Saturday in The Mission: A San Francisco Neighborhood Walking Tour
Matt and I have both been to San Francisco a few times before, so we’ve seen and done all the touristy things the city has to offer:
Taking the boat out to Alcatraz, driving down Lombard Street, riding the cable cars, and watching the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf. So this time around, I wanted to do something a little different. It only made sense that we should venture away from the waterfront.
That brought us to the Mission District, or simply, “The Mission” as it’s referred to by the locals. I’d never been to the area before. In fact, I don’t think I’d been anywhere south of SOMA, regrettably enough. But I’d been wanting to visit San Francisco’s beloved Bar Tartine for some time now (especially after it was named on Eater’s 38 for 2015) and it gave us a great excuse to get to know the neighborhood. I decided we would plan our day in the city around our Saturday brunch reservation.
When we popped out of the BART station at 16th & Mission, I wasn’t really quite sure what we’d find. We emerged onto the street level to find a group of protestors/local residents shouting in Spanish and blocking the sidewalks. I couldn’t tell if something significant was happening, or if this was a normal Saturday occurrence, but I’m guessing the latter.
Luckily, we were headed in the opposite direction of the commotion. We passed by a hair salon and then a pupuseria, before turning the corner at Valencia and suddenly being transported to a completely different neighborhood (or so it felt). It was quieter. The restaurants and bars had fancy signs and cleaner storefronts. It was the ultimate in gentrification.
A little back story on the Mission: it used to be (and for the most part, still is) a very hispanic neighborhood. It has also always been known as a neighborhood that fosters creativity and artists. Somewhere along the way, the dot-com boomers took note, and began taking advantage of the affordable rents in this area which still had a good proximity to the rest of the city. Over the years, rents have steadily increased as droves of hipsters have moved in, slowly pushing the Hispanic population out and making the Mission now one of the coolest places to live in the city. But it still leaves an interesting mix of cultures that easily flow from one block to the next.
Thanks to a delayed Caltrain ride into San Francisco, we arrived just in time for our 11:15 am reservation at Bar Tartine. The hostess folded up Evelyn’s stroller and stashed it away in a back hallway, while Ev and I shimmied our way into the bench behind our table. It was a tight squeeze, but we made it work, and nobody gave us the stink eye for bringing a baby into such a nice place, which I appreciated.
For the next hour and a half, we ate our way through the 4 course brunch tasting menu, which included everything from house made yogurt with figs and pistachios to chilled apricot soup and sprouted lentil croquettes. Evelyn hardly made so much as a peep. Our neighbors at the table next to us were very grateful for that, no doubt.
At the end of the meal, I asked to purchase a copy of their newest cookbook, to which our waitress offered to have the chefs sign, since they were in that day. I was pleasantly surprised, and now have a very special new book to add to my collection!
After brunch, we walked down 18th street to the Women’s Building. It features a huge mural on the side of the building that was painted in 1994 as a tribute to the contributions of women in society. In researching the area, I learned that the Mission has the greatest concentration of murals in the city, and the Women’s Building was definitely one of the largest and most impressive we came across.
We backtracked back up Valencia and passed by Taqueria La Cumbre. There are two taquerias in The Mission who claim to have invented the Mission-style burrito (aka, the super huge Chipotle/Qdoba-style burrito): Taqueria La Cumbre and El Faro. La Cumbre is bold enough to display this title on their exterior.
From Valencia, we headed back west down 16th street and passed by the Roxie Theater. While it looks pretty modest on the outside, it is the oldest continuously operating movie theater in San Francisco, and has been home to everything from a movie theater, a porn theater, and finally a non-profit theater for independent films since it’s opening in 1909.
A few more blocks and we landed at the corner of 16th & Dolores which is home to Mission Dolores, the neighborhood’s namesake. A large church sits on the corner, but it is actually the smaller adobe building next door that is the original mission building, which was founded in 1776. We opted not to go inside, but for a suggested donation of $5 per person, you can have a look around the mission, including its cemetery and gardens.
We strolled south along the wide, tree-lined Dolores Street past it’s beautiful Victorian homes until we reached Dolores Park (which is named after the town of Dolores Hildago in Mexico, not the Mission itself). At 2:00 pm on a Saturday afternoon the place was packed. This is clearly the place to hang out in the Mission, and it’s residents take good care of it.
If we lived in the area or were better prepared, I could see us setting up our own little family picnic on the expansive lawn. We plopped ourselves down near the top of the hill to rest for a bit and take in the energy.
Knowing we were working with a baby on a short timeline for good behavior, we kept moving and headed up the hill towards 21st street. I had heard Mark Zuckerberg purchased a home around here (for a mere 10 Million dollars, only 7 Million more than it was worth) and although I couldn’t find an address online, I wanted to see if we could find it.
We looked around and took a few pictures of fancy houses we thought might be it, but nothing was standing out, and so we decided to move on. As we headed back down the hill, an older gentleman walking his dog stopped us. “I saw you taking pictures up there…you like this neighborhood?” “Yes, it’s beautiful,” we replied. He carried on, “I’ve lived here for almost 20 years. You know who lives around here don’t you?” Matt, not wanting to make it so obvious that we were exhibiting borderline stalker behavior said, “Zuckerberg has a place around here, right?” “That’s right!” the old man said, “down this street, the tall house with the black iron fence in front…but don’t bother trying to break in…those two SUV’s down there…those are his security guards. I’ve never met him, but I met his wife once. She’s a sweet girl.”
We thanked the old man for the tip and he went on his way. I snapped a picture of the house as we walked by, and the security guard in the SUV out front gave me a nod, as if I was just one of hundreds of people he’d seen do the same in the short year or so since the Zuckerbergs had moved into the neighborhood.
We continued east down the hill and suddenly found ourselves in the “heart of the Mission,” at roughly 20th & Mission. We made a quick detour past El Faro, but were still too full from brunch to necessitate a true Mission burrito. So we walked back down to 24th street and made our last stop at Balmy Alley, well-known for it’s long display of murals.
The murals ranged in subject from Hispanic culture to abstract art, but each stood on their own, and we appreciated the wooden fences and garage doors that served as their canvases. There are tours you can arrange with Precita Eyes Mural Arts that will explain the history of the murals painted here, and in other places throughout the Mission, but with a tired baby, we decided not to press our luck.
After a busy afternoon, we grabbed iced coffees at a local coffee shop and headed back to the BART station at 24th & Mission. It was time to make the journey back to the Peninsula and get ready for our early morning flight to Omaha. The Mission had been good to us, and I’m already strategizing our next visit to try out other local eateries…and maybe even a Mission burrito.
Have you been to the Mission? What are you favorite spots to explore?
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