This was my first real visit to the Mission district and it was quite an eye opener.
We headed to Folsom and 24th Street, which is pretty much the center of the Mission. Parking was really difficult. All of the off street parking was taken by residents but there were a few spaces at parking meters. In the end we parked in one of them but got a happy surprise when we found out that on Sunday you get four hours for free.
We had read that there were a lot of murals in the Mission and indeed there was one right next to our car. The hand painted sign made me smile: ‘Vanilising of murals is not cool’. This is a paraphrase of the actual message but the spelling is correct. (I should have asked Tom to take a photo of it but forgot to ask when we got back to the car.) As we were studying, it a local resident walking by told us that there were some newish murals on Lilac behind MacDonald’s. We thanked him and starting walking west to check them out.
The Mission neighborhood is a mix of many cultures. Spanish is predominant with a mix of Hispanic and other Central and South American countries. it doesn’t look like the best area in town, with its down at heel appearance and metal grills over most of the businesses. Only the coffee shops seemed to be open and few people were around. As we walked along we paused at many murals; all of which were colorful. Here is another quote from one of them – “Only when the last tree is cut down and the last river has dried up will man realize that you can’t eat money.”
Lilac Street is between Capp Street and Mission Street but is more like an alley because it is really narrow and runs between the backs of businesses and apartment blocks with garages onto the street. Nearly every building, door and wall had a mural of some sort on it. We walked the length of the block to 24th Street looking at them all. These murals did not depict rural scenes or recognizable parts of the Mission but I would describe them as modern artistic graffiti.They were eye-catching and vibrant but not quite to our taste.
We walked back down 24th. Slowly the neighborhood was waking up. Behind some of the grills, especially the restaurants, we could see activity. In one a load of pale chicken was beginning to heat up on the grill and in another someone was putting liners in the trash cans.
We found another alley of murals between Treat Avenue and Harrison Street on Balmy Street. These were far more interesting to us as they were not only older but depicted real scenes and understandable pictures. I could actually look at most of them and understand not only what they represented but what they were saying. I could appreciate the humor that was obvious in a few but had to studied closely to find it in others. Though there was some humor, the main messages that came across were: oppression and revolution. Once again they were all colorful and vibrant but, most of all, original. There were two I particularly liked, both showing scenes in the Mission. One was of a huge robot which looked like apartment buildings and the other with a policeman and wealthy lady in the bottom right corner and a homeless man in the bottom left corner.
We continued walking east on 24th and came to a grocery store with an array of fruit and vegetables displayed outside. Seeing all the fruit reminded me that we needed grapes so we ventured inside. I was amazed at the amount and variety of goods inside, including a whole range of meats. At first I couldn’t see any grapes but after walking around the whole fresh produce section we discovered three types to choose from. Back outside we walked up to Alabama Street before crossing over and walking back down the other side. In one window of a taqueria I spotted a mound of large plastic bags but had no idea what they contained. Tom told me it was pig skin, which doesn’t sound very appetizing at all, but on reflection it must be a variation of crackling, which is really good. Thank goodness the restaurant was not open otherwise I might have been tempted to try it out.
On the corner of 24th and Harrison we stepped into Bello Coffee and Tea. Although Tom had coffee with his breakfast it didn’t hit the spot and this place simply appealed to us. Inside it was warm and inviting. Immediately on the left is an electronic roaster – great, fresh coffee. The pastries looked good but the huge breakfast we had consumed three hours before prevented us from feeling hungry enough to try any of them out. Tom ordered a straight black coffee and I asked for a green tea latte. They didn’t have the powder mix that Starbucks use (thank goodness) but offered to make it using a special blend of green tea. We could have sat outside in the sunshine but I needed a table to put my iPad on so I could type so we stayed inside. There were several tables to chose from and the chairs were very comfortable. Tom took a sip of his coffee and immediately his eyes lit up. He had finally found a coffee that equaled Peet’s and Bello’s coffee might even have the edge on Peet’s. He was one happy man. My green tea latte was unusual but very tasty. We spent a happy half hour there. Before we left, Tom bought a pound of their French Roast beans to take home. I told him it was a long way to come to buy his coffee in the future.
As we walked the short distance back to our car, we noticed that most of the grills were down and there were lots of people now on the streets. The Mission was awake and humming. We discussed whether or not to go home. In the end, we decided to at least go and see the actual mission which the neighborhood was named after. The Mission Dolores is on D0lores and 16th Street so we drove west on 24th, right on Guerrero Street and west again on 16th St. The mission was founded in 1776 and is the oldest building in San Francisco. Next to it is the larger, more impressive basilica which was completed in 1918. We would have liked to stop and take a look around, especially at the garden of the old mission, but once again parking proved to be a problem. Maybe another day.
Back on 16th the object was to make our way home but at the junction with Market Street I looked up and saw a strange rock formation on top of a hill. We were stopped at traffic lights so had time to notice that there were people up there. I got the map out and discovered the hill is called Corona Heights. We felt the urge to investigate so we went straight across Market and made our way to Flint Street. As we were on the slopes of the hill, the roads were very steep and a lot of them were dead ends. Once again parking posed a problem but our luck was in when we reached Flint Street where we found the perfect parking spot not far from one of the paths to the top.
It was a lovely day to climb to the top of Corona Heights. We walked passed tennis courts and a large building, which I later discovered is called Randall Museum. The path up hill was very steep but the views were worth it. Just before a flight of steps we stopped at a bench which we took advantage of. The view in front us was amazing. We were looking east over the bay towards Oakland. Mount Diablo was clearly visible away in the distance. Down below we could see the city to the right and straight in front we looked down on the Mission District with a good view of the old mission and basilica. The flight of steps was long – roughly 180 of them – and very steep. In parts the path ran out and we were walking over rocks. Of course we stopped often to admire the view, heaven forbid that anyone would think we were pausing to take breath! Eventually we make our way right to the rock formations at the top and the view was almost 36o degrees. Only the trees on the ridge to the west prevented us from seeing the ocean. To the south we could see Twin Peaks and the Sutro Tower.
When we had our fill of the view and sitting in the sunshine, we made our way downhill to the car and wended our way home. It was the end of another perfect day.
The Mission District in San Francisco