• Jefferson Graham

Explore San Francisco's historic and colorful Mission District with me

Updated: Aug 7

Think San Francisco and most folks naturally glam onto the images of Cable Cars, the Golden Gate Bridge, a crooked street, noisy sea lions and some amazing Chinese and Italian food.

Today, let’s think a little differently with a visit to the Mission District, home to the oldest intact building in the city, the best free, never-ending art show and authentic, awesome Mexican food.




WEATHER

When it’s foggy downtown, it can often be sunny and warm in the Mission.

The famous San Francisco fog is blocked by the huge Twin Peaks park, which creates a pocket of clear skies and warm air. Keep the jacket on in Fisherman’s Wharf, and ditch it when you get to the Mission.



HISTORY

The oldest still intact San Francisco building is in the Mission, and it’s a stunner. Built in 1776, yes, that 1776, the year our country was formed, the “Old Mission Delores” is a classic Spanish style church with a spooky backyard cemetery that’s the only one of its kind within city limits. Alfred Hitchcock filmed his love letter to San Francisco, “Vertigo” back there in 1958.

Photo opps? Check it out.







ART

I recently filmed two episodes of my Photowalks travel photography series in the Mission in 2022, and discovered what amounted to the world’s greatest free art gallery.

As one of the oldest neighborhoods in San Francisco, the Mission has historically been home to a heavily Latino population. Murals are a way of life in latin cultures, and continued there as immigrants made a home in the Mission.

The murals initially were a way for the new residents to express their feelings about the homes they had fled, and morphed in the 1980s into political statements about human rights and political abuses in Central America and today many murals decry the gentrification, fueled by the tech boom, which has caused many of the area to flee, as rents have steadily risen.

Or, they just celebrate their culture.

While in the Mission, we were lucky to meet Ernesto A. Paul, a prolific muralist who has 12 murals on display in and around the 24th Street area. Beyond Ernesto’s murals, the best collection of area murals and street art are on display right off 24th Street, in Balmy Alley.

On the Photowalks episode, Ernesto shows us his favorite area murals, topped with his masterpiece, inside a local laundromat. Highlights below.










FOOD

Authentic Mexican food that tastes as great as it looks and is rather economical? Welcome to the Mission. Two restaurants stand out: Taqueria Vallarta (3033 24th Street) is right next to Balmy Alley, and has a taco truck like stand inside for affordable street tacos. Or you can choose from the usual selection of Mexican fare. Highly recommended.

As we show in the Mission PhotowalksTV episode, La Palma Mexicatessen (2284 24th Street) has been churning out great Mexican food since 1953. Beyond the tasty tamales, La Palma says it’s also known for Carnitas, Chicharron, Chile Verde, Chile Colorado and Pollo en Salsa Ranchera.

You can’t go wrong with either.



WHAT ABOUT CRIME?

The Mission is a very large area, covering two zip codes and over 1.4 square miles. In a nutshell, there are good parts and bad ones. I have visited the Mission many times in 2022, and had no issues whatsoever beyond two homeless people asking for donations.

In the 24th Street conclave, the heart of the Mission, and home to the best art and food, I didn’t see the avalanche of tent/encampments that I saw in other parts of the city. That said, I shot the episode on an iPhone, and left my big camera gear at home, just in case. But that’s how I operate all over San Francisco these days.



SUGGESTED ROUTE

Come to the Mission and get yourself to 24th Street. Walk around and enjoy the shops, art and food. Then get yourself to the Mission. (A great local eatery, the Duboce Cafe, is three blocks away.)

The walk to the Mission on 16th is a long one from 24th, (about 30 minutes) but certainly doable. The local BART train also has stops at both 16th and 24th, making it easy to take public transportation to one of the hippest, historic and most authentic neighborhoods in San Francisco.




















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