San Francisco: Places to Explore

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Mission District

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The Mission has a number of distinct personalities: it's the Latino neighborhood, where working-class folks raise their families and where gangs occasionally clash; it's the hipster hood, where tattooed and pierced twenty- and thirtysomethings hold court in the coolest cafés and bars in town; it's a culinary epicenter, with the strongest concentration of destination restaurants and affordable ethnic cuisine; and it's the artists' quarter, where murals adorn literally blocks of walls. It's also the city's equivalent of the Sunshine State—this neighborhood's always the last to succumb to fog.

The eight blocks of Valencia Street between 16th and 24th streets—what's come to be known as the Valencia Corridor—typify the neighborhood's diversity. Businesses on the block between 16th and 17th streets, for instance, include an upscale Peruvian restaurant, an Indian grocery and sundries store, a tattoo parlor, the yuppie-chic bar Blondie's, a handful of funky home-decor stores, a pizzeria, a taqueria, a Turkish restaurant, a sushi bar, bargain and pricey thrift shops, and the Puerto Alegre restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall with pack-a-punch margaritas locals revere. On the other hand, Mission Street itself, three blocks east, is mostly a down-at-the-heels row of check-cashing places, dollar stores, and residential hotels—but there are more than a few great taquerias. And the farther east you go, the sketchier the neighborhood gets.

Italian and Irish in the early 20th century, the Mission became heavily Latino in the late 1960s, when immigrants from Mexico and Central America began arriving. An influx of Chinese, Vietnamese, Arabic, and other immigrants, along with a young bohemian crowd enticed by cheap rents and the burgeoning arts-and-nightlife scene, followed in the 1980s and early 1990s. The skyrocketing rents of the late 1990s have leveled off and the district is yet again in transition. The Mission is still scruffy in patches, so as you plan your explorations, take into account your comfort zone. Be prepared for homelessness and drug use around the BART stations, prostitution along Mission Street, and raucous bar-hoppers along the Valencia Corridor.

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