It’s Thursday at sunset in San Francisco’s Mission…

Latino roots influence a dynamic enclave, from its open-air taquerias to its vibrant murals.

Words: Kelly Phillips Badal
Images: Justin Kaneps

The 16-acre Dolores Park invites soccer leagues, pickup basketball games, and weekday picnics.

This is the City by the Bay’s oldest neighborhood, but on a Thursday afternoon at dusk, the atmosphere is anything but tired. It’s electric.

Laptop-toting workers pour out of area start-ups like Everlane, Asana, and CrowdFlower, heading for happy hour at El Techo to down margaritas and nibble chicharrones on the rooftop while taking in views of downtown SF. Music — from indie rock to Mexican polka — floats through the air. The tantalizing scent of fresh tortillas and grilled meat drifts from dozens of Latino markets.

Rambling rows of thrift shops and dollar stores mix with long-standing dive bars, Michelin-starred eateries, and highbrow coffeehouses. Bikers from the on-demand delivery service Postmates, one of the ’hood’s most successful new businesses, whiz past. And scores of young people, dog-walking families, gossiping abuelas, and first-time tourists alike stake out spots in Dolores Park, sprawling on blankets to watch the sun set with a cone of salted-caramel ice cream from nearby Bi-Rite Creamery in hand (or perhaps an illicit can of Anchor Brewing’s Go West IPA).

Trick Dog’s inventive cocktails are neighborhood staples come quitting time. Rooftop ribaldry at El Techo involves mezcal margaritas and Mexican coke-made Cuba Libres.

Named after the city’s longest-standing landmark, Mission Dolores (an active parish and community hub since 1776), the Mission is a hotspot within a city full of them, a melting pot brought to a boil, a kaleidoscopic blend of cultures, cuisines, and cool kids. This is an area that can support the “Mexicatessen” La Palma (established 1953), where passersby watch women hand-pressing tortillas, and can also welcome a concept store like newcomer Reformation, where well-heeled browsers flick through fashionable clothing via touchscreens.

Elsewhere the culturati flock to Stranded, the new incarnation of the city’s oldest independent record store, and the beloved Dog Eared Books, going strong since 1992. Meanwhile would-be Instagram stars stroll the Mission’s hidden alleyways — outdoor museums dotted with hundreds of colorful murals that memorialize the city’s Latino/Chicano history for all to see. Standing guard over the action are Mission Revival-style homes and 19th-century Victorians, particularly punctuating the boulevards of South Van Ness and Shotwell.

Strolling Balmy and Clarion alleys uncovers some of the Mission’s many murals. A mariachi arrives at La Taqueria, a no-frills institution since 1973.

Long known as SF’s Latino stronghold, the Mission embraced thousands of Mexican immigrants throughout the midcentury, joined by waves of Central and South Americans in the 1970s. In the past decade, the Bay Area’s tech boom has brought new settlers to the Mission — namely tech titans like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who owns a $10 million home near Dolores Park.

Still, arguing over the tastiest taqueria is a local sport, and even revered culinary institutions are taking notice of the Mission’s beloved burrito culture. The 44-year-old La Taqueria was just named a 2017 “American Classic” by the James Beard Foundation, and lines to get in are longer than ever.

A sun-bleached Mercedes embodies the area’s low-key polish.

New gourmet outposts only add to the Mission’s appeal. There’s imaginative Mission Chinese, where the doors open at 5 pm, but the crowd queues long before, and the acclaimed Tartine Bakery just unveiled an airy sister, Tartine Manufactory, open for witching hour rosé. Plus, a whopping five area eateries earned Michelin stars this year, including Californios, a scrappy popup-turned-fine dining atelier serving inventive NorCal twists on tried-and-true Mexican flavors. Experimental cocktail joints Trick Dog and Over Proof round out the plethora of rollicking spots to nibble, imbibe, and unplug.

The continuous push-pull between classic and contemporary is what makes this community so desirable to explore, live, and work within right now. Mission accomplished.


4 Al Fresco Places to Frequent

Mission edition

Haus Coffee
Copious outlets, free WiFi, and a quiet atmosphere on the terrace make this the best workspace to hash out your pitch. 
415.374.7353

Zeitgeist
With a graffiti-laden, picnic table-populated patio and 40 beers on tap, the classic biergarten undergoes a punk rock makeover.
zeitgeistsf.com

Foreign Cinema
Head to the industrial-chic courtyard, where you can celebrate seed funding on a decadent selection of oysters and 2,000 wine options.
foreigncinema.com

El Rio
Going strong since 1978, acts from salsa to mariachi to jam bands whip up the crowds at this lively, art-filled oasis.
elriosf.com