CITY GUIDE: San Francisco’s Mission District

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Today’s city guide is brought to you by Kate Wong of Stripe Cat Studio!

San Francisco’s Mission District is one of the city’s best known neighborhoods: first for its seedy character, later for its reputation as a haven for artists and hipsters. Step into The Mission, though, and you’ll easily find evidence of the area’s multiple personalities. Dive bars, graffiti, and elaborate murals coexist alongside the upscale boutiques and top-notch restaurants located along Valencia Street and around Dolores Park. My recommendations include just a handful of the neighborhood’s activities, so my best advice? Get on Google, grab a travel guide, or just wander until you’re lost in The Mission’s distinct (and quite complex) flavor!

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The Mission is chock full of independent cafés, and any coffee lover could have a great time walking along Valencia Street. Although coffee shops always offer a selection of pastries, I prefer to make two stops to create my breakfast: Ritual Coffee and Tartine, morning stops that are both too fabulous to pass up. Tartine is well-known for their pastries and baked goods, and they’ve earned their word-of-mouth reputation. The bakery serves up a variety of fresh-baked treats out of an unmarked building on the corner of Guerro and 18th Street—you’ll know you’ve found Tartine by the storefront’s navy trim and perpetual crowd. Order a morning bun to go, and take a stroll past The Mission’s hip boutiques and enormous murals to get to Ritual Coffee, on Valencia Street between 21st and 22nd Streets. Of all the cappuccinos I’ve head, Ritual’s is far and away the best, and it’s worth ordering a drip coffee just to watch the café’s pour-over process.

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After breakfast, continue your exploration of Valencia Street. Down the street from Ritual Coffee, you’ll find The Touch (956 Valencia St.), a retreat for lovers of mid-century modern furnishings. Nearby Viracocha (998 Valencia St.), an antique shop filled with quirky finds and vintage typewriters, is also worth a look. The Curiosity Shoppe (855 Valencia St.) is well-known for its modern, whimsical offerings, and if you’re in the market for some mid-priced local art I highly recommend a visit. On the same block you’ll find 826 Valencia, a store catering to pirates and wannabe swashbucklers. The shop’s distinct brand of playfulness is rather famous, but to be honest, I’ve never had the courage to step inside!

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While the much loved Public Bikes resides further down Valencia and has an incredible collection of bicycles and accessories, I love Mission Bicycle Company (766 Valencia St.), a smaller shop with a not-overwhelming selection of brightly colored bike frames and curated accessories. If you visit The Mission before the end of January 2013, Photojojo is hosting an exceptionally delightful pop-up shop in the same building, just upstairs from Mission Bicycle Company.

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If all your exploring has you craving a small treat, step into Dandelion Chocolate (740 Valencia St.), a company specializing in small-batch artisan chocolate. Upon walking through the door, you’ll immediately notice the strong smell of cocoa wafting from the open factory space, which visitors can observe while they wait for a specialty hot chocolate.

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The Mission offers plenty of lunch options, and is famous for its countless taquerias and burrito joints (evidence of the strong Latino presence the area is known for). Anyone and everyone—including the good folks at Yelp—could point you towards a delicious Mexican restaurant, likely just a block or two from where you are. If Mexican isn’t what you’re craving, I recommend the Margherita pizza at Pizzeria Delfina (3611 18th St.). After lunch, walk up the street to Bi-Rite Creamery for a scoop of what many consider the best ice cream in San Francisco—my personal favorite flavor is their salted caramel. Be warned: if the weather is nice, the line will extend far out the door. Stop by Bi-Rite Market across the street for a pint of ice cream if you’re not a fan of waiting. Bring your cone up the street and enjoy it at Dolores Park (corner of 18th St. and Dolores), where you can take in incredible views of Mission Dolores, the rest of the Mission District, and the neighborhood’s residence lounging around the green space.

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San Francisco has no lack of vibrant neighborhoods, but if you’re looking for variety and a hipster vibe, nothing beats the Mission District!

To see the other San Francisco city guide, click here!

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