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Illustration by Leeandra Cianci/The Globe and Mail

As San Francisco continues its urban transformation into a tech capital – from expense-account-worthy restaurants to a new state-of-the-art arena for basketball’s beloved Warriors – there’s one must-visit neighbourhood that has defiantly held on to its gritty charm: the Mission District.

Along and around the major streets of Valencia and Mission, old-school bodegas and thrift stores seem to have found a peaceful equilibrium with hipster bars and boutiques. It’s a sure fact that you won’t find any four-star hotels here, for now.

Take a day here to get a sense of where San Francisco has been, and where it’s going next.


San Francisco Proper Hotel

If booking a four-star hotel is more your thing than staying with a five-star AirBnB host, there’s a new centrally located place for you within walking distance of the Mission, as well as many other neighbourhoods. The Proper Hotel, an old flatiron brought back to life in Mid-Market, is the flagship of the new urban chain from Viceroy Hotels founder Brad Korzen. Think 131 rooms of modernist high-luxury, but for the Ace Hotel set. For something different, try a bunk room, where each bunk bed is outfitted with personal outlets, ports, smart TV and, most importantly, headphones. The rooftop bar Charmaine’s is one of the city’s buzziest nightspots; the view is commensurate with the lengthy wait in line to go up.

Rooms from $350 (U.S.), $200 for bunk rooms; 1100 Market St.,

Eat and drink

Tartine Bakery

Elisabeth Pruiett and Chad Robertson first opened Tartine Bakery in the heart of the Mission in 2002, drawing long lines to their tiny space for breads, pastries and sandwiches. The lineups are still there, but now Tartine fans can also get their fix at the Manufactory, a 5,000-square-foot production kitchen that additionally serves Californian breakfast, lunch and dinner. Finish your meal and exit through the back to find yourself wandering Heath Ceramics, a maker of beautiful west-coast-inspired homewares, and their Newsstand, a tactile complement selling newspapers and magazines. Just need coffee? Grab one at the outpost of the artisanal Coffee Bar around the corner, sitting on the patio if you wish.

Tartine Manufactory, 595 Alabama St.,

Coffee Bar, 1890 Bryant St.,

Mission Chinese

Chef Danny Bowien may now be a superstar in New York, but he came to fame cooking Szechuan-inflected dishes at the original San Francisco location of Mission Chinese, cheekily run out of what is still known as Lung Shan Chinese restaurant. Pro tip: Avoid the dinner lineups and visit at lunch hour from Thursday to Monday.

2234 Mission St.,

Lazy Bear

For a more upscale setting, consider booking ahead at Lazy Bear, chef David Barzelay’s popular New American restaurant that demands you enjoy the tasting menu at communal tables.

3416 19th St.,

Taqueria Cancun

For something under 10 bucks, it must be Taqueria Cancun for tacos and burritos. Their signature meat is the Al Pastor pork, but the adventurous might try the beef tongue, head or brains for their filling.

3211 Mission St., 415-550-1414


For drinks, go to Dalva and proceed directly to the back. You’ll find a “hidden” cocktail bar you will be very pleased to have discovered.

3121 16th St.,


Valencia Street is a shopping paradise that could keep you cool-hunting for an entire day. There are numerous thrift and vintage stores here that reflect the area’s socioeconomic range, from the Sally Ann to well-curated boutiques. Off the fashion and decor beats, there is the one-of-a-kind Scarlet Sage Herb Co., which often smells like its namesake as an apothecary specializing in herbal alternative medicines. Dog Eared Books is the neighbourhood’s long-time purveyor of new and used literature, and frequently hosts readings too. 1-2-3-4 Go!, as you might expect, is firstly a punk record store, but one where the punks grew up, cleaned up and discovered Pearl Jam. That is to say, stop in a browse their new and used selection.

The Scarlet Sage Herb Co., 1193 Valencia St.,

Dog Eared Books, 900 Valencia St.,

1-2-3-4 Go! Records, 1038 Valencia St.,

Local secret

End your day with dessert. The Bi-Rite Creamery benefits from proximity to the park, but the handmade ice cream is superb, including their trifecta combo: scoops of salted caramel, brown sugar with ginger caramel swirl and malted vanilla with peanut brittle and chocolate. Finish your cone or sundae in Mission Dolores Park at sunset. With a panoramic view of downtown, this is the moment: Don’t forget to take the perfect selfie for the ’gram.

Bi-Rite Creamery, 3692 18th St.,

Mission Dolores Park, Dolores St. & 19th St.