Mission District walking tour [self-guided with 11 stops]
This is one of the most interesting neighborhood of San Francisco, with its colourful and characteristic Mexican-American influence.
I have designed this Mission District walking tour with 11 stops that cover quirky and unusual shops, interesting street art and murals, tasty eateries and a couple of hidden gems missed by the most.
I have also shared below an easy to follow map, almost impossible to get lost, which is part of the fun, anyway.
But let’s get into the walk
Table of Contents
- 1 Misión San Francisco de Asís
- 2 Mission Dolores Cemetery
- 3 Clarion Alley (street art)
- 4 The Pirate Supply Store
- 5 Paxton Gate
- 6 Mission Dolores Park
- 7 The Golden Fire Hydrant
- 8 Mission Kitchen – for brunch/lunch
- 9 Peephole Cinema
- 10 Cypress Street Murals
- 11 Balmy Alley Murals
- 12 Mission Cliffs
- 13 The Morris – for dinner
- 14 Organised tour with local guide
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Here below a map of the walk that you can also see and download from my shared Google drive
You can start your walk from the Misión San Francisco de Asís Church, easily accessible from the 16th St Mission Subway Station.
Misión San Francisco de Asís
There is something enchanting about old buildings, and this one is no exception. The Misión San Francisco de Asís is a church built in the 1700s.
The traditional Spanish architecture, the beautiful sprawling gardens and the cemetery come together perfectly for any guest.
It has been restored multiple times but has not lost its original magic.
There are mass grave sites and resting places of missionaries, natives and founders.
Not only that, the curators at the mission are Ohlone descendants, so you get the full story of those who lived there back in the day.
You can even reach out to the church if you want to have a wedding on site!
Mission Dolores Cemetery
Just behind the Misión you will find the cemetery, the oldest in San Francisco (a small fee apply on Sundays).
The Mission Dolores Cemetery is one of the few resting grounds left in the San Francisco area.
Here, there are about 5,000 unmarked graves of Ohlone natives.
Other people buried here are missionaries, town founders and even infamous criminals.
In addition, there is a reed house and a Mohawk Maiden statue on the grounds.
You can also take a stroll in the recently restored boutique gardens around the cemetery.
On your way out, visit the gift shop and pick a souvenir.
There is something raw, open and exciting about street art because it has no rules and passes beautiful messages.
A stroll along Clarion Alley lets you embrace a collection of street artwork.
The Clarion Alley Mural Project has one 560 ft long and 15 ft wide block in the inner Mission District.
It was the brainchild of 6 independent artists and it has been going strong since 1992.
Currently, there are about 700 murals along the alley by artists from all walks of life.
The Pirate Supply Store
This shop and the next one are surely not on the touristic path, however, being different from anything you would expect, I suggest a brief visit inside and you may find something interesting and unique to buy.
The Pirate Supply Store is a quirky shop where you can buy anything related to pirates, basically what we all search for in San Francisco, isn’t it?
Come and have the Jack Sparrow experience in a safe space (Jack Sparrow not included).
You can check out the drawers and read pirate bulletins, find the X and spend time at the Fish Theatre.
There is so much you can purchase from the store, like skeleton keys, spy glasses, flags and other pirate-like trinkets.
If you love stories, there is a backroom where young locals can get help with projects like essays, poems and stories.
Promise, it is a safe, sword-free space for them.
If the Pirate Supply Store was not funky enough, just walk a few meters from it to enter the Paxton Gate, another quirky shop with natural curiosities, including carnivorous plants.
If you have watched the classic Little Shop of Horrors, you will have a rough idea of the kind of place Paxton Gate is.
From unusual plants, to taxidermy pieces to exotic insects, there is something for you to marvel at.
If you are curious about how taxidermy is done, there are adult classes you can join.
Meanwhile, across the street is a kids shop which sells unique puppets and toys.
