Mission District is a popular hangout in San Francisco. This evolving neighborhood is animated, colorful and energetic. During my walking tour, I explored its Latino roots and influences thanks to the vibrant murals in the Balmy Alley, local shops on the 24th Street and Mission Dolores Park. Follow me for this vivid local excursion.
A Pinch of History
- Mission was originally inhabited by the Yelamu tribe of the Ohlone Indians.
- In 1776, Spanish Catholics established the Mission Dolores.
- Europeans settled in Mission before welcoming, after WWII, new immigrants from South and Central America.
- Dolores Park was named after El Grito de Dolores, in reference to Miguel Hidalgo’s rallying cry.
- Dolores Park was a Jewish cemetery from 1861 to 1894.
Balmy Alley is a long passage with a concentration of wide-open street art. Almost every inch of the garage’s doors is covered by expressive and colorful art. Subjects and styles are wide but the common denominator is the expression of opinions through a large palette of pigment.
Murals began in the mid-80’s when a group of muralists started (with the authorization of residents) this mural project following two themes: praise of indigenous Central American cultural heritage, and protest against the United States’ intervention in Central American affairs. Each mural was an emblematic and powerful political protest.
Over the years, themes shifted to different topics as new murals are added atop previous ones. The art running on the block is alive, changing constantly and offering fresh murals to visitors.
I love discovering this street art alley with its varieties of styles and opinions. Looking closely at the different pieces to find out details and indications about artist’s project. A resident was standing outside his red car as I observed the mural behind it. He kindly explained the political view of the mural and the story behind the painting. I really like this conversation as suddenly, thanks to his explanations, the mural came alive and in perspective.
As we exited Balmy Alley, we entered the 24th Street. I loved to be in the heart of Mission immersed by Latino cultural vibes. There is a multitude of local and authentic stores and restaurants. Also, colorful street art spreads in each block. I loved walking along the street to discover murals and local shops.
There are signs identifying Caribbean, Central or South America countries like Cuba, El Salvador, Argentina, etc. On each block, I was jumping from different country and culture, so cool!
The ambiance and energy of Mission Street are definitely different than the 24th. This large avenue sheltering shops, restaurants, bar, etc. was quieter and less intimate, maybe because it was a bank holiday. Anyhow, Latino energy is certainly present with piñatas suspended on groceries, murals honoring Hispanic culture….And, if you enter local stores, you’ll be immersed in the atmosphere. I experienced it, by going to a bar for refreshments. Regular customers sat at the counter while chatting in Spanish, chilling and watching European soccer or an NBA game. A laid-back atmosphere!
Along the way to Mission Dolores Park, we also enjoyed Victorian Houses, especially on Dolores Street. These iconic painted houses are beautiful when you look closely at the architecture’s details. You also realize how constructions were adapted to the environment. Look at these stairs to access this Victorian house, certainly a good Bootcamp exercise (but please don’t share this crazy idea with my Bootcamp’s Coach)!
Mission Dolores Park
Mission Dolores Park is a popular park in the neighborhood. This large grass area offers a green retreat from the city for both locals and tourists. The later will also admire the skyline and view from San Francisco. Mission Dolores Park is a perfect location for outdoor activities: picnic, birthday, dance, etc. On weekends it attracts a crowd of families and friends, especially during summer time.
This walking tour in Mission District was my first immersion into this San Francisco neighborhood. I definitely enjoyed this community and its vibes. Next time I won’t miss to visit Mission Dolores, to discover murals on Clarion Alley, to see the Golden Fire Hydrant, and to savor bread and cake at Tartine Bakery.
« Infinita Ternura » Frida Kahlo and Chavela Vargas by Julia Nada. Location: 25th Street.
Want to experience a colorful Latino tour?
- Easy and pleasant walk.
- More information on Balmy Alley: http://balmyalley.com/
- Duration: 2 hours including stops for lunch and pictures