From the authentic Mexican food to the music to the unparallelled density of bars, the Mission is one of San Francisco’s most vibrant—not to mention sunniest—neighborhoods. Valencia Street is lined with restaurants and boutiques, while Mission Street, running parallel, boasts the best tacos and burritos around. Stock up on pirate-themed gifts for a good cause at the original 826 Valencia, a novelty store and kids’ tutoring center, or shop the work of local artists and designers at Little Paper Planes. Paxton Gate, a curiosity shop overrun with oddball taxidermy, natural oddities, maps, books, and plants, is a must-see. The neighborhood is also flooded with live music, from The Chapel—a retrofitted church-turned concert venue—to Old Bus Tavern, a cozy cocktail bar with local bands playing most nights.
Helmed by former Marlowe chef Nick Cobarruvias, this 24th street newcomer is stylish, but casual, offering a combination of shareable small and large plates. The emphasis is on so-called slow-cooking: braised meats, roasted vegetables, flavorful pickled and fermented accents incorporating Latin and Asian flavors.
Lazy Bear’s communal, ticketed dinners can run around $200 for food alone. Luckily, David Barzelay and Nicolas Torres, the duo behind the hotspot, opened True Laurel, a walk-ins-only cocktail bar where you experience some of that Lazy Bear-cool without blowing your budget. While the decor is inspired by mid-century artists like Isamu Noguchi, the drinks are thoroughly modern. Take the “Humps for the Boulevard,” for example, made with sesame-washed bourbon, berto, and persimmon-infused rosso.
Part gallery, part homegoods store, part event space, and part installation, the Heath Ceramics building is a warren of creativity. You’ll find the Heath Ceramics factory and shop, where the company’s signature dishware and tiles are made and sold alongside covetable tableware, furniture, and accessories. Next door, the Heath Newsstand offers dozens of magazines and journals, as well as travel books, flowers, and cards. Swing around to the Alabama side to visit the Aesthetic Union, a colorful art supply, stationery, and print shop, and the Boiler Room, which puts on regular exhibitions. Then grab a glass of wine or a cup of buffalo milk gelato at Tartine Manufactory, an inviting restaurant and cafe.
This small, spunky B&B is a rarity in the Mission, where zoning laws prohibit the building of traditional hotels. (The AirBnB market, meanwhile, is still going strong.) The modern Victorian is swathed in punchy colors and San Francisco-themed-prints. There’s a sunny patio downstairs, and a continental breakfast is served. But the spot’s main selling point is its location, just blocks from Mission Chinese, Mission Cheese, Tartine Bakery, and Dolores Park.
If you do just one thing…
Step one: Order a burrito. It’s hard to go wrong, but we suggest La Taqueria. Step two: Head over to Dolores Park, a rite of passage for newcomers. Palm trees border nearly 16 acres of lawn, where up to 10,000 people in various states of undress sunbathe, read, drink, smoke, and socialize on warm weekend days.