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Mission District: Perfect for a sunny walking tour

Gail Todd

San Francisco’s Mission District is famous for its diverse cultures, murals, ethnic restaurants, underground creek and Mission Dolores, the adobe chapel that is San Francisco’s oldest intact building. But perhaps the Mission District is most celebrated for having the sunniest weather in foggy San Francisco.

Bounded by the Castro, Eureka Valley, Noe Valley and Potrero Hill, the Mission has been home to the Yelamu Indians living along the now-underground Mission Creek, Spanish missionaries, Gold Rushers, Irish and German immigrants and more recently immigrants from Central and South America.

Women’s building

Start your tour at the Women’s Building at 18th and Lapidge streets. Built in 1910, this Mission Revival structure first served as an exercise club. In the 1970s, the building was purchased by the San Francisco Women’s Centers to serve as a community center and home to women’s organizations. The “MaestraPeace” mural, painted in 1994 and running along both 18th and Lapidge streets, celebrates women’s healing powers, contributions and history.

Walk on 18th past the Women’s Building to Linda Street and then walk down Linda to 19th, cross, and you will see more murals at the city’s only open-air pool. The murals on the Linda Street side commemorate San Francisco’s 1934 waterfront strike and also the golden fire hydrant (at 20th and Church streets) that never ran out of water during the 1906 quake and fire.

Now return to 18th and walk west to Mission High School between Dolores and Church. The original Mission High was destroyed by fire in 1922. The new structure has an elaborate tower, baroque dome and ornamentation inspired by the nearby Mission Dolores. Cross 18th and enter Dolores Park.

Dolores park

Once a Jewish cemetery and later a refugee camp for survivors of the 1906 quake and fire, today Dolores Park is a popular open space offering gently rolling hills, a playground, a dog run, tennis and basketball courts and picnic areas. The southern section offers spectacular views of the city skyline and the bay. In the center of the park, you’ll find the statue of Miguel Hidalgo, hero of Mexico’s struggle for independence from Spain. Exit at 19th and Liberty Bell plaza, with a replica of the Mexican liberty bell celebrating Mexico’s freedom from Spain.

Mission dolores

No street in the Mission shows off the Mission’s weather better than Dolores Street, with its wide center green lined with palm trees. Across Dolores is the Gothic Revival Castle on the Park (601 Dolores St.), a luxurious dwelling that was once a church. Just to the south at Cumberland and Dolores is the large domed Second Church of Christ Scientist, built in 1915. This historic structure was to be torn down because it requires extensive retrofitting, but it has been saved from the wrecking ball and will be restored.

Stroll down Dolores, heading north, admiring the Victorian homes and the cafe-lined street. At 347 Dolores St. is Notre Dame Plaza, a low-income senior housing facility. Built in 1907, it was originally the city’s first all-girls high school and later beautifully adapted for its present use.

Between Chula Lane and 16th Street is the Mission Dolores. Founded in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra, the mission is open daily for self-guided tours. (Donation $3-$5). Walk through the chapel with its adobe walls and the ceilings depicting Ohlone Indian designs. Make sure to visit the modest cemetery, which is one of San Francisco’s only remaining cemeteries, along with the Presidio. Here are the remains of Ohlone and Miwok Indians as well as many early California pioneers.

Getting there

Driving is not recommended; public transportation is plentiful and parking is difficult. Take BART to the 16th and Mission Station. Walk west to Valencia, south to 18th, and west to the Women’s Building. You can also take the J-Church Muni to Church and 18th streets and walk east to the Women’s Building.

Urban Outings are presented by Greenbelt Alliance, the Bay Area’s advocate for protecting open spaces and creating vibrant places. To suggest an Urban Outing, contact Gail Todd, tour leader for S.F. City Guides and author of “Lunchtime Walks in Downtown San Francisco.” To find out more about Greenbelt Alliance’s work, visit www.greenbelt.org.

– Gail Todd, 96hours@sfchronicle.com


This article appeared on page G – 25 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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