SAN FRANCISCO’s BEST ●Attractions●Neighborhoods/Shopping+Restaurants
MISSION DISTRICT’s BEST
VALENCIA STREET CORRIDOR
The length of this street is filled with restaurants and boutiques. But action central seems to be around 16th Street, where venues fan out in both directions along that street as well.
traveling north to south
Stuff #150. Free parking. This collective of 60+ small business sell furniture, clothing, jewelry, and antiques, plus plenty of vintage, retro, and mid-century modern.
Zeitgeist #199/Duboce St., 4 blks. from Market St. www.zeitgeistsf.com. Cash only. Though the exterior looks foreboding--it’s a corner bar with a closed door--the pleasant sounds emanating from over the tall fence enclosing the beer garden softens the first impression. On my visit, we just went on in, past the impressive bar, to the back room to check out the pool table, and then on into the back gravel-topped beer garden where we found a shaded spot. The garden is furnished with weather-worn oversize picnic tables and sheltering umbrellas. The two trees don’t do much in the way of providing shelter, but they do add a bit of green garden feel, as do some random plants along the edge. And you can still hear the birds chirping over the loudish rock, which this Sunday afternoon included “Sunday Morning,” a personal favorite. It is totally self-service here, so head to the pool-table room to place your food order (the menu is on the wall), then secure your drink at the busy bar. Note that sometimes there are biker dudes here, and sometimes there is live music. We opted for the bratwurst in a bun with a side of well-cooked fried potatoes and a Pilsner, but I’ve heard the burger is really good and the place is famous for their Bloody Marys. From the more than 40 beers on tap, most are from California, and the most popular is a Weihenstephan ale.
300 BLOCK/ending at 15th St.
Four Barrel Coffee #375. Operating in a striking open industrial-style space with high ceiling, this popular coffeehouse indulges in latte art and serves drinks in unusual ceramic cups. In the back, you can see the bean-roasting process. Pastries are good, and donuts are from Dynamo. Art displays change regularly, and there is no Wi-Fi.
400 BLOCK/ending at 16th St.
Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen #401. Arepas are the signature item in this cheery spot with citrus-colored walls, but cachapas, maize'wiches, empanadas, and yuca fries—all popular Venezuelan street foods--as well as sweet plantains, soups, and salads are also available. Beverages include the house coconut lemonade slush, red and white sangrias, craft beers on tap, wine by the glass, and guarapita--a Venezuelan daiquiri-style drink.
Samovar Tea #411. This is a tea bar, not a lounge. Seating is minimal, though there is a nice little parklet out front. You’ll find both hot and iced teas galore here--think masala chai tea with almond milk, and iced cacao with fresh peppermint and aromatic lavender. Pastries. too.
Venga Empanadas #443. This small shop specializes in handmade empanadas with a plethora of fillings. They are made fresh daily, baked not fried, and include vegetarian and vegan options. Favorite fillings include Argentine beef, chicken with corn, and scrambled egg with spinach. I slathered the soooo gooood chimichurri sauce on my vegetarian Five Pepper Manchego (with poblano chiles and jalapeños). There is also a good selection of salads, and dessert comes in the form of tasty alfajores de maicena cookies. A small seating area consists of high tables and bar stools.
16th Street takes you several blocks west to Mission Dolores, and one block east to the 16th Street BART station
Mission San Francisco de Asis/Mission Dolores 3321 16th St./Dolores St.
BART station 200 Mission St.
500 BLOCK/ending at 17th St.
decorative sidewalk grating
Arinell Pizza #509. This is thin-crust New York-style pizza. More description.
Bon Voyage #584. This spot is driven by cocktails but also serves up a complementary menu of Asian dishes and dumplings. The atmospheric old-time Singapore Sling is served here in several versions, and the original is not too sweet but is instead just right. The tropica- jungle theme features live palms and sweet touches like a huge monkey-bowl to hold citrus for the barkeep. An upstairs hide-away area sometimes opens.
600 BLOCK/ending at 18th St.
Clarion Alley murals 47 Clarion Alley, betw. Mission St. & Valencia St. San Francisco’s Mission District has long been rich with murals. One popular mural collaboration occurs in Clarion Alley, located on one block that runs between Mission Street and Valencia Street. Painting in this one-block-long alley started with artists who lived in warehouse around the corner on 17th Street. It had a loading door that opened on to Clarion Alley. The building was torn down in 2002, and now this alley art is overseen informally by volunteers for The Clarion Alley Mural Project. You never know what you’ll see, and what is there one time might be painted over by the next time. Surprisingly, tours are available. Plenty of restaurants and shops are just around the corner.
Good Vibrations #603. Everything sex-related is purveyed in this woman-friendly shop--colorful and novelty condoms, edible flavored massage oils, lollipops in all sorts of shapes, plus vibrators, dildos, and even books.
CTS Community Thrift Store #623. Though this exceptional thrift store has no dressing rooms or children’s items, it does have low prices and a great book section. It is also well stocked with “real” retro items.
18th Street takes you west to Mission Dolores Park and the Castro District
Mission Dolores Park 19th & Dolores St.; bounded by Church, Dolores, 18th, & 20th streets. Daily 6am-10pm. The Muni Metro J-Church Line runs along the park’s western edge. Named for nearby Mission Dolores, this popular park encompasses almost 16 acres. Perfect for a picnic, it has lush green lawns, and mature palm trees provide some shade. You also can enjoy a spectacular city skyline view. Facilities include a soccer field, 6 tennis courts, a basketball court, a multi-use court, a playground, and 2 off-leash dog play areas. Special events are often scheduled.
