WRITTEN BY Rachael Medina
Rachael Medina is the staff writer and content manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests of Humboldt C…See full bio
The Mission, San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood and the location of California’s first baseball stadium, is encapsulated in history and culture. This district gives off an entirely different air than the rest of the city due to its colorful murals, diversity of residents and cuisines, and sense of community. The best way to see this area is on foot, so grab your walking shoes, hop on BART, and prepare for a day packed with adventure.
Get off at the 24th Street Mission BART station, and start the day off right at Dynamo Donut + Coffee. This Mission classic opened in 2008, equipped with an arsenal of seasonal, local, and organic recipes. While the daily flavors like caramel de sel, passionfruit milk chocolate, and chocolate star anise are delightful, the seasonal offerings—such as January’s meyer lemon huckleberry, March’s hazelnut lavender, and June’s strawberry Earl Grey—are even more drool-worthy. Pair these tasty treats with an aromatic cup of coffee from the beautiful 20th Street location of Sightglass Coffee, whose reclaimed redwood ceiling, white tile floor, and open espresso bar enhance the experience. Alternatively, go to the Valencia location of Ritual Coffee Roasters, which introduced San Francisco to the third-wave coffee movement’s direct trade, lighter roasts, and single-origin coffee back in 2005.
After satisfying your sweet tooth and getting your caffeine fix, head down toward 26th Street for a sense of the region’s history. Garfield Square holds the last remaining portion of Recreation Grounds, California’s first baseball stadium, which opened in 1868. This development was due to an influx of residents coming from all over the world during the Gold Rush.
The Mission District has welcomed immigrants from diverse backgrounds since its settlement, from the predominantly German, Italian, and Irish immigrants who arrived in 1868 to the Central American, Middle Eastern, and South American immigrants who came in the 1980s. The great mixture of worldviews and residents in the Mission has contributed to its culture today.
To see how history and culture have influenced the Mission’s art, head to the Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors Center. Murals play a huge role in articulating the essence of the Mission District, decorating many streets, neighborhoods, and the walls of local businesses.
Satisfy your hunger and fuel your explorations with the Mission’s famous Mexican cuisine. Although there are tons of restaurants that could conquer your cravings, there are two standouts: Gracias Madre and La Taqueria.
Gracias Madre is a new Mission staple, featuring seasonal vegan ingredients (that don’t taste vegan!), which the owners primarily grow themselves at Be Love Farm in Solano County. With glorious cheeses crafted from nuts (like cashew queso), handmade non-GMO tortillas, tempeh chorizo, and freshly-mashed guacamole, this gourmet decadence will leave you feeling full and ready to conquer the day.
La Taqueria, a longtime Mission go-to, serves up some of the best tacos and burritos in the Bay Area. These rice-free specialties combine delicious flavors with simplicity, leading to consistent out-the-door lines and a 40-plus year legacy. When visiting for the first time, get the neighborhood’s own Mission-style burrito—filled with meat, beans, salsa, and hot sauce (just add cheese for the full experience).
Walk off your lunch with a trip to the popular Mission Dolores Park. This landmark is comprised of playgrounds, several tennis courts, and the highly photographed rolling hills. Spread out a blanket in the grassy fields to enjoy the day alongside picnicking families and frisbee-throwing locals.
Bi-Rite Creamery is hardly optional, so make sure to save room for some small-batch ice cream. Not only is the ice cream made by hand, but also everything that goes into it, including the marshmallows, brownies, and graham crackers. Top off your creation with spiced pecans, flaky salt, and olive oil for a unique experience you will not soon forget.
Spend the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets and shops that make up the Mission. Pick up some used books you have been meaning to read at Dog Eared Books, inspire your curiosity as you wander through the shelves of tropical plants and oddities at Paxton Gate, and build your ideal ride at Mission Bicycle Company to help you see the rest of the city. Before moving on to the next destination, stop by La Palma Mexicatessen to grab a bag of San Francisco’s favorite tortillas. These handmade and machine-made tortillas have been crafted from the freshest ingredients—without preservatives—since the shop’s inception in 1953. You can even watch the workers press the tortillas right in front of your eyes.
Next, head over to Urban Putt, the city’s only indoor mini golf course, for a dose of whimsy and a touch of charm. The 14 holes of this imaginative location are inspired by the San Francisco earthquake, a submarine, and many other creative surprises. The long lines are worth the wait to experience this one-of-a-kind attraction.
With so many fantastic restaurants in the Mission, appetizers, entrées, and digestifs should all be consumed separately, with a nice leisurely walk in between. Start your evening food journey with starters at Media Noche. The quaint counter is complemented by multi-patterned tile flooring, bistro stools, and the colors of Cuba—and the flavors are as captivating as the decor. Perfectly crunchy empanadas are paired with the restaurant’s famous green sauce and are ideal for sharing. For something lighter, order the ceviche—made with shrimp, avocado, and cilantro, and finished with a squeeze of lime juice. Though it would be easy to spend hours here, the entrées at the next stop await.
Indulge in an elegant dinner by choosing between two of the Mission’s shining stars: Tartine Manufactory and Foreign Cinema. While these renowned restaurants have distinct personalities, both offer incredible food, service, and atmospheres.
Tartine Manufactory has become synonymous with bread and pastries in the Bay Area. While you are here, do not skip out on the country bread and butter, as the impeccable baking skills of Tartine’s artisans are precisely what put the bakery and café on the map. This location offers a wide array of vegan and seafood specialties, clean plating, and intricate flavor combinations.
Foreign Cinema, as you may expect, provides dinnertime entertainment in the form of movies projected out on the patio. Less expected, however, is the exquisite menu of oysters on the half shell; urban picnic items like succulent Mediterranean olives, creamy fondue paired with crostini, fingerling potatoes, and radishes; and a featured dish of lavender-brined pork chops.
Finish off the evening with dessert at Flour and Water to taste the unrestrained inspiration of Italy-meets-Northern-California cuisine. Experience the chocolate budino with salted espresso cream or pistachio and the green tea semifreddo topped with kiwi and olive oil. Pair these with an almond milk cappuccino as you ponder how it was that you ever lived without visiting the dynamic Mission District.
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