In many ways, San Franciscoâ€™s Mission District embodies the very nature of this ever-changing and vibrant city by the bay. The Mission offers the largest concentration of art murals in the city colorfully displayed on buildings and structures throughout the neighborhood. The Mission also has local culture heavily steeped in Latin-American influence expressed through the many restaurants, music, and residents who call this place home.
The architecture itself illustrates an aesthetic that is quintessentially San Francisco, which is fitting given that this neighborhood is the oldest in the city. From touring historic locations to indulging in signature dishes, here are several of the most beloved things to do in the Mission District.
Tour the Mission Dolores Basilica
A trip to the Mission District is simply not complete without a visit to the historic Mission Dolores Basilica - the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco. Founded in 1776, it remains the oldest original intact Mission in California, and is an architecturally captivating destination for anyone interested in the history of the city. Visitors can tour the basilica daily from 9am-4pm, and enjoy the neighboring coffee shops and restaurants along Dolores Street.
Relax at Mission Dolores Park
Several streets down from the Mission Dolores Basilica is one of the most popular parks and local hangouts in the city - Dolores Park. During the summer months, both residents and visitors flock to this beautiful paradise amidst an urban jungle to relax, play tennis, walk their dogs, buy artificial grass for dogs nearby, and enjoy the sunshine. On clear days, visitors who congregate toward the corner of the park at Church and 20th can enjoy a stunning view of the San Francisco skyline.
Indulge in a Mission Burrito
The famed Mission burrito (otherwise known as the San Francisco burrito) first began to grow in popularity during the 1960s in none other than the Mission District. Although this signature San Francisco dish is certainly not considered traditional Mexican food by any means, it has become a favorite among tourists and residents alike. The Mission burrito is characterized by its inclusion of ingredients not normally wrapped into a burrito, such as guacamole, extra rice, sour cream, and other delicious additions that come together to manifest a hearty and savory culinary experience. Although there are many taquerias that create this beloved dish, most locals agree that El Farolito offers the best Mission burrito in the city.
Savor the Finest French Pastries in Town
Tartine Bakery is unequivocally the best French bakery in town, offering a delectable variety of breakfast treats, coffee, and hot drinks, pressed sandwiches, and of course, pastries. The Pain Au Jambon (smoked ham & gruyere croissant) is simply to die for, and remains one of the shop’s most popular items among locals.
Enjoy a Walking Tour of the Mission District Murals
Countless buildings, fences, and structures scattered throughout the Mission are adorned with vibrant mural art that displays a diversity of themes, from political statements to cultural heritage. San Francisco boasts over 1,000 art murals all over the city, many of which are enormous and impressive in their level of detail and beauty, with the highest concentration located in the Mission district. Visitors should bring their best workout shoes and embark on a walking tour of these murals, starting at Balmy Alley, between 24th and 25th St., and Treat St. and Harrison St. This mural displays an outrage over political abuse and human rights in Central America, which contrasts the variety of art styles found at the Clarion Alley murals. For a comprehensive guide to the San Francisco murals, click here.
Appreciate Local Artistry
Several art shops, galleries, and studios exist all over this neighborhood dedicated to presenting the work of local artists in the community. Galeria de la Raza is one of these community-based art organizations that strives to foster public awareness of Latino/Chicano art - a sincere exemplification of cultural activism. Another revered Mission District art establishment is known as Southern Exposure, and is the oldest-remaining artist-owned live/work space in the city. This spot serves to cultivate the talents of local artists, while helping to expose their artwork and ideas to the local community in creative ways.
Visit a Popular Nightlife Attraction
Public Works SF is a multipurpose community and event space known for hosting a wide diversity of events that draws in crowds from all over the bay area to this impressive Mission District hangout. By daytime, it is often transformed into a decorative art gallery or workshop space, while at night it finds itself repurposed into a nightclub that features some of the world’s biggest DJs. One of the most popular events held at Public Works SF is Deep House Yoga, during which participants can enjoy a blend of rhythmic house music and classic yoga movements to open their minds and engage their bodies.
Partake in Vintage Thrift Shopping
The Mission District is also uniquely recognized for its many vintage thrift shops, from curated selections of expensive timeless pieces to inexpensive options that would appeal to any hipster’s taste of random apartment essentials. Most of these are located along Mission and Valencia Streets, such as Painted Bird and Afterlife Boutique.