• Mission Street
• Valencia Street
• Clarion Alley
• Mission Dolores Church
• 24th Street
The namesake Mission Street is the Mission District’s main thoroughfare. It extends all the way from the waterfront downtown and curves south into the Mission, where it really picks up character between 16th & 25th Streets. Mission has two underground BART stops (16th and 24th) that go along with several bus lines heading north, south, east and west. The ample supply of businesses offer everything from cookies and tires to cell phones and dental work. It’s bustling to be sure, but it has a certain down-and-out (and on drugs) element that pervades. Basically, it provides a lot of the urban grit that people come for, but then avoid once they get here.
The Mission Movie crew spent a fair amount of time on Mission, shooting one provocative scene with the hipster character Susan walking around late into the night.
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Bars, bars, restaurants, and more bars anchor the streets at Valencia & 16th. It’s the type of enclave where if you don’t feel secure with yourself you might feel uncomfortable, but if you’re really secure you might feel annoyed. It’s the hub of Mission nightlife—one could say of San Francisco nightlife and not collect any detractors for it. Valencia is only a block west of Mission St., but it’s worlds away. This is where you can get a smoothie and then go to a store called Therapy and buy kitschy stuff before you catch a flick at the Roxie.
Then again it’s also home to the popular Esta Noche, a gay Latino nightclub known for its drag shows and transvestites, and it’s home to Pancho Villa, one of the neighborhoods best (or most frequented, anyway) taquerías. Yet stemming from this intersection, you can also get burgers, bagels, crepes, pizza, falafel, tapas, sushi, fondue, or go grocery shopping. At 546 Valencia is Puerto Alegre, the site used as Antonia’s restaurant. Locals head here especially for the margaritas.
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Murals blanket the Mission District, serving as the most poignant statement of place and the people who reside here. Mural art provides the symbolism of Mission Movie as a whole, and a mural and its artist form one of the central storylines. Clarion Alley, running between Mission and Valencia near 17th, was the site used for that storyline.
In 1992, the alley lined with homeowners’ garages was turned into the Clarion Alley Mural Project. CAMP, currently run by co-directors Aaron Noble and Megan Wilson, was founded by a collective of six Mission residents, including Noble, Michael O'Connor, Sebastiana Pastor, Rigo 92, Mary Gail Snyder, and Aracely Soriano. The alley went on to serve as an important example for the development of the aesthetic that has become known as the Mission School.
“CAMP was directly inspired by the mural cluster in Balmy Alley focused on Central American social struggles. CAMP did not choose a single theme however, instead focusing on the two goals of social inclusiveness and aesthetic variety. As a result CAMP has produced more than 100 murals on and around Clarion Alley by Latino, Caucasian, African-American, Native American, Asian, Indian, Queer and disabled artists of all ages and all levels of experience, with an emphasis on emerging artists and new styles.” — www.meganwilson.com
But while truly an outdoor museum to behold, the alley is also that odd Mission mix. The Valencia end has sprouted new lofts, while the Mission end remains a bit of a congregational spot. On any given day, you could easily see camera-wielding tourists and Mission Street locals hanging out or taking care of business. Neither seems to impinge on the other.
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Mission Dolores Church
Mission Movie’s Cruz family attends the Mission Dolores church. Actually, they go to the much more aesthetically grandiose 1918 basilica next door, but the better story is the original church that sits quietly at the basilica’s side. It’s that little chapel—the oldest intact structure in San Francisco, the oldest original church building in California, and a springboard for the city’s growth—that has the spiritual mystique.
The church was part of the sixth of 21 Spanish missions in the region. The mission culture, backed by the Roman Catholic Church, was developed to establish territory and harness the native population for productivity and power. In 1776, the Spanish, gently at first, established the mission and undertook the conversion of the areas Ohlone Indians, who eventually built the church in 1786. A museum at the church, which is now an historical landmark, highlights the work of the Ohlone with the respect it deserves. When the 1906 earthquake hit, buildings around town crumbled, including the parish church next door (replaced with the basilica). But the chapel stood firm. The 4-foot thick adobe walls, redwood beams and vibrant original detailing on the walls and the entire ceiling still house services (offered in both Spanish and English) weekly along with the ornate basilica.
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Known as “the Heart of the Mission,” 24th is where you’ll most feel like you just walked into Latin America. It’s a treaded path and is always a part of festivities. Parades, like Carnival, start at the corner of 24th & Bryant, next to the cool, artsy, politically enticing Galería de La Raza. In addition to the Galería de La Raza, 24th Street is also home to the Precita Eyes Mural Arts & Visitors Center, facilitators of the mural art of Balmy Alley (stretching between 24th & 25th), the inspiration to the founders of Clarion Alley.
In general it’s not so much what’s on 24th as how it’s offered. Most signs in the Mission are bilingual, but here you get the sense that English is the translation. There’s an air of authenticity in the taquerías, bakeries, groceries, and other businesses that infuse the street with it’s feeling. Piñatas hang from the ceilings of grocery stores for sale not for decoration. That includes Casa Lucas Market, where a love scene, actually, let’s call it a tender moment, between Rene and Rosario was shot. (They fondled only the fruits and vegetables.)
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