Culture + Style

Live Like a Local in San Francisco’s Mission District

For those who’ve traveled within Latin America, the hustle and bustle at the corner of 24th and Mission streets in San Francisco’s Mission District might feel familiar. Palm trees swaying overhead, fruit stands piled high, gorgeous murals lining the streets, food carts slinging elote (grilled street corn) and the constant buzz of activity are reminiscent of the area’s Latin roots.

The Mission District is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods; in fact, the oldest building in San Francisco — Mission Dolores, est. 1776 — still stands there. Despite the area’s recent influx of young tech entrepreneurs, the Mission remains a traditionally Mexican neighborhood (along with smaller populations from Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua) where one can still procure a delicious burrito and a cheap bag of pan dulce, as well as high-end fare.

mission district san francisco
The Mission Dolores. (Photo: Getty Images)

From its first days as the home to the Ohlone people to its post-colonial Latin identity and the new wave of tech denizens, the Mission offers a distinct experience that feels a world apart from most of San Francisco. Head down to the corner of 24th and Mission and start your journey into one of the city’s most treasured neighborhoods.

The Traditional Latin Experience

You can’t walk a block from the 24th and Mission BART station without tripping over at least one panadería. These bakeries typically feature an assortment of doughy delights referred to as pan dulce. At La Mejor (3329 24th Street) or La Reyna Bakery, ask for a concha, a sweet bread shaped like a seashell. You can fill up a bag with pan dulce for a mere $5 to $7 — cash only, of course.

Burn off some of those calories with a stroll down to Balmy Alley, an outdoor mural gallery just off of 24th Street between Treat Avenue and Harrison Street. The alley has been home to mural art — particularly of the political variety — since 1973, when the group Mujeres Muralistas (women muralists) first painted a junglelike underwater scene. Balmy Alley remains a colorful, dynamic space for Latinx artists to express their creativity.

mission district san francisco
A mural in Balmy Alley. (Photo: Getty Images)

Hungry again? Grab a coffee — with mint! — at Philz Coffee around the corner from Balmy Alley. Then track down the Mission Fruit Cart along Mission between 21st and 23rd streets and order elote. This ear of street corn often comes either boiled or slightly charred from a grill. From there, you can add salt, lime and chili powder. Also consider snapping up a serving of the mango with chili and lime.

If you need something more substantial, head to the always-busy La Taqueria for a burrito or quesadilla. Order a “super” for cheese, sour cream and avocado.

The New School

mission district san francisco
After dark, hit up the Alamo Drafthouse. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Mission may be old-fashioned, but that doesn’t mean modernity has passed it by. The district features a number of newer dining and drinking options on and off the main drags of Mission and 24th streets.

El Techo is a rain-or-shine rooftop bar and restaurant serving refined Mexican and Argentinian street food. Try their killer margaritas or palomas — served by the glass or by the pitcher. Continue exploring the Mission’s liquid offerings by heading five blocks north to Dalva/Hideout, a trendy bar within a bar slinging awesome cocktails. If a dive bar is more your speed, venture over to the 500 Club (500 Guerrero Street) for a pint.

Downstairs from El Techo is Argentinian steakhouse Lolinda, a worthy option for dinner. For antipasti and other Italian dishes, try Beretta; the margherita pizza with burrata is mighty tasty. The area is also home to a number of cuisines, from Burmese to Korean to traditional Californian to vegan, so one thing’s for sure: You’ll never go hungry in the Mission.

To sate your sweet tooth, pick up some French-style pastries at Tartine Bakery, organic ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery or artisanal doughnuts at Dynamo Donut + Coffee. If you’ve got a little extra time to kill, consider a tour of the Dandelion Chocolate factory.

Take a load off and end your night at the Alamo Drafthouse, a renovated movie theater from the 1910s that serves alcoholic beverages, or the landmark repertory cinema Roxie Theater, which calls itself the oldest continually operating movie theater in the United States.