Perched on a hillside between Dolores and Church streets (east and west) and 18th and 20th streets (north and south) in San Francisco's perennially sunny Mission District, the nearly 16-acre Mission Dolores Park offer prime people watching, ample open space, and spectacular city views.
Native Americans once inhabited the land that is now Mission Dolores Park before Spanish missionaries came to the city in the late 18th century, and it was later used as a Jewish cemetery. In 1903 it became Mission Park, a resident-led open space project, which the city then purchased two years later. In the aftermath of San Francisco's devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, the park served as a camp for more than 1,600 refugees, but it wasn't until the J-Church transit line began running trains along its western edge in 1917 that the park and the surrounding area really took off.
The Mission District's primarily Irish and German population began shifting in the 1950s and '60s, when a large number of Latinos moved to the neighborhood and transformed it into a multicultural area encompassing the vibrancy of San Francisco's many Latin-American communities. To reflect this vast richness, Mexican president Gustavo Diaz Ordaz presented Mission Park with a replica of his country's own Liberty Bell — which hangs over the gateway of Mexico City's National Palace. There's also a statue of Miguel Hidalgo, a Mexican Catholic priest (a leader of the Mexican War of Independence, and man who first rang the bell as a call to arms in 1810) in the park nearby.
Eventually Mission Park adopted the vernacular names “Mission Dolores” or simply “Dolores”, each of them referring to both the park's main street of entry and the nearby Mission Dolores, which the Spanish missionaries founded in 1776. Today “Dolores Park” attracts thousands of weekday and weekend revelers — everyone from picnicking families who spread out on its grassy slopes to techies making use of the park's free wifi for their own version of “work from home” days. The park was closed for upgrades in phases, beginning in 2014, and is now home to six tennis courts, a multi-use court, basketball court, sports field, playground, and two off-leash dog areas for happy pooches to fetch, run, and play. There are also a couple of public restrooms.
What to Do in and Near the Park
Dolores Park is one of San Francisco's most beloved gathering spots: a hotbed for public rallies, marches, and clean park initiatives; a great stop for people-watching, frisbee-tossing, or wiffle ball; and host to some entertaining and exciting events — such as a 2018 Instagram photo contest on International Dog Day — throughout the year. It's the perfect place for savoring the sweet tunes of roaming musicians, sipping on rum-filled coconuts (keep an eye out for Michael the roaming Coconut Guy) or snacking on weed edibles while soaking in the sights (Note: recreational marijuana use is legal in San Francisco and the state of California but not on the federal level). The park is the local home of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a satirical theater group of political comedy that's been performing since 1959 (there season typically begins on July 4), and a venue for Film Night in the Park, which showcases everything from "Lady Bird" to "Black Panther" at various SF parks throughout summer months. Pickup games of hardcourt bike polo — one of the city's most unique sports — are held on the park's multi-use court a few nights a week, and the park's six lighted tennis courts are free to play.
No trip to the area would be complete without a stroll along Valencia Street to peruse the shelves of bookstores like Dog Eared Books and sci-fi favorite Borderlands, browse for cool vintage finds at shops that include Stuff and Wallflower Boutique, and shop for hanging terrariums and taxidermy at esteemed oddity showcaser Paxton's Gate.
The Mission Dolores is San Francisco's oldest building, and home to an adjacent cemetery (one of the remaining few — which includes a pet cemetery — in city limits) that serves as the final resting place for many of the Ohlone, Miwok, and First Californians who constructed the Mission, along with more well-known names like José Joaquín Moraga, the founder of San Jose, California and first commander of San Francisco's Presidio.
Where to Eat Near the Park
Looking for a bite to eat? You'd be remiss if you didn't join the throngs lined up outside of Bi-Rite Creamery, on 18th and Dolores streets, for scoops of organic, handmade ice cream in delectable flavors like honey lavender, salted caramel, and peanut butter swirl; or swing by a nearby sandwich shop such as Turner's Kitchen or Guerrero Market & Deli for helpings of pastrami, roast turkey, and melted brie on fresh loaves of dutch crunch to savor later while picnicking. For something a little more sit-down, park neighbor Dolores Park Cafe features an organic juice bar and steaming cups of Sightglass coffee, while nearby Pizzeria Delfina dishes out wood-fired pizzas ranging from caper- and anchovy-topped napoletanas to droolworthy prosciutto pies. Of course, burritos are par for the course in the Mission — and the bigger the better at stops such as Taqueria Cancun and El Faro. Great imbibing options include ABV, Tacolicious (for standout margaritas), and — open evenings — the Mad Men-inspired Beehive.
How to Visit
Dolores Park is an easy walk southwest from the Mission's 16th Street BART station — accessible from the East Bay, South Bay, and downtown; a stop (18th and Dolores streets) on the 33 Ashbury MUNI bus line; and several stops along the J Church MUNI train, which runs from downtown San Francisco to its Glen Park neighborhood. Neighborhood parking is limited.
The park is open from 6 a.m. through 10 p.m. daily, with two public restroom facilities open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Wheelchair access is limited.