The so-called “Mission District” is San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood.
Today, the Mission (in a broader sense, as per the discussion below) is bordered to the east by U.S. Route 101, forming the boundary between the eastern portion of the district, known as “Inner Mission”, and its eastern neighbor, Potrero Hill. To the north
west, Church Street separates the area from Eureka Valley-Dolores Heights neighborhood (containing the sub-district known as “the Castro”) and 22nd Street forms a divide from Noe Valley to the south west. The part of the district from Valencia Street to Church Street, north of 20th Street, is known as the “Mission Dolores” neighborhood. Cesar Chavez Street is the southern border of the district, separating the Mission from Bernal Heights. North of the Mission District is the South of Market neighborhood, bordered roughly by U.S. Route 101 which runs above 13th Street. South of the Mission District, along Mission Street, are the Excelsion and Crocker-Amazon neighborhoods, sometimes referred to as the “Outer Mission” (not to be confused with the actual Outer Mission neighborhood).
The principal thoroughfare of the Mission District is Mission Street. The 24th Street area running from the Mission Street to Potrero Street is known as “the heart of the mission” and boasts a vast number of unique stores and restaurants as well as the greatest concentration of murals in the city (a good walking guide to explore the murals can be found at: http://www.sanfrancisco.travel/article/guide-san-francisco%E2%80%99s-mission-district-murals). Another main commercial zone, known as the Valencia corridor (Valencia Street from about 15th to 22nd Street) is a popular destination for the restaurants, bars, galleries and street life. Just a couple a blocks away, and parallel to Valencia, runs hilly, quiet and beautiful Dolores Street, shaded by palm trees and famous for its grand old Victorians as well as close proximity to one of the city’s most beloved parks (Dolores Park). The Mission’s residential and industrial area close to Potrero Hill now boasts some chic and trendy restaurants and bars, prompted by an influx of Internet startups that sprung up in the area while still remaining a stronghold of artists and working-class families.
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 (which includes the famous Castro sub-district)
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 Inner Mission.
Prior to the arrival of Spanish missionaries, the area which now includes the Mission District was inhabited by the Ohlone people 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 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. The Mission today is still one of San Francisco’s most climate-friendly areas - it is often warmer and sunnier than other parts of the city as its geographical location insulates it from the fog and wind from the west.
Following the Spanish settlement, the Mission became part of the ranchos owned by the Spanish-Mexican families (known as “Californios”) such as the Valenciano, Guerrero, Dolores, Bernal, Noe and De Haro, after whom many of the district’s and nearby areas’ streets were later named. At the time, what is now known as “Mission Street” was a two-mile wooden plank road separating Yerba Buena (centered around Portsmouth Square and later renamed San Francisco) from the Mission. With Mexico becoming independent from Spain in 1821, the Mission’s funding was cut off and subsequent secularization of 1830s further contributed to its decline and abandonment.
It was not 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 Gold Rush 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 good weather, flat surface and abundant open space, this neighborhood became a choice area for the residences of the middle-class professionals as well as the site to the first professional baseball stadium in California, opened in 1868 and known as “Recreation Grounds” (located at Folsom and 25th Street, parts of which remain a present day Garfield Square).
The 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire carved deep into the Mission before being stopped at Dolores Street and 20th Street. Many of the Italian and Irish refugees escaped to this area from the burned-out North Beach and South of Market neighborhoods and ended up staying here. Latino Americans first started settling in the area around 1920s as agricultural workers but the majority of this group arrived in the 1950s and 1960s. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the Valencia Street corridor became the site of a lively punk life which at the time warranted its designation as the “New Bohemia”. The 1980s and 1990s brought an influx of immigrants and refugees from Central America, the Middle East and South America who fled the turmoil of their native countries, which resulted in many Central American banks and companies setting up their regional headquarters, branches and offices on Mission Street. Today, a profusion of taquerias, pupuserias and ethnic produce markets in the Inner Mission evidence a strong presence of the Latino population in this neighborhood.
From the late 1990s through the 2010s, and especially during the dot-com boom, highly paid urban professionals moved into the neighborhood, initiating gentrification, raising rent and housing prices and prompting an explosion of the restaurant scene (Valencia and Guerrero Streets boast some of the trendiest restaurants in San Francisco). As a result, many Latino Americans and artists essentially had no choice but to move to the Outer Mission area or out of the city entirely. In November 2015, housing, and affordable housing in the Mission in particular (Proposition I), became a “hot” voting issue during the city’s elections. The outcome was to veto the proposed 18-month moratorium on new market-rate housing in the Mission, however, a number of measures supporting affordable housing in the area was approved.
Today, this bustling neighborhood is an eclectic mix of places that survived the changes and new arrivals that are trying to make the area their home.
The Inner Mission neighborhood has an average Walk score of 97 and average Transit score of 84.
The below links provide further details on this neighborhood and its attractions:
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