San Francisco’s Mission District

It’s fun to be reminded of my 2015 externship & explore the geographic history of this area

I’m glad to be back in San Francisco’s Mission District. Named after its 1776-built Mission Dolores, which is the oldest building in the City, this district is an exuberant, evolving neighborhood with Latino roots and a hipster feel. Hipster is definitely different from Hippie, of which I am more accustomed. There are many currently-closed clubs, restaurants, and lounges and commercial buildings. Beautiful and vibrant murals line streets, such as the one pictured above.

Location & Climate

The Mission District is located in east-central San Francisco and is often warmer and sunnier than other parts as it is largely insulated from the fog and wind coming in from the west.

There are four neighborhoods in the Mission District. The northeastern quadrant, adjacent to Potrero Hill is a center for high tech startup businesses and hosts some entertaining bars and restaurants. The northwest quadrant along Dolores Street is famous for Dolores Park and its Victorian homes. There are also two main commercial zones. The Valencia Corridor, which spans from about 15th to 22nd, and the 24th Street corridor – otherwise known as Calle 24 – in the south central part of the Mission District. Both are popular destinations for their restaurants, bars, galleries, and street life.


The Ohlone, formerly known as Costanoans, are a Native American group on the Northern California coast.

Before the arrival of Spanish missionaries, much of the San Francisco Bay Area was populated by the Ohlone, who lived in more than 50 distinct landholding groups similar to villages and tribes. They did not view themselves as a single unified group but lived by hunting, fishing, and gathering, in the typical California pattern of the era. The members of these various groups interacted freely with each other and practiced a similar religion. Prior to the mid-nineteenth century Gold Rush, the northern California region was one of the most densely populated regions north of Mexico.

However, the arrival of Spanish colonizers to the area in 1769 vastly changed life forever. The Spanish constructed missions along the California coast with the objective of converting the native people to Christianity. Between 1769 and 1834, the number of Indigenous Californians dropped from 300,000 to 250,000. After California entered the Union in 1850, many argue that the state government perpetrated massacres and genocide against the native people. There is now a push for cultural and historical recognition of their tribe for the damages they incurred.

The church had been nearly abandoned. But during the second half of the 1800s, the area transformed from ranchland to entertainment space, hosting bull and bear fighting, horse racing, baseball, and dueling. In the decades following the Gold Rush, the once-town of San Francisco quickly expanded. Mission lands were developed and subdivided for industrial uses and into housing plots for working class immigrants, largely German, Irish, and Italian.

Around 1900, the Mission District was still one of San Francisco’s least densely populated areas, with most of the inhabitants being working-class white families and the lower-middle-class who lived in single-family houses and two-family flats. Development and settlement intensified after the 1906 earthquake, as many displaced businesses and residents moved to the area, spurring the development of Mission Street. In 1926, the Polish community of San Francisco converted a church on 22nd Street and Shotwell Street and opened its doors as the Polish Club of San Francisco. During the 1940-1960s, a large number of Mexican immigrants moved into the area—displaced from an earlier “Mexican Barrio” on Rincon Hill where the western landing of the Bay Bridge was to be— giving the Mission a heavily Chicano/Latino character for which it continues to be known today. During the 1960s, Central American immigration contributed to a Central American presence that has outnumbered the Mexican population since.

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