The Mission District is an energetic and diverse neighborhood with a rich history.
The Mission District is San Francisco's center of arts and culture. It’s an eclectic mix of old and new that embodies the spirit and the history of the city as a whole.
The Mission District is named after the Mission San Francisco de Asís, which was founded in 1776 by a Spanish priest named Father Francisco Palóu. The mission was moved from its original location on the shore of Laguna Dolores in 1783 and construction was completed in 1791. It is the oldest surviving structure in the city, having stood through major earthquakes in 1906 and 1989.
Before the arrival of the Spanish missionaries, the Yelamu Indians (a subsect of the Ohlone people who populated much of the San Francisco bay area) inhabited the region for over 2,000 years. In the early 1800s the area was a popular site for bull and bear fighting, horse racing, and dueling. From 1865 to 1891, a combination amusement park, museum, art gallery, zoo, and aquarium called Woodward's Gardens was a popular attraction. After the gold rush the Mission became home to the first professional baseball stadium in California, the Recreation Grounds. 2 more baseball stadiums were soon built in the neighborhood as well.
During the 19th century the Mission was home mostly to Irish and German immigrant workers. During the restructuring after the 1906 earthquake, Mission Street was established as a major commercial thoroughfare. In the 1940s through the 1960s, a large number of Mexican immigrants moved into the area. The 1970’s and 1980s saw an influx of LGBTQ people (the Valencia Street corridor became one of the most concentrated and visible lesbian neighborhoods in the USA) and the development of vibrant punk scene. Civil wars and political instability around the world in the 1980s and 1990s brought a new wave of immigrants from Central America, South America, the Middle East, the Philippines, and former Yugoslavia into the neighborhood.
The dot com boom in the late 1990s changed the city as a whole. Silicon Valley became a global center for high technology and innovation, attracting the offices of major technology companies like Google and Facebook and flooding the area with affluent young urban professionals. Mission District, being an historic transit hub, was no exception. The demand for housing in an already sparse market drove prices up and is considered the first instance of modern gentrification.
The residents that lived in Mission District (who were mostly minorities and low-income families) protested and engaged in activism. They created a group called the “Plaza 16 Coalition,” which advocated for affordable housing, opposing market-rate developments and luxury developments. Though the Mission lost 20% of its Latino population and rents and housing costs rose, it remains the cultural epicenter of San Francisco's Mexican/Chicano (and Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan) community, and is still artist friendly.
The Mission District’s history is not just a footnote about what happened in the past. Instead, the past is very visible alongside (and often overlapping) with the present. It’s part of what makes the neighborhood unique, and can be clearly seen in its landmarks and attractions.
The original Mission Dolores itself, for example, operates as a museum and California Historical Landmark while the newer basilica (built in 1918)next to it continues to have an active congregation. The Women's Building, a women-led non-profit arts and education community center and an icon of the Mission’s LGBTQ community, is also the site of one of the many murals of Latin American culture by local artists. The San Francisco Armory is a castle-like building that was built as an armory for the U.S. Army and California National Guard but later was the headquarters of BDSM porn production company Kink.com. There’s even an indoor steampunk themed miniature golf course inside a Victorian mortuary.
The Mission is centrally located near public transportation, highways, and several main thoroughfares with easy access to northern and southern neighborhoods, the Peninsula and the Bay Bridge to the East Bay and beyond. Warmer and sunnier than most neighborhoods, outdoor space can be enjoyed at Mission Dolores Park to the west, Precita Park to the south, and Duboce Park to the north. Those that live in the Mission are fiercely loyal to the neighborhood, whether newly-minted residents or multi-generational families.
The rich cultural (and economic) diversity of the Mission means that there is an expansive variety of food options, from ubiquitous food trucks to several fine restaurants with Michelin stars. Valencia Street has seen new development in recent years including boutique stores and new popular restaurants such as Lazy Bear, Flour & Water Pizzeria, and Limon, plus the famous Tartine bakery on Guerrero. One block from Valencia, Mission Street boasts some old favorites including Foreign Cinema, La Taqueria (voted America’s Best Burrito in 2014), Mission Chinese, and Taqueria Cancun. Be sure to stop by La Palma, Panadería La Reyna, Roosevelt Tamale Parlor, and La Torta Gorda just to name a few.
East-west 24th Street, also known as Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, is the true heart of the Mission and the center of Latino culture in San Francisco. 24th Street features several legacy businesses, including the Brava Theater and Juan R. Fuentes Art Gallery. Don’t miss the abundant murals in the neighborhood, such as the Women’s Building, Clarion Alley, and Balmy Alley. Stop at Precita Eyes Visitors Center for a mural tour if the choices are too overwhelming!
The Mission has always been home to a thriving community of musicians of all kinds. Mariachi bands play in restaurants throughout the district (especially around Valencia and Mission). It was home to several influential punk bands, including The Offs, The Avengers, the Dead Kennedys, and Flipper, alternative acts like Luscious Jackson, Faith No More, The Looters, Primus, Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express, Beck, Jawbreaker, and El Metate, and rap/hip-hop artists like Goldtoes, Mousie, Gangsta Flea, The Goodfelonz, Mr. Kee, 10sion, and Don Louis & Colicious. You can also find classical music in the concert hall of the Community Music Center.
The Mission District is where the hip residents enjoy the city’s rich culinary tapestry and celebrate its living history through vibrant art.