San Francisco
Mission District’s best

A melange of Mexican, Central American, and other Latino heritages, the historically Hispanic Mission District has been undergoing big-time change.  Though it still seems to have an atmospheric taqueria on every corner, it has seen an influx of trendy shops, bars, and restaurants.  Do be on the lookout for the numerous murals that decorate the neighborhood walls.  Mission and 24th streets projects a south-of-the-border attitude, while Valencia Street leans more to the young and hip with its peppering of cafes, bookstores, and vintage-clothing shops. 

The action is centered at Mission and 24th streets, but radiates out in all directions.

For a compact tour, begin at Mission Dolores (16th/Dolores streets), stroll east on 16th Street to Valencia Street, then south to 24th Street, then left/east to the 2800 block. 

Getting here by public transportation:  There are two BART stations in the neighborhood.  One at 16th Street/Mission Street and the other at 24th Street/Mission Street. 
Parking is particularly difficult.  Some streets permit parking in the middle of the street on certain days. 

Mission District annual event

Carnaval San Francisco 
May.  Free. 
This spectacular Mardi Gras-like revel is a multicultural celebration of life.  It includes a parade and a 2-day outdoor festival.

girls in bright feathers at Carnaval San Francisco
girls in bright feathers at Carnaval San Francisco;
image courtesy of venue

Mission Street (north)

Note that most of Mission Street seems a cross between the blight encountered in Tijuana and the bustle found in Jackson Heights in Queens, New York.  It has not been gentrified, though a few more upscale restaurants have found a home here.  There isn’t much of interest between the two BART stations except for marijuana outlets and tattoo parlors.

24th Street BART Station 
SW corner of Mission St./24th St.

La Taqueria
2889 Mission St./25th St.  No credit cards. 
For fast food Mexican-style, step through one of the two arches here and head to the order counter.  Then pick a table, and kick back.  Entertainment is provided by a colorful folk mural decorating one wall, by cooks in the open kitchen busily preparing orders, and by a jukebox with Mexican music.  The menu is simple:  either a taco made with two steamed corn tortillas or a burrito made with a flour tortilla.  Fillings are a choice of pork, beef, sausage, chicken, or vegetarian (beans and cheese).  Pinto beans and fresh tomato salsa round things out; avocado and sour cream cost a bit more.  In 2014, the carnitas super burrito, dorado style, was named by FiveThirtyEight as the best burrito in the U.S., and was praised especially for its juiciness.  Depending on the season, delicious housemade fresh fruit drinks include strawberry, cantaloupe, orange, banana, and pineapple.

Pick up a walk-away dessert next door at Dianda’s Italian-American Pastry, where everything is made from scratch and the cannoli are particularly good.  

exterior of La Taqueria in San Francisco, California
exterior of La Taqueria

El Farolito 
2779 Mission St./24th St. Cash only. 
This is the original of a mini-chain of popular taquerias.  Mission-style burritos are available here as a “regular” burrito–with rice and beans, salsa, and your choice of meat–or a “super” burrito–the same size but with cheese, sour cream, and avocado.  Good nachos, tacos on mini corn tortillas, quesadillas Suiza, and aguas fresca are also on the menu.  Decor includes neon-colored booths, and a jukebox defines the atmosphere.

Foreign Cinema 
2534 Mission St./21st St. 
Operating within the dramatically remodeled interior of a former department store in which everything was ripped out and left bare and trendy, this wildly popular spot attracts the hordes down its long, votive-lit corridor to party and feast.  Seating is either on an open-air patio (covered by a canopy in cool weather and well-heated), where diners can watch the foreign flick of the week, or in the roaring main dining room with its 20-foot-tall ceiling.  Specialties include an expansive oyster bar, baked cheese with roasted potatoes, curry-roasted chicken, and chocolate pot de crème.  Several communal tables are available for walk-ins. 

20th Street (east)

The David Ireland House 
500 Capp St./20th St., 1 blk. E of Mission St.
This was once home to the late American conceptual artist David Ireland and is now operated as a private museum.  More description and images.

