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San Francisco Travel Guide

  • Photo: Julien Hautcoeur / Shutterstock

Mission District

A neighborhood with a small-town vibe that's home to young families, dog lovers, and a visible lesbian contingent, Bernal Heights draws some locals for its handful of good restaurants and the 360-degree views from the top of Bernal Hill. Less hipster than the neighboring Mission (to the north) and less saturated with cute shops than Noe Valley (to the west), Bernal Heights feels like a throwback

to another time, with a beloved community garden, the annual Hillwide Garage Sale, and hardly a chain store in sight. Take a stroll down main drag Cortland Avenue, climb the hill at Bernal Heights Park, or explore the stairways in one of the city's lowest-key neighborhoods.

Tucked between two freeways east of the Mission and south of SoMa, warm and sunny Potrero Hill is a laid-back, family-friendly neighborhood that can feel a place apart from the rest of the city. Most of the action happens around 18th and Connecticut streets. With fantastic views from its slopes; some good shops, restaurants, and bars; the longtime music club Bottom of the Hill; and a friendly small-town vibe, Potrero Hill is a neighborhood attractive to locals but still off the tourist radar.

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.

Packed with destination restaurants, hole-in-the-wall ethnic eateries, and hip watering holes—plus taquerias, pupuserias, and produce markets—the city's hottest hood strikes just the right balance between cutting-edge hot spot and working-class enclave. The Mission is so hip right now it ranked No. 2 on a Forbes magazine list of the country's top hipster neighborhoods.

The eight blocks of Valencia Street between 16th and 24th streets—what's become known as the Valencia Corridor—typify the Mission District's diversity. Businesses on the block between 16th and 17th streets, for instance, include an upscale Peruvian restaurant, a tattoo parlor, a Belgian eatery beloved for its fries, the yuppie-chic bar Blondie's, a handful of funky home-decor stores, a pizzeria, a Vietnamese kitchen, a trendy Italian place, a sushi bar, bargain and pricey thrift shops, and the Puerto Alegre restaurant, a near dive with pack-a-punch margaritas locals revere. Nearby Mission Street, on the other hand, is mostly a down-at-the-heels row of check-cashing parlors, dollar stores, and residential hotels. There are some great taquerias and bars on Mission, though, and the Valencia Corridor's restaurant explosion is starting to spill over here.

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. Since the 1970s, groups of muralists have transformed walls and storefronts into canvases, creating art accessible to everyone. Following the example set by the Mexican liberal artist and muralist Diego Rivera, many of the Latino artists address political and social justice issues in their murals. More recently, artists of varied backgrounds, some of whom simply like to paint on a large scale, have expanded the conversation.

The actual conversations you'll hear on the street these days might unfold in Chinese, Vietnamese, Arabic, and other tongues of the non-Latino immigrants who began settling in the Mission in the 1980s and 1990s along with a young bohemian crowd enticed by cheap rents and the burgeoning arts-and-nightlife scene. These newer arrivals made a diverse and lively neighborhood even more so, setting the stage for the Mission's current hipster cachet. With the neighborhood flourishing, rents have shot up, but the Mission remains scruffy in patches, so as you plan your explorations, take into account your comfort zone.

l Be prepared for homelessness and drug use around the BART stations, prostitution along Mission Street, and raucous bar-hoppers along the Valencia Corridor. The farther east you go, the sketchier the neighborhood gets.

East of the Mission District and Potrero Hill and a short T-Third Muni light-rail ride from SoMa, the Dogpatch neighborhood has been on the rise for the last decade. Artisans, designers, and craftspeople eager to protect the area's historical industrial legacy have all moved here in recent years, providing a solid customer base for shops, galleries, and boutique restaurants and artisanal food producers. At or near the intersection of 3rd and 22nd streets, you'll find neighborhood breakfast favorite Just for You Café, locally sourced Italian food at sunny yellow Piccino, small-batch organic ice cream at Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous, and artisanal chocolates at Michael Recchiuti's Chocolate Lab, which has a small café, too. The Museum of Craft and Design moved to Dogpatch in 2013 and instantly became the neighborhood's cultural anchor.

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