If you are lucky, you can sit through a story time and other holiday activities
Mission Dolores Park
This is a lovely boutique park used mostly by locals to have walks, exercise or just chill out, have a picnic and see the life passing by.
It’s slightly elevated so you can have a lovely view of the city skyline, great for a few photos.
In the souther part you will find also a playground, a must stop if you are travelling with small kids.
The Golden Fire Hydrant
This is more of a symbolic stop than anything else.
There is a hydrant painted in gold, basically.
But it’s all about the history behind it.
You may already know of the terrible 1906 earthquake that hit San Francisco and the west coast.
Several buildings caught fire in the city and, even worst, the water system stopped working, except this hydrant that helped the firefighter to extinguish most of the fire in the Mission District saving it from destruction.
Was it a miraculous hydrant? We all love to think it was.
From there on, it has been painted in gold to remember that terrible time in San Francisco.
Mission Kitchen – for brunch/lunch
If you feel hungry, on the way to the next attraction, the Peephole Cinema, you can stop at Mission Kitchen for lunch or brunch.
The menu is a combination of American and Mexican dishes, which are simple yet affordable.
You can enjoy dishes like the Chilaquiles with eggs and steak, Azteca scramble, chorizo or the breakfast burrito.
If you love a homely spot with friendly staff who can receive your orders in both English and Spanish, you should definitely try out the Missions Kitchen.
Once you have your fill, you are ready to continue with your walk tour.
The name alone should make you curious enough to visit the Peephole Cinema.
The cinema is the brainchild of Laurie O’Brien back in 2013.
If you love short, silent films, this must be on your to list of places to visit.
What is unique about the Peephole Cinema is just that – you watch the films through peepholes.
Located at Orange Alley, it is easy to miss as you walk by.
Aside from the cinema, the alley has multiple murals painted for those who appreciate street art.
Are you interested in exploring more of the Golden City? Here are 3 unique self-guided walks and an e-ride of San Francisco, including maps and little gems like the Peephole Cinema.
Cypress Street Murals
This is a small street not well know to the most, or at least not as popular as the super famous Clarion Alley and the well known Balmy Alley.
In saying that there are a few murals that deserve a walk there.
Keep also in mind that this street is right between Peephole Cinema and the Balmy Alley, so easy to add it to your must-see places in the Mission District
The significant benefit of not being as popular is the fact that you will share the place only with a bunch of people, making it more of a boutique experience.
As you stroll in the Mission District, you must head over to Balmy Alley where you can check out numerous murals.
This is the mural alley that has inspired others to start something similar across the United States.
Since the mid 1980s, murals have sprouted here and you get to experience them all as you walk down the alley.
The great thing about this spot is that you can easily access it from the BART or San Francisco Subway.
The artwork keeps changing which is great if you come here on multiple occasions.
It’s going to be a fresh experience every time!
This is the last experience on this walk, if you still have energy in your body.
The Cliffs is the oldest climbing gym in San Francisco where you could potentially spend even the entire day.
It suits all levels of expertise, from beginners to experienced climbers, and even kids, making it a great family experience.
You can rent all you need on site, however, book in advance to be sure to find all you need.
If you are a beginner, you will start practising on top rope climbing where you will be secured by rope running from the top, the safest of the options.
If already experienced, you can decide to do some lead climbing or bouldering.
The Morris – for dinner
And this is the end of the day in the Mission District.
It would be a pity not to stay in the area for dinner, though, also to have more of a night experience.
Look no further than The Morris for food and drinks.
They offer a wide choice of wines and, if still not happy, you can order one of their famous cocktails.
Both vegetarian and flexitarian will be happy with the place.
One of the most popular dish is the charcuterie board, to enjoy with the lovely sourdough bread.
Organised tour with local guide
For more of an insight into the area, you can join this Mission District food tour.
The local guide will lead you through the best of the neighborhood, murals included, with a few stops to taste some of the best latino inspired food, including a taqueria.
It’s a great gastronomy tour that should not be missed, especially if you are into the Mexican cuisine.