Mission - Haight - Golden Gate Park

Start this tour by taking BART to the 16th and Mission Streets Station or riding any of the many Muni routes that pass through this busy area.

The Mission

The Mission District neighbourhood formed around San Francisco’s original mission church. The historic building is located at 16th Street and Dolores.

The Mission neighbourhood is centred on Mission Street, which is jammed with restaurants, food stores, and variety stores catering to all ethnic groups, particularly Spanish-speaking. This is the street for exploring food and drink from almost every South American city, with restaurants often featuring live music.

Parallel to Mission Street on the west is perhaps San Francisco’s hippest street: Valencia. Valencia Street is home to some of San Francisco’s most innovative restaurants and cool bars (there are also many on Mission and Guerrero Streets as well as the connecting streets between 16th Street and 24th Street. Check out the furniture and junk stores too – they’ll have things you never knew you needed.

From the planning perspective, the recent transformation of the Mission neighbourhood has been a mixed blessing. Gentrification has pushed many of the neighbourhood’s original residents out. The pace of gentrification has slowed from the dot-com boom in the late 1990’s, but affordable housing remains one of San Francisco’s most pressing problems.

Haight-Ashbury (The Haight)

The Muni’s #33 Stanyan bus travels up 17th Street from the Mission, up along the edge of Twin Peaks (be sure to look back out the windows for an unforgettable view), and down Clayton to Haight Street. Get off and walk west along Haight, you will pass through the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets, famous from the Summer of Love.

The neighbourhood still has a counter-cultural flair although it has a smattering of chain stores. You can walk along Haight Street to the gates of Golden Gate Park.

Golden Gate Park

View from deYoung Museum Golden Gate Park San Francisco.
View from deYoung Museum Golden Gate Park San Francisco.

Golden Gate Park is the crown jewel of San Francisco’s park system stretching from Haight-Ashbury to Ocean Beach over three miles away. Visit on a weekend and the park will be filled with people playing, picnicking, and visiting the cultural facilities.

San Francisco City Guides offers a walking tour of Golden Gate Park. The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department’s Golden Gate Park Guide describes the park’s attractions and provides practical information.

Sunday’s a great time to visit because roads in the eastern part of the park are closed to traffic providing a wonderful opportunity to walk, bike, skate through the Park without worrying about auto traffic. Most of Golden Gate Park’s attractions are located  in the east end of the park. As you head west towards the ocean you find fewer people and more nature.

Golden Gate Park is the location of several important San Francisco cultural institutions and attractions including:

  • Conservatory of Flowers is over 125 years old (it was renovated following a windstorm in 2000).
  • M.H. deYoung Art Museum – The museum re-opened in 2005. It was designed by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog and de Meuron. The photo on the right is from the museum’s observation tower – great views! If you take Muni to the Park, keep your Transfer for $2 off the admission price (Muni passes are also accepted for $2 off).
  • California Academy of Sciences – The museum reopened in 2008 after having been rebuilt by the Italian architect Renzo Piano. It’s a fantastic building with wonderful exhibits.

The deYoung museum and Academy of Sciences are located on the Golden Gate Park Concourse where concerts are often held during the summer. Also in the concourse area are: the Japanese Tea Garden adjoining the DeYoung Museum; the arboretum, a short walk from the concourse, and the AIDS Memorial Grove, just behind the Academy of Sciences.

There’s a great deal of controversy about the presence of large cultural institutions like the museums in the park. Many people object to the environmental impacts of people driving to the park and using parkland for buildings so the rebuilding projects for both museums involved much political discussion. For example, the concourse was reconstructed in 2005 as part of building an underground parking garage. This ultimately resulted in a ballot measure that was approved by voters (more in this SF Chronicle article). Controversy continues today over whether to close Golden Gate Park roads on Saturday as well as Sunday.

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