When visitors think of iconic thoroughfares in San Francisco, the mansions, manicured gardens, and hairpin turns of Lombard Street are probably the first images that come to mind. While Lombard may be the most well known, San Francisco has several other notable streets that offer travelers a local experience and some insight into the zeitgeist of the city's distinct neighborhoods. Our new series, "Streets of San Francisco" examines the offerings of the unique arteries that define the City by the Bay.
To kick things off, I take an afternoon to explore one of my favorites -- 24th Street from Potrero Avenue to Mission Street, in the heart of the sunny Mission District. While there's no official "Little Latin America" in San Francisco, this section of 24th Street is as close as you can get. Here you'll find San Franciso's highest concentration of murals, some of its best taquerias, and its most vibrant Latin American cultural festivities such as the Day of the Dead and Carnaval parades. Alongside Mexican and other Latin American food, 24th Street also has an emerging scene of forward-thinking eateries that combine local, sustainable ingredients in unique ways, and tend to attract a hipstery 20- to 30-something crowd.
As I pass by the fruit and vegetable stands outside of Casa Lucas Market, a small man walking with a cane nods and greets me with, "Buenas!" On this street, you may forget you're even in San Francisco, as you'll probably hear more Spanish being spoken than English, while the sounds of Latin American music drift from apartments and businesses.
Wandering westward along the north side of the street, I stop for lunch at the Alabama Street location of a 24th Street staple, El Farolito Taqueria. Its two locations in the 24th Street corridor are beloved for their excellent San Francisco-style burritos. Today, I opt for tacos and enjoy two corn tortillas piled with flavorful grilled meat and salsa, with cilantro sprinkled on top. Another popular eatery is Wise Sons, a Jewish deli that serves up hefty sandwiches from Wednesday to Sunday -- just be prepared to wait in a hefty line! At Local Mission Eatery, you'll find quality dishes at very reasonable prices, and a menu that changes regularly according to what's in season and available locally.
If you arrive at 24th Street in the morning, fantastic breakfast options await as well. Dynamo Donuts carries a creative variety of donuts, or if you want to sample some authentic Mexican baked goods, try Panaderia La Mexicana or La Victoria Bakery.
At 24th and Harrison I make a pit stop at Humphry's Slocombe and sample a few of their frozen treats before choosing a scoop of red wine and cola sorbet. Since it opened at the end of 2008, Humphry's has quickly become a local favorite for its unlikely and delicious flavor combinations. Day or night, in hot weather or cold, you'll always find ice cream lovers enjoying the imaginative scoops they offer here. Another 24th Street favorite is San Francisco's oldest ice cream parlor, St. Francis Fountain, which serves Mitchell's Ice Cream and good old-fashioned American desserts such as sundaes and milkshakes in addition to classic diner meals.
Less than a block away, I drop into Alley Cat Books to see what's new. This is the latest in a group of four local bookshops that rage against the notion that physical books are a dying breed. The used and discounted books here are thoughtfully presented by the staff and you'll also find postcards, art, and community events.
At the lively spot where 24th Street intersects with Mission Street, I cross to the other side of the street and head back east along the south side of 24th. At South Van Ness Avenue, a display of colorful Lucha Libre masks draws me into Mixcoatl, a boutique where the selection of handmade jewelry, clothing, and home decor rivals any handicraft shop in Mexico.
At Folsom Street I pass by the original location of Philz Coffee, a local coffee establishment that's popular for its customized coffee blends, colorfully painted walls, and lively atmosphere. In front of the cafe, benches facing the street provide for ample people-watching in a social space where a solo traveler can potentially meet new friends.
I head over to Balmy Alley off of 24th Street, where fences and garages have been turned into huge canvases for muralists and their messages. If you're interested in digging deeper into the history of the murals, SF City Guides offers free bimonthly tours and for a fee, Precita Eyes gives weekend tours of Balmy Alley murals and beyond. Other notable 24th Street murals include those that adorn St. Peter's Church at Florida Street, and a mural at York Street painted almost entirely in shades of blue.
For even more art, stop by Galeria de la Raza, a community-based organization that focuses on Latino art and culture. On Mission Street towards 25th Street, the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts provides a multi-disciplinary space for visual arts, musical performances, dance classes, and more. A new space called Asterisk doubles as a gallery and a meeting place for contributors to a magazine with the same name. Pick up a free copy of the publication while you're there, and read about local culture while you enjoy a burrito, coffee, or sweet treat under the 24th Street sun.
Ekua Impraim is our Marketing and Communications Intern. A California native, she’s an avid traveler who enjoys discovering her local surroundings just as much as exploring far-flung corners of the world.