Mission District, San Francisco
Best Walking Tours and Things To Do
The Mission District (see map) has more things to do than ever. Besides the old authentic Mexican standbys many novel new hipster eating spots have popped up that cater to a younger, much wealthier tech set. It’s also fun to see the nearby Castro District on the same trip.
Below are our top short walks for quickly experiencing the Mission District. And here’s a list of the neighborhoods they cover:
- Mission Dolores/18th St – Dolores Park area and gourmet foods
- Mission/Valencia St – Gentrified hipster establishments
- Mission St – Center of the historical Mission District
- Mission/24th St – A great, older 1950s Hispanic neighborhood
- Also see Mission Special Events – Party time in The Mission
These walks pass by some of the best things to do and give you a quick feel for local atmosphere. You can start at either end of any these walks or someplace in between and still have a good time. We often pick specific destinations for the day and then connect a couple of these walks together depending on how much time is available and how far we want to walk. Also see our map to help you plan your trip.
From Castro & 18th St. in the Castro District walk east on 18th St. to Dolores St. There at 18th & Dolores is Mission Dolores Park (a popular congregating spot for the neighborhood, especially on sunny weekend days) to the south and Mission Dolores to the north. Walk 1/2 block north on Dolores St. to check out the church souvenir shop. Mission Dolores is interesting because it was one of the very first settlements (est. 6/29/1776) in San Francisco history, but the souvenir shop is not exciting.
The next block east after you pass Mission Dolores Park is a culinary heaven. You will see Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakery (great ice cream), Bi-Rite Grocery (a small top-end grocer), Delfini Pizza, and Tartine Bakery (the best French bakery in town). Each of these, all in the same block, rank at the top of their class food-wise.
For a relative inexpensive lunch with our dogs we like to get a sandwich or some wine & cheese at the Bi-Rite Grocery Deli and then go for a picnic in Mission Dolores Park. After the picnic we pick up an ice cream cone at Bi-Rite Creamery, across the street from Bi-Rite Market, or have some pastry & coffee on the street-side tables at Tartine Bakery.
The hipsters have arrived in droves driving many lower-end businesses to other parts of town like Mission/24th St. Clarion Alley , the first alley south of 17th St, is famous for its ever changing street art and graffiti. Heading north on Valencia St to 16th St. to check out the many restaurants catering to wealthy young employees of tech companies. E.g., Frjtz Fries, Cream Ice Cream and Four Barrel Coffee.
This is the heart of the Mission district and definitely still has that old-time feeling. It’s rougher and more Latino than Valencia St. has become. Go for the cultural experience!
Don’t forget to try some of the more robust food along here. La Taqueria (north of 25th St) is an old favorite which has won awards for the best Burrito in the U.S.A. We also like some of the newer eating establishments, e.g., one of our favorite coffee shops is the very small Grand Coffee Shop (north of 24th St) … or sit on street porch in front of Rosamunde Sausage Grill (south of 24th St) to enjoy a great sandwich and brew.
This is our favorite street in the Mission District. This area is becoming popular with the hipster crowd and but remains popular with Hispanics who have been here since the 1940s (and still are there largely because retail rents still remain lower than on the much more hipster-oriented Valencia St.).
Some of the newer hipster shops we enjoy are the original Philz Coffee (at Folsom), Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream (a bit north on Harrison) and Dynamo Donuts (1.5 blocks east of Potrero). Wise & Sons Jewish Delicatessen and The Napper Tandy Irish Pub are popular ethnic places there. And, of course, there are dozens of places to pick up a taco, burrito (e.g., La Palma Mexicatessen) or tamale (e.g., Roosevelt Tamale Parlor, est. 1922). We can usually find parking on Potrero Ave. and walk up 24th St. to Mission St. from there … or around Garfield Square at 25th & Harrison.
In general this is just a great place to hang out. For example, besides providing a great first-hand look at Chicano culture this area has attracted several small book stores (e.g. Alley Cat Books, Modern Times Bookstore Collective, Press Works On Paper, Adobe Books & Arts Collective, etc.) driven out of such areas as Mission/Valencia St. by high rents. It is also the SF mecca of Chicano street art which you will see in many buildings and alleys. For more information 24th Street and about the many wall paintings concentrated in this area visit the Precita Eyes Visitor Center at 2981 24th St./Harrison.
Side Trip – Balmy Alley street art
Walk from 24th/Balmy St. one block south along Balmy Alley to the local park at Garfield Square (home of the annual Day of the Dead Celebration). Balmy Ave is the mother of the art mural scene.
Also check our Special Events Page preceding the event for other details.
- Cesar Chavez Day & 24th St. Festival 4/18/15 website
- Cinco de Mayo Festival 5/2/15 website
- Carnaval 5/23-5/24/15 website
- Day of the Dead 11/2/15 website