after first eating at La Taqueria). The inside is homey and quaint, almost like being at grandma’s, which will put you right at ease as you enjoy your slice(s) of pie. Their pie selection is crazy, with the banana cream pie being a local favorite. They also have savory pot pies here as well!
Do yourself a favor and introduce your tastebuds to what phenomenal pastries taste like. Tartine is one of the best bakeries in San Francisco in my opinion. My personal favorites include the morning bun (sweet, crispy exterior with a soft interior, with a bit of zest; I can seriously house 3 at a time if calories didn’t exist) and the banana cream tart (should be at the top of anyone’s list). You must check it out.
Grab a sandwich
Sandwiches in San Francisco are great. Grab a sandwich on a Dutch Crunch roll before heading to Dolores Park (Dutch Crunch = Bay Area exclusive and my all-time favorite type of sandwich bread). Rhea’s Deli & Market or Mr. Pickles are sure bets.
If you’re into classic cocktail bars, check out ABV. This is a really cool place to sit down, chat, and have a few drinks. Not to mention, they won the Best New American Bar award in the past and offers exceptional service. Try the Land’s End cocktail (rum, dry curacao, lemon, and raspberry) along with the tater tots and fish tacos.
With a massive wine list (we’re talking massive, go see for yourself) and super unique architecture, this neighborhood staple remains popular among locals. The “cinema” aspect stems from the classic/contemporary films that are projected on a huge screen while you eat. Make sure to make a reservation!
Take a walk
There is so much to see just by walking around the Mission District. Sometimes, it’s best to not have a destination in mind so you can just roam–who knows what you’ll discover. Start on Valencia Street, check out Mission Street, and don’t forget to walk through the residential streets for some peace, quiet, and quaint architecture.
How to get there on public transportation:
- BART: 16th and Mission OR 24th and Mission stop
- MUNI: the MUNI J train to Church and 18th Street
- BUS: 12, 14, 22, or 33 buses
Transportation with CityPass: Save 42% on San Francisco’s Muni and Cable Car rides + admission to the 4 best SF attractions.
Staying in SF-proper is definitely not cheap. If you don’t mind taking public transportation, consider staying in South San Francisco or even Millbrae (close to the airport). Check SF hotel prices on Booking.com below: