The Top 14 Things to Do in the Mission District

Despite its on-going gentrification, San Francisco's Mission District remains a vibrant space where long-time residents, artists, musicians, restauranteurs, cyclists, techies, and more have merged to create one of the city's most distinct and welcoming neighborhoods. For nearly two decades this long stretch of Victorian homes and street-level storefronts—bordered generally by Market Street to the north, Potrero Hill to the east, The Castro/Noe Valley to the west, and Cesar Chavez Street to the south—has seen an influx of creative eateries and stylish boutiques while fighting to keep its local flavor, transforming this predominantly Latino district into the kind­ of place where traditional taquerias sit alongside signal-cup coffee purveyors and emerging cocktail bars go hand-in-hand with legendary neighborhood dives. 

01 of 14

Spend an Afternoon in Dolores Park

Mission Dolores Park at San Francisco
Gonzalo Azumendi/Getty Images 

Not only is Dolores Park—perched on a sloping hillside west of Dolores Street—one of the city's most popular gathering spaces, it's also a prime spot for people-watching. Bring along a picnic blanket and your pooch, and join the throngs of locals and visitors taking advantage of The Mission's seemingly endless sunshine (compared with the rest of San Francisco). The view's of downtown are killer, especially when framed by the park's many palm trees. Catch Film Night in the Park each summer, and events ranging from local rallies to musical performances throughout the year. 

02 of 14

Savor Artisanal Treats

box of six donuts from Dynamo Donut + Coffee in San Francisco
Photo courtesy of  Dynamo Donut + Coffee 

In a neighborhood where artisanal treats abound, you'll find something to satisfy every type of sweet tooth, from the decadent offerings at Dynamo Donut + Coffee to a slice of Mission Pie. The Mission's temperate temps are made for ice cream, evident by the ever-present (though mostly quick-moving) line outside Bi-Rite Creamery, where handcrafted flavors like honey lavender and salted caramel are the norm. Tartine is the city's pastry king—think brandy-soaked croissants and buttery lemon tarts—while Dandelion Chocolate is an absolute dream for cocoa lovers. For an authentically old-school San Francisco experience, don't miss St. Francis Fountain: whipping up egg cream sodas and banana splits for a full-on century.

03 of 14

Soak Up Local Culture

Luchador masks for sale in San Francisco's Mision District
Yanis Ourabah/Getty Images

Increasing gentrification aside, the Mission's District's rich Latino heritage still thrives, especially along 24th Street between Mission Street and Portrero Avenue in the city's "Latino Cultural District." Spend some time wandering among Mexican bakeries and colorful speciality shops selling everything from lucha libre wrestling masks to piñatas, and taking in the scents of deep-fried chicharrones and Salvadorian pupusas. Neighborhood institution La Palma Mexicatessen is known for its fresh-made tortillas and authentic Mexican huarache—a flip-flop-shaped base of masa topped with salsa, guacamole, queso fresco and a touch of tomatillo sauce. Annual festivals like Carnaval and Dia de los Muertos pay homage to the neighborhood's multi-cultural roots.

04 of 14

Catch a Show

Whether it's a live stage performance of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" at the once-vaudeville Victoria Theatre or a showcase of Japanese cinema at San Francisco's oldest theater—the community-run Roxie—the Mission offers a truly diverse mix of feature and homegrown entertainment. Catch a one-man show at the 100-seat Marsh, or discover something new at Odd Salon, where field experts wax on offbeat topics. Opened in late 2013, the Austin-based chain Alamo Drafthouse breathed new life into the neighborhood's defunct New Mission Theatre, transforming the Art Deco space into a multi-theatre space pairing classic and blockbuster films with food and drinks delivered directly to your seat.

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05 of 14

Devour a Mission Burrito

Mexican food at El Farolito Mexican Restaurant
Photo courtesy of El Farolito Mexican Restaurant 

Big, bold, and utterly delicious, there's nothing in the world like a Mission burrito: a tortilla bursting at its foil-wrapped seams with a mix that may include beans, meat, slaw, cheese, guac and rice. The Mission's best burrito depends on who you ask, though it's impossible to go wrong with places like the cafeteria-style Pancho Villa or El Farolito, a perennial favorite. Both El Faro and Taqueria La Cumbre lay partial claim to the Mission burrito’s origins, while beloved La Taqueria's burritos are strictly rice-free.

06 of 14

Groove to the Music

Elbo Room nightclub on Valencia Street in the Mission District
Rachael Nusbaum/Getty Images

Move to funk and hip-hip at the old-school Elbo Room, or slip into Senegalese restaurant Bissap Baobab after dinner hours, when the space becomes a full-on international dance party. The aptly-named Chapel—occupying a converted 20th-century church with a 40-feet-tall arched ceiling—hosts all-ages concert shows (six and up) ranging from The Wailers (of Bob Marley fame) to singer-songwriter Jade Bird. At neighborhood hangout El Rio, locals gather to catch area bands, take beer breaks on the outdoor patio, and drown their sorrows in HeartBreak Karaoke (free drinks if you can make the staff cry). 

07 of 14

Get Your Lit On

The Chapel, San Francisco Lit crawl Marquee
 Photo courtesy of Lit Crawl San Francisco

The Mission is a neighborhood where ideas thrive, and its lit scene is easily one of the best in the city. Browse a varied selection of new and used offerings at Dog-Eared Books, or loose hours hunting through the shelves of old classics at worker-owned Adobe Books & Art Cooperative. There's also Borderlands Books, known for its selection of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, as well as its resident Sphynx cat Ripley, who watches over the stock.

Every month, the Make-Out Room (another dance hub) hosts Writers with Drinks: a long-running spoken word variety show featuring all literary genres from all walks of life. But the neighborhood's literary tour de force is undoubtedly Lit Crawl—the culmination of San Francisco's annual Litquake festival—a pub crawl for lit lovers featuring hundreds of authors reading in pop-up venues from art galleries to tattoo parlors.

08 of 14

Browse Art

Art is an integral part of the Mission, whether it's the ever-changing murals depicting everything from social justice to local gentrification along Clarion and Balmy alleys (Precita Eyes offers tours of the latter), or the many galleries and collectives that dot the landscape. Latino-inspired art is the focus at R. Fuentes Art Gallery, in the heart of the neighborhood's Latino Cultural District, while City Art Cooperative Gallery showcases the rotating works of more than 200 local member-artists, with affordable artworks ranging from paintings to furniture. Neighborhood stalwart Creative Explored offers a space for artists with developmental disabilities to both create and sell their works onsite. 

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09 of 14

Grab a Brew

Two glasses of beer at Crafty Fox Ale House
Photo courtesy of Crafty Fox Ale House

When neighborhood tavern Monk's Kettle opened up back in December 2007, no one knew how much it would completely transform the neighborhood's brewscape. These day's it's a local institution—serving up delicious pub fare along with 28 rotating draft beers and 150 bottled—but it's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Mission's ale offerings. At Standard Deviant Brewing, choose from a house-brewed selection that includes Belgian blonde and porter before testing your skills on the handful of pinball machines. Crafty Fox Ale House offers up both locally and national sourced brews from 36 taps, while Southern Pacific Brewing boasts craft beers made onsite in a massive warehouse setting, and with an outdoor communal picnic area for soaking in the sun.

10 of 14

Sip a Cocktail

Cocktail at ABV Bar in san francisco
Photo courtesy of ABV 

If mixed drinks are more your thing, you're in luck too, because the Mission is home to some stellar cocktail bars. Located in a converted factory, Trick Dog is undeniably top notch—known as much for its highly creative cocktail menus (which change every six months) as for its incredibly cool vibe. From tequila highballs to grilled asparagus with smoked raclette bar bites, everything about ABV is sleek and sophisticated in a refined industrial way, though for something a bit more Mad Man-era (think gold wallpaper and Elvis-inspired drinks) head on over to The Beehive. Rounding out your weekend with a Bloody Mary? Divey Bender's Bar & Grill and landmark biker bar Zeitgeist—with its popular outdoor beer garden—make some of the best.

11 of 14

Get Sporty

Urban Putt mini golf san francisco
 Photo courtesy of Urban Putt

Urban Putt put miniature golf on the map in San Francisco, with an indoor 14-hole course that doubles as a high-tech work of art. One hole sits entirely inside a Jules Verne-inspired submarine, while another simulates an SF earthquake. Gourmet eats and craft cocktails are also on hand. Mission Bowling Club offers a similar sport/food combo, with a menu of creative drinks and elevated comfort cuisine, as well as six regulation-size bowling lanes.

12 of 14

Linger Over a Cup of Joe

Two cups of coffee at Sightglass cafe
 Photo courtesy of Sightglass

The Mission is practically synonymous with good coffee. In fact, it was the neighborhood's Ritual Coffee Roasters that first introduced the city's “third wave of coffee,” a movement that includes direct trade coffee, lighter roasts, and single-origin cups, back in 2005. Coffee connoisseurs flock to spots such as Sightglass and Philz—a long-running local chain that's responsible for converting latte loyalists to drip coffee drinkers. Parklets—former parking spots turned mini-parks—along Valencia Street are ideal for some outdoor sipping. For a cup of coffee without the frills, Muddy Waters Coffee House remains the ultimate go-to.

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13 of 14

Chow Down

meal at Lazy Bear restaurant in San Francisco
Photo courtesy of Lazy Bear 

Whether you're craving a deep-dish, cornmeal-crust pizza or a Burmese tea leaf salad you'll find it in the Mission, home to some of San Francisco's hottest and most diverse restaurant offerings. There are James Beard Award winners like Delfina, a cozy trattoria with varied wines and delicious northern Italian-inspired eats, and former pop-ups-turned-brick-and-mortar spots such as exclusive supper-club-style Lazy Bear and Mission Chinese Food. For brunch, you can't go wrong with Foreign Cinema—where films like Edward Scissorhands and Napoleon Dynamite play on an outdoor patio—or Mission Beach Cafe.

14 of 14

Go Shopping

Plants in Paxton Gate store
 Photo courtesy of Paxton Gate

From retro furnishings to ethically sourced taxidermy, when it comes to shopping the Mission specializes in unique finds. Browse the fabulous handmade print designs of Gravel & Gold, or choose from a well-curated selection of vintage female fashions at Wallflower Boutique. Then there's Stuff, filled to the brim with Mid-Century Modern sofas, vinyl records, antique collectibles and more from over 60 small businesses. The Mission is also one of the best neighborhoods for purchasing SFMade goods. Try places like Timbuk2's factory store on Shotwell Street, where you can design your own backpacks and messenger bags, or Mission Bicycle Company, where bicycles are built by hand. For a true Mission stand-out, don't miss Paxton Gate, filled with fascinating curio like carnivorous plants, fish skeletons, and shark tooth fossils.