Quiet maybe not be the adjective that comes to mind when you think of the Mission district in San Francisco, but that’s what I find when I go. The area I’m referring to is just steps away from the loud and congested intersection of 24th and Mission, and a world away from the hip scene of the Valencia corridor. It is officially known as Calle 24, the Latino Cultural District.
To me it is the heart of the Mission, the area surrounding 24th Street between Capp Street (the official western border of Calle 24 is Mission Street) on the west and Potrero on the east. For added noodling interest, I meander up and down the side streets and alleys between 26th on the south and 22nd/23rd on the north.
The most famous of the alleys in this neighborhood is Balmy Alley, with its ever-evolving array of beautiful murals and social commentary. On less crowded weekdays, you will likely see an artist touching up an iconic mural or installing a new one. Nearby Precita Eyes (2981 24th Street) acts as artists gathering place and visitor center to Balmy Alley. There you can ask about artists or meet one in person, buy a neighborhood walking guide, and learn about the meaning of the murals on Balmy and equally impressive neighboring murals.
Color and art seems to be everywhere and on every wall in this neighborhood, but dip into some local galleries, such as Juan R. Fuentes Art Gallery [2958 24th St] and Galeria de la Raza [2857 24th St] to be further immersed. If you plan ahead, you can also take in a performance at the venerable Brava Theatre [2781 24th St] or join a group meditation or yoga class at Against the Stream [2701 Folsom].
Except for the obvious interlopers like Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen and Haus Coffee, this section of 24th Street is predominately Latinx-owned, mom-and-pop businesses, many of which have been here for generations. If I need a savory snack I aim straight to the taco bar at Taqueria Vallarta for traditional (small, soft) grilled chicken or chorizo, with a side of chips and salsa. When sweets and a cup of tea are calling me it’s either Temo’s Café or La Mexicana Bakery for crumbly traditional pastries. My choice just depends if I am sitting down or strolling the area.
Because the neighborhood has maintained its sense of place there is still an amazing inventory of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century buildings, especially houses, on the side streets. Rows of handsome Italianate and Stick Style houses, and carpenter gothic cottages line the shaded blocks. Peek between the homes for views to some amazing gardens in this sunniest of SF neighborhoods.
The undulating facades, shaded sidewalks and a sense of community spills out to the sidewalk from storefront to stoop. These are the exact qualities I tried to cultivate back in the day when I was working in downtown revitalization. They are also qualities that can’t be manufactured overnight or applied like Lee’s Press-On Nails. I guess the word I would use to describe the Calle 24 district is “genuine”. The very nature of the evolution of a neighborhood is slow and organic - and like fruit, makes it all the sweeter.
Noodling Necessities: BART stop is 24th Street (at Mission); MUNI lines 14, 49, 48, 12, 9R; Restrooms available for customers at cafes and restaurants; Beverages and snack places abound