San Francisco is notorious for its thick fog and chilly summers, and the Mission District is often referred to as the “sun belt” of the city. Situated on a mostly flat stretch of land shielded by hills, the neighbourhood – named for the Spanish missions built here in the 18th century – has been home to Mexican and Central American immigrants, and boasts the best and biggest burritos for miles around.
More recently, the Mission has come of age as a destination for haute cuisine and unusual boutiques. World-class restaurants have opened in the farm-loving culinary tradition of the Bay Area, and shops such as author Dave Eggers's “pirate supply store” sell everything from literary journals to mermaid bait.
But many of these are located on the north side of the Mission, while the main commercial strip on 24th Street at the south end has remained largely unchanged. A densely packed row of taquerias, panaderias, carnicerias and produce markets, this corridor is just beginning to attract hip entrepreneurs. As Latin flavour mixes with adventurous food and culture, lower 24th Street is easily becoming one of the city's most interesting pockets.
Defying convention is the only rule at Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream. With flavours such as white miso pear and black truffle, and a rotating selection featuring artisan beer, this is no place for plain vanilla (though you will find Tahitian Vanilla, its simplest option). Travellers can pick up a bag of bacon peanut brittle for the road. 2790 Harrison St.; 415-550-6971; humphryslocombe.com.
For the nostalgic visitor, St. Francis Fountain is a throwback to the days when teenagers earned their pocket change working as soda jerks. But this is no thematic illusion – St. Francis opened in 1918 and has been in continuous operation ever since, serving chocolate egg creams over a marble counter to customers perched atop vinyl-covered stools. On weekends, hipsters crowd the sidewalk waiting for a diner-style brunch, and these days nobody will bat an eye if you substitute soy for your sausage. 2801 24th St.; 415-826-4200; stfrancisfountainsf.com.
Hole in One
While most doughnut fans would argue that the age-old indulgence needs no innovation, Dynamo Donuts proves that change is good. With flavours like cornmeal cherry, chocolate star anise and lemon thyme, Dynamo makes fried dough a vehicle for culinary creativity, served with a steaming cup of locally roasted Four Barrel coffee. When the shop opened, it was just a street-facing stall, but it has since added indoor seating and a rear patio – a rarity in San Francisco. 2760 24th St.; 415-920-1978; dynamodonut.com.
Throughout San Francisco, public art enlivens plazas and buildings, but perhaps the most remarkable display of the city's creative pulse can be found on Balmy Street, a narrow cobblestone alley leading off 24th Street, where dozens of murals form an outdoor gallery. Since the early 1970s, activist artists – primarily Latino – have been making political statements with paint, filling the walls and garage doors of Balmy Street with a profusion of colour. For information and guided tours of these murals and the many others around the city, stop into Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors Center. 2981 24th St.; 415-285-2287.
For Art's Sake
Representing a new generation along the 24th Street corridor, Triple Base Gallery opened a few years ago to showcase emerging artists. With a dynamic pair of young directors, the two-storey gallery is a bellwether for Bay Area arts culture, with rotating exhibitions that cross disciplines and media. If you happen to visit during an opening, a good party is guaranteed. 3041 24th St.; 415-643-3943; basebasebase.com.
Some Like it Hot
If the colourful sign isn't enough to lure you to La Palma Foods, the smell of fresh tortillas will surely do the trick. Inside the small “mexica-tessen,” handmade corn and flour tortillas, takeout containers of tomatillo salsa and freshly made plantain chips fill the shelves. Or you can head straight to the back of the shop, where pupusas, tacos, carne asada and more are served hot and ready to eat. 2884 24th St.; 415-647-1500; lapalmasf.com.
Tacos aren't the only reason to track down a meal in the Mission. One of the newest additions to 24th Street is Local: Mission Eatery, an uncommon sandwich shop and bakery where five-star fixings are served between slices of fresh bread. With one of the city's most celebrated chefs, this place is quickly becoming a gastronomic destination. If you're in town for a while, take advantage of the shop's cookbook lending library. 3111 24th St.; localmissioneatery.com.
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Pack your bags
From downtown, it's easy to hop on a BART train to 24th Street station. Rides are $1.75. Numerous bus lines also converge here. Use the custom transit trip planner at 511.org.
Where to stay
Hotel Kabuki 1625 Post St.; 415-922-3200; jdvhotels.com/hotels/sanfrancisco/kabuki. From $132. Situated in San Francisco's small but vibrant Japantown; features modern Asian interiors and a dining experience to match.
Sir Francis Drake Hotel 450 Powell St.; 415-392-7755; sirfrancisdrake.com. From $194. Centrally located near Union Square, this is one of San Francisco's oldest and best-known hotels. Accommodations feel luxurious without breaking the bank.