The so-called “Mission District” is San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood. Prior to the arrival of Spanish missionaries, the area which now includes the Mission was inhabited by the Ohlone who populated much of the San Francisco bay area. The Yelamu Indians (a tribe of Ohlone people) lived in the region for over 2,000 years. When Spanish missionaries started settling in the area in 1776, they found Ohlone people living in two villages on Mission Creek. It was here that a Spanish priest named Father Francisco Palou founded Mission San Francisco de Asis on June 29, 1776.
This area was chosen by its inhabitants due to its location in a sheltered valley where the soil and climate were better than in most other parts of what is now known as San Francisco. Freshwater was also in abundance thanks to a nearby stream-fed lagoon – the Laguna de los Dolores, so named because the exploring party of 1776 came across it on the Friday before Palm Sunday, the Friday of Sorrows.
San Francisco Association of Realtors distinguishes the following neighborhoods which fall within the broader definition of the Mission District:
- Inner Mission
- Mission Dolores
- Eureka Valley – Dolores Heights (containing the famous sub-district knows as “the Castro”)
Given the distinct characteristics of the Mission District’s segments, I prefer to analyze the Inner Mission, Mission Dolores – Dolores Heights and the Castro separately (please refer to the corresponding sections of this website for the latter two neighborhoods). Here, I would like to primarily focus on the Mission Dolores neighborhood.
Mission Dolores neighborhood is bounded by the Market Street to the north, Valencia Street to the east, 20th Street to the south and Church Street to the west. Beautiful Dolores Street, shaded by palm trees and famous for its grand old Victorians, is one of the main arteries of Mission Dolores.
One of focal points of this neighborhood is undoubtedly Mission Dolores (Dolores Street between 16th and 17th Streets) – an oldest building in San Francisco constructed between 1788 and 1791 mostly by Native American labor. Initially, the mission complex prospered but started to decline in 1800s. With Mexico becoming independent from Spain in 1821, its funding was cut off and subsequent secularization of 1830s further contributed to mission’s abandonment by the religions authorities. Mission Dolores and adjacent areas were abandoned until 1840s when Mormon settlers started occupying some of the vacant buildings, to be quickly followed by others in the wake of the Gold Rush. Many of the initial residents were essentially squatters. As the land title issues were not resolved until the late 1860s, it was only then when this area was finally opened for formal development. With its warm and sunny weather, flat surface and abundant open space, this neighborhood became a choice area for the residences of the middle-class professionals.
The well-proportioned Mission Dolores chapel survived both 1906 catastrophe and the 1989 earthquake. There is a small museum at the back which displays the relics from the mission’s early days. Beyond the museum is the oldest cemetery in San Francisco (initially, it was four times larger in size and extended back to Church Street) which reflects the international character of city – beside the tombstones of the Hispanic founders are ones marking the graves of early French, Italian, Scottish and Australian residents. A statue of an Indian maiden commemorates as many as five thousand Native Americans buried on the mission’s grounds.
While being a historic neighborhood, Mission Dolores is far from being archaic – it is thriving and vibrant community. On weekends, San Franciscans and visitors from all walks of life congregate in the nearby Dolores Park – the iconic city views that it offers combined with frequent sunny days common for this part of town make it one of the top picnicking spots in San Francisco.
The neighborhood’s architecture ranges from graceful Victorians and Edwardians to multi-unit buildings to newly constructed condos. This area is also a favorite for shoppers, foodies and night owls. Valencia Street (the eastern border of the neighborhood) and the nearby Inner Mission house music venues for many tastes, fashionable boutiques as well as an array of ethnic dining options. The block of 18th Street between Dolores and Guerrero is another dining destination, with renowned restaurants such as Delfina and Tartine on one block. The transit is excellent, whether one utilizes the 16th and Mission BART or a Muni line, take to the bike friendly streets or drive to the I-80, I-280 or I-101 highways.
Mission Dolores neighborhood has an average Walk score of 97 and average Transit score of 100.
The below link provides further details on these neighborhoods and their attractions:
http://www.sfgate.com/neighborhoods/sf/mission_Dolores (Mission Dolores)
The content displayed above was partially derived from a book by Rand Richards “Historic Walks in San Francisco. 18 Trails Through the City’s Past” as well as