901 S. Van Ness Ave./20th St., 2 blks. E of Mission St. 
This cheerfully decorated Mexican restaurant serves its popular breakfast item through lunch.  More description and images.

24th Street (east)

3100 block

Taqueria Guadalajara 
3146 24th St./Shotwell St. 
Burritos, tacos, a salsa bar, and hand-painted murals.  What more could you want?  Unless you’re starving, go with the Super Baby Burrito.

Taqueria Guadalajara 
3146 24th St./Shotwell St. 
Burritos, tacos, a salsa bar, and hand-painted murals.  What more could you want?  Unless you’re starving, go with the Super Baby Burrito.

counter and menu at Taqueria Guadalajara in San Francisco, California
counter and menu at Taqueria Guadalajara

Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen 
3150 24th St./Shotwell St. 
You’ll find Jewish classics and sandwiches here.  Meat is prepared in house and stacked high in the pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, and each includes a heaping side of delicious potato salad or coleslaw and some pickle spears.  Rye bread, challah, and babka are baked fresh.  The Downtown Special consisting of a half sandwich, side salad, and matzo ball soup is a bargain.

Luz de Luna 
3182 24th St./S. Van Ness Ave. 
This store is stuffed to the brim with everything Mexican, and has more Frida Kahlo than the gift shop at the Frida Kahlo house museum in Mexico City

interior of Luz de Luna shop in San Francisco, California
interior of Luz de Luna shop

3000 block

Alley Cat Books 
3036 24th St./Balmy St. 
All the appreciated features of a small independent bookstore plus a Zoltar Fortune Telling Machine in the back. 

exterior of Alley Cat Books in San Francisco, California
exterior of Alley Cat Books

Balmy Alley 
off 24th St. to 25th St. & Garfield Square, parallel to Treat Ave and Harrison St.  
A fine collection of outdoor murals runs down this alley.  Balmy Alley is a one-block-long alley that is home to the most concentrated collection of murals in the city of San Francisco.  Since 1973, most buildings on the street have been decorated with a mural. 

Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream 
Off 24th St., at 2790A Harrison St. 
Among the crazy flavors are Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee, Secret Breakfast, and bourbon and cereal flakes.  But don’t miss the Jesus Juice or Bourbon Coke Float.

Haus Coffee 
3086 24th St./Folsom St. 
This is not your usual coffeehouse.  It has a minimalist decor, a great back patio with umbrellas, free Wi-Fi, and plenty of room to spread out. 

interior of Haus in San Francisco, California
interior of Haus

2900 block

Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center 
2981 24th St./Harrison St.  
Guided tours of the area’s murals are scheduled on most Saturdays and Sundays.

exterior of Precita Eyes center in San Francisco, California
exterior of Precita Eyes center

2800 block

La Palma Mexicatessen 
2884 24th St./Florida St.  No cards. 
All that’s needed for a picnic feast is a can of refried beans, a few avocados, and some handmade corn tortillas freshly cooked on huge griddles in the back of the grocery.  Or just order up a made-to-order taco or burrito.  And don’t forget to pick up some fresh housemade tortillas, tamales, and Salvadorean papusas (tortillas stuffed with cheese and spicy pork) to take home.  Mexican and Central American cooking supplies and colorful, inexpensive piñatas are also available. 

goods for sale at La Palma Mexica-Tessen in San Francisco, California
goods for sale at La Palma Mexica-Tessen

St. Francis Fountain 
2801 24th St./York St. 
Here since 1918, this informal cafe retains its old-time wooden booths and counter with swivel stools, and it claims to be the oldest ice cream parlor in San Francisco.  Specialties include a Guinness float and a hot vanilla shake.  The menu features typical diner fare, including pancakes, waffles, soups, salads, sandwiches, and burgers, plus many vegan options. 

interior counter seating at St. Francis Fountain in San Francisco, California
nterior counter seating at St. Francis Fountain

(; copyright Carole Terwilliger Meyers)