By Shel Horowitz, Editor, Global Travel Review
In my many trips to San Francisco and the Bay area, I’ve tended not to go to the Mission District. I’d walked through it on my first trip to the city, way back in 1976, and remembered it as a depressing area with more than its share of derelicts. While it was not as raunchy as the Tenderloin, it was not, at that time, a place that inspired return visits.
Well, things have changed—somewhat. Valencia Street in particular has gotten somewhat chi-chi, with a wide range of restaurants (and prices), cafes, bookstores, and small shops. I met friends at Osha Thai: upscale and very tasty, with unusual—I’d even call them exotic—menu choices and yet very reasonable prices.
And the Mission is host to an incredible diversity of murals: I’m guessing well over 100, often stacked next to each other in rows of five or more. The largest concentration I saw was along the entire length of Clarion Alley, which runs east from Valencia near 17th Street to Mission (I only made it as far as Lexington halfway down). Themes range from Aztec gods to revolutionary hiphop culture, and artistic quality ranges from thoroughly brilliant to quite amateurish.
Another good collection is just east of Mission in the low 20s, behind and around of all things a Zipcar parking lot.
And then there’s the Women’s Building, whose four-storey corner edifice at 3543 18th Street has turned into a giant canvas for muralists on both street-facing sides.
While San Francisco is a charming, beautiful city, many parts of it lack sufficient trees. Not so Delores Street, a beautiful boulevard with a refreshingly green tree-lined median strip. At 16th is a large Spanish-style church, and immediately next to it is the mission of Saint Francis of Assisi, for whom the city is named.
The original mission dates to 1776, but this building was constructed a bit later, 1785-91.
Like Valencia, Mission Street has a number of food choices. I met another friend at Gracias Madre, a vegan Mexican restaurant, and from there, continued walking up Mission to 24th Street.
This is an area that time forgot. Crumbling old movie theaters, pawn shops, and yes, lots of derelicts curled up in doorways when not going through trash to salvage deposit bottles. Many of the buildings on this upper stretch have not been updated in decades.
And yet the impression was clean, and the murals were everywhere, and the streets were full of people who seemed engaged with their landscape.