Hipster’s Guide to the San Francisco Mission District

September 4, 2009 by

Food, Drink & Travel, North America, Suggested Itineraries

Angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz.

-Allan Ginsberg

With his first public reading of Howl on Fillmore Street in 1955, Allen Ginsberg brought the Beat Generation to life. He, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassidy, Gary Snyder, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti left a mighty mark on The City By The Bay. And while the neighborhoods and temperament of San Francisco have changed in many ways, that rebellious, creative, do-it-yourself spirit is still very much alive.

Murals on the Womens Building, SF Mission District

Murals on the Womens Building, SF Mission District

Jack Kerouac Alley and Ferlinghetti’s venerable City Lights Bookstore are in North Beach, but to find the “angelheaded hipsters” of today’s San Francisco, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Meet me in ‘The Mish’

A modern hipster’s weekend is mainly spent in one of the City’s sunniest and most colorful neighborhoods – The Mission District, named after the Spanish Mission San Francisco de Asis or Mission Dolores, the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco. But it’s Dolores Park, a few blocks away, that’s the heart of the hipster scene. It’s a perfect place to relax after a day of shopping, eating, and drinking your way through the rest of this diverse and lively area.

The bike - hipster vehicle of choice

The bike – hipster vehicle of choice

But first things first—where to stay? If, in true hipster fashion, you’re on a tight budget and planning to spend most of your cash and time on the town, try Elements Hotel (you’ll have easy access to the only roof-deck bar in the City) or Hotel Tropicana. Both straddle the line between hotel and hostel but are actually IN the Mission, while most lodging is downtown.

As music is a key element to the culture, the Phoenix, known as the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel, is a perfect choice. An oasis in the gritty Tenderloin, The Phoenix is centrally located, boasts a rare pool, the swanky Bambuddha Lounge, and an appropriately cool celebrity guest list including hipster bands Bloc Party, The Killers, and The Shins.

>> Take a food tour of the Mission

Go by foot, or bike if you’re brave

Brenda’s French Soul Food around the corner is a cute little place to fuel up. Arrive early for a beignet and sweet tea or chicory coffee, then walk through Civic Center Plaza. Turn right on Grove to see the Opera House and Symphony Hall before continuing down Van Ness where you’ll turn right onto Market.

Head towards Flax Art and Design—a craft supply Mecca for the DIY culture that’s central to the hipster scene. Notice the stunning graffiti wall on the way, and once in the Mission watch for Clarion Alley, canvas to many of the city’s most infamous street artists. When you’ve had your fill of Flax, continue down market taking a left on Valencia.

Murals in Clarion Alley, SF

Murals in Clarion Alley, SF

A block or so down you’ll find Zeitgeist, which means it’s time for a beer break. On sunny days the huge back yard gets crowded, but don’t be shy. If you’re lucky, The Tamale Lady will show up with her cooler full of cornmeal snacks—surely that beignet has burned off by now.

Walk three more blocks to the crossroads of the hipster’s Mission—16th and Valencia. If you don’t feel like walking all the way here, it’s an easy one-stop BART ride from Civic Center to 16th and Mission, and then just a block to Valencia. There are also many bike rental shops in the City, and in this neighborhood you might feel conspicuous without one.

>> Or tour San Francisco in a 1960’s bus

The Mission’s liberal libations

Around the intersection you’ll see Pancho Villa, one of many taquerias competing for “best burrito,” as well as the sidewalk tables and blue façade of Ti Couz, a favorite creperie. Monk’s Kettle stands out as a little place with a big passion for craft beers and upscale pub grub. It’s a great place to start a mini crawl to several bars in the block between Valencia and Guerrero—Dalva, Delirium, Double Dutch, and Kilowatt.

Signs on Valencia Street

Signs on Valencia Street

Keep walking down Valencia and you’ll pass Casanova Lounge on the left, with the quintessential sultry ladies painted on black velvet. It’s a good spot for a drink before and/or after tapas at Ramblas, a couple of doors down. You can also catch live music down the street at Elbo Room any night of the week.

Locals shop local

The shopping on Valencia is unique. You won’t find any chain stores here, as independent shops are supported with a vengeance. Each with two storefronts, Therapy is a go-to for cool clothing, accessories, and home décor, while Monument has an amazing collection of mid-century modern furniture. Density is a hip spot for shoes and clothing with an urban flair, and at 18th street, Self Edge, is THE place for denim.

There are many more shops and restaurants down Valencia past 18th, including Modern Times Bookstore collective, the “Pirate Supply Store” at 826 Valencia—a tutoring center founded by local literary luminary Dave Eggers, the unforgettable South Indian cuisine at Dosa, and of course, Valencia Cyclery.

Delightful Dolores Park

Bi Rite Market, hong if you love hipsters & good food

Bi Rite Market, honk if you love hipsters & good food

Walk up 18th street past the mural-covered Women’s Building, and chic Italian eateries, Farina, Tartine, and Delfina. Stop in Bi-Rite Market for some gourmet cheese, a loaf of artisan bread, an heirloom tomato, and a couple of cold microbrew beers. Or if you’re in the mood for something sweet, hit up the Bi-Rite Creamery across the street. Take your provisions the rest of the block up to Dolores Park.

By now the lawn will be full of picnickers in their finest vintage threads with their dogs and bikes. Walk diagonally across the park and up the hill for an amazing view of the city over the palm trees. You’ll be safe from the fog here all afternoon, so kick off your shoes and enjoy the people watching or take a nap.

Now that you’ve surveyed your options and gotten a feel for The Mission by day, you’re ready to discover San Francisco hipsterdom “in the machinery of night.”

-Sara Wood



3 Responses to “Hipster’s Guide to the San Francisco Mission District”

  1. Robyn Says:

    If you are interested in the real San Francisco, which is more than just Mission hipsters, check out sanfiasco.blogspot.com