Explore San Francisco's oldest and most vibrant neighborhood on foot with this self-guided tour.

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March 11, 2019

Explore the Mission on This Self-Guided Walking Tour

Despite our famous hills and many microclimates, San Francisco is a city best explored on foot. If you're looking to explore some of San Francisco's most famous neighborhoods by pounding the pavement, try this self-guided itinerary from local authors Kristine Poggioli and Carolyn Eidson. What follows is 1 of 17 walks from their book, "Walking San Francisco's 49 Mile Scenic Drive", edited and condensed for our website.

Explore San Francisco's Mission District

Sunny, artsy, and vibrant, The Mission is the oldest settled area of San Francisco. Follow this route along a grand boulevard of towering palms past stately old churches, historic buildings, and classic Victorian and Edwardian homes. Look up and down streets  for surprise views, explore all the eateries around Dolores Park, stop to catch your breath at the top of the hills, and absorb the beauty. Then, if you’re up for a real San Francisco experience, we've got a fantastic return loop for you.

Begin: Market St. at 14th St.

End: Cesar Chavez St. at Mission St.

Distance: Main Route: 1.9 miles, 3,800 steps, 40 minutes
Walk Back: 1.9 miles, 3,800 steps, 40 minutes

Hill Steepness Rating: 3 of 5

At the intersection of Market, Church, and 14th streets, start on the opposite side of the street from Safeway. Head east (downhill) on 14th St. Take a right on Dolores St.  

1. Dolores Street

This boulevard of rolling hills adds more than just beauty to the city. The wide expanse of Dolores St. created a life-saving firebreak during the 1906 earthquake and fire. The surviving Victorians can be seen on the west side, while the east side has the newer Edwardians. Some historians say Golden Gate Park superintendent John McLaren began lining the median with palm trees in preparation for the 1915 Pan Pacific Expo. Other sources claim that the Phoenix palms used at the Expo were transplanted to Dolores Street when the fair was torn down. Either way, the towering palms turned Dolores St. into the grand lady of the Mission.  

Continue south on Dolores St.

2. Tanforan Cottages (214 and 220 Dolores St.)

Built in the 1850s, this pair of redwood cottages are likely the oldest residences in the city. Sounds like the perfect place for a photo!

Continue south on Dolores St.

3. Sha’ar Zahav and the First Mennonite Church of San Francisco (290 Dolores St.)  

Congregation Sha’ar Zahav is a progressive Reform synagogue, established in 1977. The First Mennonite Church of San Francisco is an Anabaptist community. The striking green building they share is a neighborhood stand-out.

Continue south on Dolores St.

4. Mission Dolores (3321 16th St.)

Misión San Francisco de Asís, founded in 1776, stands as the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco. The Mission Cemetery remains one of only three burial sites still within the city limits. Though many of the original Mission Dolores buildings were secularized after 1835—becoming a hospital, German brewery, saloons, gambling hall, and more—the parish remained active. If you look into the larger basilica next door, you may see a Quinceañera or wedding taking place.  

Continue south on Dolores St.

5. Mission High School (3750 18th St.)

Built in 1896, this is San Francisco’s oldest high school still at its original site. It was rebuilt in the Spanish baroque style after a fire in the mid-1920s (though seismic retrofitting in the ‘70s that required much of the ornamentation be removed).

Continue south on Dolores St.

6. Dolores Park (19th and Dolores streets)

Formerly the site of a Jewish cemetery and a camp for 1,600 earthquake refugees, today this is one of the city’s most popular parks, freshly renovated with tennis courts, a new children’s playground, plenty of grassy spots for tanning, and events for everyone, including Cinco de Mayo, the Dyke March, and Film in the Park Night. It is surrounded by yummy eateries, so stop and have a snack.  

Detour!

At 19th St., enter Dolores Park and climb the stairs past the Mexican liberty bell and the statue of Father Hidalgo. Exit the park, turning left on Church St., and walk up to 20th Street to see the Golden Fire Hydrant.

During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and its subsequent citywide fires, this “little giant” saved the historic Mission District from complete destruction. Each year, on the anniversary of the Great Quake, the fire hydrant receives a new coat of gold paint at 5:12 a.m., the exact time the massive earthquake destroyed 80% of San Francisco.  

Turn left on 20th St. and then right on Dolores St. to rejoin the route.

7. Integral Yoga Institute (770 Dolores St.)

A spiritual community (ashram) in a converted Victorian mansion, offering classical Hatha Yoga instruction to the public daily. What’s not to like? Open to all. Bliss.  

Continue south on Dolores St.

Look!

8. Citywide Views

At Jersey St, look right for views of Twin Peaks. At 25th St., look left. See how the next few streets run all the way toward the bay? That's because the eastern waterfront was once heavily used by the U.S. Army and Navy. Navy St. is still here, while Army St. has been renamed after Cesar Chavez.

Continue south on Dolores St. Turn left on Cesar Chavez St.

Look!

Three old-time San Francisco institutions sit across from each other on Cesar Chavez St.

9. Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center (1500 Valencia St.) 

The Salvation Army has been offering food, shelter, and a helping hand to the underserved in San Francisco since 1883. In fact, the famous red Christmas kettle tradition began here in 1891 when Captain Joseph McFee set out a giant iron pot at the Ferry Building to collect funds to deliver Christmas dinner to destitute San Franciscans. 

10. St. Luke’s Hospital (3555 Cesar Chavez St.)  

The original St. Luke’s building crumbled in the 1906 earthquake. For a time, the hospital moved to a tent under the grandstand of the New California Jockey Club Race Track. 

11. 3435 Army Sign (Cesar Chavez St. and Mission St.)

Look up toward the top of the big squat building to your right, just past Valencia St.. The “3435 Army Street” address sign identifies the former Sears Roebuck department store. 

Walk-Back Route

At the corner of Cesar Chavez and Mission streets, turn left for authentic San Francisco experiences, good food, and one-of-a-kind stores in one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods.

Mission St.

Mission Street has been a commercial corridor for Latino families since the 1940s. Shopping here makes for a real adventure, and the food selection takes you around the globe—Senegalese, Italian, Mediterranean, Japanese, Indian, French, Thai, Mexican. You’ll even find vegan restaurants.  

Valencia St.

Not so long ago, Valencia Street was a funky mix of car-repair shops, seedy dives, nonprofit media centers, and women-owned businesses catering to the urban poor and Latino communities. Today, its vibrant mix of pupuserias, art galleries, restaurants, and nightlife. The neighborhood has been greatly influenced by an explosion of new restaurants, bars, and furniture, fashion, and artisan shops that have cropped up.  

Follow either one of these streets north back to Market St. and you'll have covered the Mission almost as thoroughly as any local!

In 2013, Kristine Poggioli and Carolyn Eidson found a new way to kick-start some healthy habits: they would cover all of San Francisco's historic 49 Mile Scenic Drive on foot. After getting reacquainted with almost every corner of the city they call home, Kristine and Carolyn decided to collect their travels in a book, "Walking San Francisco's 49 Mile Scenic Drive". They have continued to share their love of San Francisco by leading groups along some of their favorite routes and sharing their experiences with visitors from all over the world.

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