I spent Sunday exploring 24th Street in SF's Mission District. Lots of people, myself included, have gone to The Mission a million times, but haven't had the opportunity to explore this colorful and eclectic part of the neighborhood. While Mission Street is the main auto and public transit thoroughfare through the neighborhood, 24th Street is the heart. The tree-lined street is known as El Corazon de la Misione, which literally means "the heart of The Mission."
You won't find nearly as many bearded beanie wearing hipsters, fixies, or PBR as you will over on Valencia. Instead, you'll find really legit tacos, Mexican food, burgers for under $15, bars that serve tasty food and snacks, and really colorful street art. The neighborhood is bright, inspiring, sunny, warm and vibrant.
Parking can be really tough, but there's a BART station right at Mission + 24th Street. Walk towards Potrero and away from Dolores Park, and you'll quickly come upon the village-like stretch. The opportunity to venture into some of the many alleys, and check out the murals! The neighborhood has the highest concentration of murals in The City, and the alleys are full of them! Each fence, garage door, and house is adorned with bright, saturated pigments.
Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitor's Center offers weekend tours that spotlight some of the best murals in the neighborhood. The tour explains the political and social messages behind the artwork. If you want a sunny, tropical escape from the bustling on 24th, head into Balmy Alley. Street art first appeared here in the 1980s as an expression of outrage against gentrification, human rights violations and injustice. After Hurricane Katrina, the alley was full of powerful political pieces challenging the federal response to the natural disaster and depicting the anger, displacement and destruction the storm created. This is the most famous of the mural alleys, and features more than 30 original artworks. In addition to tours, the visitor's center sells prints of several of the murals, and paint for muralists. For more mural info check here!
Wander into at least one of several used bookstores and check out the bargain bins. There are also a couple of boutiques, art galleries, green grocers and even a luchador store. Many of the businesses along 24th Street have been there since the 1940s, when immigrants from Mexico came to San Francisco to work in the bustling shipyards and factories. Before then, the neighborhood was mostly Irish and Italian.
The trees make it a great walk on a hot, sunny day, and more than a few places have outdoor patios in back. The neighborhood, like many in The City, is undergoing a transformation. Like Valencia Street in the 1990s, 24th has begun to see an influx of new businesses (some even relocated after being priced out of their spaces on Valencia) and long-vacant store fronts are being filled. The neighborhood offers a unique mix of old and new, and the kinds of places you can only find in San Francisco. It's beautiful and rough around the edges. Beauty and art express hardship, poverty, government failures and the fear of change. 24th Street has the 'village-within-a-city' feel that makes you feel transported to another world, without having to leave The City.