Bi-Rite Market 3639 18th St./Guerrero St. Located on the northwest corner of the park, the deli counter here will fulfill your picnic fantasies. They also stock a good selection of kombucha, and for dessert check out the wall of chocolate bars or pick up some of the house-made chocolate mousse or a dessert jar. Or . . . cross the street to the Bi-Rite Creamery for some yummy ice cream to eat before your picnic.
Pizzeria Delfina 3611 18th St./Dolores St., Named after Ristorante da Delfina in Artimino, Tuscany, where the chef worked in 1991, this spot prepares house-cured meats and hand-made pastas. It is known for great thin-crust pizza but also makes a delicious pappardelle and lamb sugo with black-eyed peas, grilled quail with spring onion bread salad, and buttermilk panna cotta.
Tartine Bakery 600 Guerrero St./18th St. This small bakery-cafe is famous for its huge loaves of country-style bread made with organic ingredients and wild yeasts. The bread is used for toast at breakfast and in sandwiches at lunch. A line generally snakes out the door, and seating space is limited and parking space difficult to find. Still, everything is so delicious that patrons seem not to mind. Pastries include an exquisite sugary morning bun, a jewel of an éclair, and the flakiest of croissants. Loaves of bread are available for purchase only after 4 p.m. The best plan of attack is to have one person get in the order line while another holds a table, preferably while sipping a drink purchased quickly at the back counter. One of the oversize sandwiches--the croque monsieur is popular and ready immediately, while other pressed hot sandwiches require a 10-minute wait--plus a dessert pastry can easily fill two diners. Organic ingredients, local eggs, and Niman Ranch meats are used.
700 BLOCK/ending at 19th St.
Note that the west side of this street is the side to stroll.
Dandelion Chocolate #740. Modeled after Parisian chocolate salons, where items are produced on site, this shop also has a section in the back.where you can watch the various chocolate items being made. In the style of Europe, the chocolates aren't overly sweet and many boast unique flavors. Samples are provided so you can taste before you buy. And though items are a bit pricey, they are top quality. The shop has a variety of seating where you can relax and enjoy a treat. For drinks, the European Drinking Chocolate is thick and yummy--reminiscent of pudding-like hot chocolate I have enjoyed in Spain. Lighter hot cocoa and mocha are also options. The Chef's Tasting platter contains a selection of mini pastries that might include a s'more bar marshmallow cookie, a profierole cream puff frosted with chocolate, and maybe a fruity macaron.
Cha-Ya #762. The Japanese menu here is all vegan. More description.
800 BLOCK/ending at 20th St.
Paxton Gate #824. Think taxidermy. The plethora of oddities here includes turkey claws as well as fossils, minerals, and skulls. Items are related to natural sciences, and it is comforting to know that all are ethically sourced.
826 Valencia #826. This non-profit writing workshop and tutoring center for kids ages 8 to 18 was started in 2002 by Dave Eggers, who is the author of “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” and more. Volunteers allow this shop to offer its services for free, and workshops are held in a spacious room in the back. The empire has expanded to NYC, Los Angeles, Seattle, and beyond.
To satisfy a city ordinance, the front of this space operates as a Pirate Supply Store that sells pirate clothing, eyepatches, compasses, spyglasses, pirate dice, skull flags, and more. It features handmade signs and secret treasures scattered around the store. All proceeds go to running the workshops.
City Art Cooperative Gallery #828. Price are kept affordable by the artists who themselves operated this shop since 1998. It shows everything from mixed medium to jewelry to canvas paintings. Opening parties are scheduled on the first Friday of each month.
Borderlands Books #866. This small independent bookstore has a little bit of everything.
900 BLOCK/ending at 21st St.
Many well-cared-for Victorian houses are located on this block.
1000 BLOCK/ending at 22nd St.
Ritual Coffee Roasters #1026.
Casa Bonampak #1051. In addition to a plethora of Trump, Hillary, and other political pinata heads for bashing at your party, you can order specialty items for a customized fiesta.
Udupi Palace #1007. All menu items are vegan. More description.
Boogaloos 3296 22nd St./Valencia St. Comfy booths line the walls of this large open room, while mosaics provide accents and artwork by individuals with disabilities cheer up the walls. After the usual wait, service is quick. Scramblers are made to order from a list of ingredients, and several variations of eggs Benedict are options. Lemon-cornmeal pancakes, a spicy Mexican-style breakfast, and even The Basic--two eggs and homefries--are also on the menu. Breakfast is served all day, but at lunch sandwiches, soups, and salads join the menu. The housemade savory biscuits are the best, and many vegetarian choices are provided.
1100 BLOCK/ending at 23rd St.
The Scarlet Sage Herb Co. #1193. Herbs and potions and even tarot cards are found in this old-timey medicine shop. Dark and atmospheric, it sports unfinished original wood floors that even creak.
1200 BLOCK/ending at 24th St.
Cut Loose #1218. This is the factory outlet store for this brand of clothing made of natural fabrics and cut loose for an easy fit.
Arizmendi Bakery #1268. Featuring an all-vegetarian menu, this worker cooperative makes just one kind of pizza per day. It starts coming out of the oven at 11:30 a.m.
You can also buy a half-baked pizza to finish cooking at home. Items not to miss include cheese rolls, scones, focaccia, donuts, artisan breads, cookies, and much more. It’s grab and go.