As the heart and soul, or as our friends to the south say sol, of San Francisco, the Mission is a colorful neighborhood with no shortage of things to do or trouble to get into and more importantly, it's San Francisco's sunbelt! At its most brilliant between frenetic 16th St. and eclectic 24th St, Mission Street is the neighborhood's vibrant artery, and it pulses life 24 hours a day. The Mission is peppered with great eateries, bars, boutiques, and thrift stores, which attract devotees from the entire city and beyond.
The Mission takes its name from the Franciscan mission that was founded on the sunny expanse of what was to become San Francisco. Established in 1776 in order to convert the native Costanoan Indians, the building is San Francisco's oldest, and it is open for your perusal. As the rest of the city ballooned in the years following the Gold Rush, so did the Mission area, but its real coming-out party was after the great earthquake and fire of 1906. With a large portion of the city broken and smoldering, refugees flocked to the Mission to rebuild. Numerous shops, stores, and saloons quickly sprouted and flourished.
Waves of immigrants migrated to the Mission over the ensuing fifty years, starting with the Polish and then the Irish, but it was the Mexican and Central American immigrants that truly found a home on the streets of the Mission. Although the Dot Com boom of the early 90s brought steady gentrification to the area, the old Latino culture remains - and the new mix of trendy bars, restaurants, and boutiques all add to the area's eclectic charm.
Two types of establishments rule the Mission: taquerias and bars, entities that have here forged a bond as tight as peanut butter and jelly. 16th and Mission streets have numerous dive bars – Kilowatt, Double Dutch, Elixir, Beauty Bar, Delirium, just to name a few – but they can get overwhelmingly crowded on the weekends. Off of the main drags, bars tend to be a little less populated; Phone Booth on South Van Ness and 500 Club on Guerrero are two bars that tend to have a little more elbowroom. To have the quintessential Mission experience, try washing down your cheap libations with Mexican fair and a convivial spirit will surely ensue. Stomachs are always happy after a few beers and a super quesadilla from Castillito (17th and Mission) or tacos from Vallarta (24th and Capp). Without a doubt, this is one aspect of the Mission not to missed; the perfect bond between bar and taqueria.
If you are looking to take advantage of some of that Mission sunshine, there is plenty to do on the streets: San Francisco is renowned for street art, and there is no finer display of it than in the Mission and its murals. Ranging in styles and themes from cartoon graffiti to political agitprop, the murals are colorful, passionate, and intoxicating to view. Balmy Alley, between Treat Ave. and Harrison St, is the oldest and most popular with its intricate paintings and collages. Between Valencia and Mission streets is Clarion Alley, which boasts some excellent art and a huge mural of a very real-looking escalator. Many more murals adorn alleyways and building walls all over the Mission, and the best way to find them is to wander whimsically with attentive eyes.
Shopping is another major draw of the Mission, and there are numerous intriguing, eclectic stores and boutiques as there are Mexican food joints and bars. Thrift shopping is at its best here, and Thrift Town on Mission and Community Thrift on Valencia are the best. Smaller thrift stores bordering on vintage shops are around as well but a little pricier. Junk stores, bookshops, shoe boutiques, one-dollar emporiums, and bike shops fill the storefronts and provide any window shopper with some serious eye candy.