Early this morning, I flew from Winnipeg to Calgary and then from Calgary to San Francisco, arriving at around 1:30 pm. The views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge were incredible from the plane! I could even see Alcatraz Island. In the final portion of our descent, we were flying just above the water on the bay and it felt like we were going to land in the water! But then the runway came up pretty fast after that. Thank goodness! I was worried there for a minute…
We exited the airport and followed the signs in the airport to the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). There was a ticket area where you purchase tickets electronically from a machine. Having no idea how this system worked, we asked the woman behind us in line for help. You have to insert your money in the machine first and then choose to buy a ticket worth the exact amount of money you put in or you can choose to decrease your amount to equal the exact amount of the train fare you need (the machine will give you change). It then prints out a paper ticket, which you insert into a slot on the gate. It opens and your ticket pops up on top of the gate. Take it with you and can now board the train (when you are inserting your ticket into the gates when arriving at and exiting the train station, it keeps track of where you are leaving from and going to and deducts the correct fare amount. Neat, huh?). We boarded the train going towards Pittsburg/Bay Point and got off at 16th and Mission. The train was super fast and drove above ground sometimes but underground like a subway system most of the time. We arrived in the Mission and inserted our ticket at the gate again to exit the underground station. If you look at your BART ticket, you will notice that it tells you how much money you have left on your card (I only realized this more than halfway through my trip though, unfortunately).
The Mission District is a bustling, grungy, eclectic, rough around the edges, authentic kind of neighbourhood with a strong Latino influence. There is a diverse population living here, from all background and walks of life, but a large concentration of Mexicans and Central Americans, as evidenced by the types of shops and variety of ethnic cuisine. There are open-air street markets selling fresh fruits and vegetables and everything organic on almost every street corner. Authentic Mexican taquerias are also very abundant in the Mission, as well as thrift stores and bargain shops, small, independent and locally owned shops and restaurants selling unique products and cuisine and Mexican music can be heard drifting from open doors and windows. There are also a wide variety of bars and the streets are packed with young people at night. Mission Street is a grittier version of Valencia, with lots of homeless people, shops with graffiti and bars protecting the windows and doors, and dirtier streets. But I love the neighbourhood. It is beautiful, unique, authentic and diverse.
After arriving in the Mission, we walked to our Airbnb apartment on Albion Street. Communication with our host prior to arriving had been easy and she had provided us with detailed instructions and the codes for how to get into her apartment. We successfully got in and unpacked our bags in our gorgeous private room. The room was beautiful! It had a large bed with nice bedding and a comfortable mattress, a small couch, dresser and night tables. The apartment itself was clean and pretty with a spacious kitchen and living room that we could use as well as a guest bathroom. Our host couldn’t be at the house during our stay, which was unfortunate, but she would be back on our last night in San Francisco. The Wi-Fi worked perfectly and was super fast, compared to what I was used to at home!
I had a serious craving for some authentic Mexican food, so we visited a nearby taqueria called Pancho Villa Taqueria, located on 16th Street between Caledonia and Julian. It was packed! I ordered two “super vegetarian” tacos loaded with cheese, guacamole, sour cream, rice, black beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. I topped it off with a spicy green salsa and regular salsa. They had a great salsa bar with every variety of salsa and spiciness available. Everything was delicious including the watermelon agua fresca and the tacos tasted very authentic.
Next, we walked to Clarion Alley, just off of Valencia (between 17th and 18th Streets) where the walls of the buildings on either side of the alleyway are painted with beautiful and colourful murals. They were all so unique, many of them with political messages and thought-provoking quotes. There was garbage in the alley and empty bottles of alcohol littered around. There were some homeless people as well, and one with a tarp over her head to protect from the sun. They kept to themselves and I felt totally safe here during the daytime. One woman asked us if we could spare some change for her to buy an ice cream. We looked through our bags and handed her a few American dollar bills. She was grateful. Then we started chatting with her and my mom asked her if she could photograph her for a project she is doing. She was hesitant at first, but agreed. We asked her what her key to happiness is, and she said that for her it would be money because it is needed to pay the bills. She also said that she recently saw a woman on a skateboard with no legs, and she was positive and smiling. She continued and told us that seeing that humbled her and helped her to realize that it could be worse for her. It inspired her to live more positively and remain cheerful even in her circumstances. Her name was Mercedes and she was a beautiful woman with great insight. I love small moments of connection with locals like what we experienced.
We then continued our walk to the Bi-Rite Creamery, a famous ice cream shop in San Francisco with line ups around the corner of the street, located on 18th Street between Guerrero and Dolores. I had read rave reviews about this place online before coming here. On our way to the creamery, we walked past the Women’s Building (on 18th Street), which had beautiful murals and paintings on all sides. At the creamery, I tried their most well known flavour, salted caramel, and it was as good as they say it is! The line up wasn’t even long at that time (however, we did go to the soft-serve window, which is far less popular than the hard ice cream). We sat on a street bench and enjoyed some people watching while eating.
We decided to walk a short ways to Mission Dolores Park, which was beautiful and packed with people! There was hardly a free space of grass. The park is located on a sloped hill. We climbed the hill and the views of the city from the top were amazing! You could see all of the tall buildings downtown as well as hills in the background with houses built along the side. The park is a great spot for people watching and it seemed like there was a good cross section of the surrounding communities gathered here. People of all ages were hanging out, openly smoking marijuana, playing sports (basketball and tennis) and games, reading, sleeping and chilling with friends while drinking alcohol. There were homeless people sleeping on the grass, using tarps as blankets and with their shopping carts full of their belongings beside them. One homeless man was collecting empty alcohol bottles from people as they left the park, likely for him to sell and get some cash. We relaxed for a little while and just watched life go on around us.
After visiting the park, we went to Bi-Rite Market which was located on 18th Street between Guerrero and Dolores. This was one of many local markets in the Mission, selling organic fruits and vegetables, raw milk, kombucha and other organic food products. I love how widely available organics are in San Francisco! They are everywhere and I am jealous that the Americans can purchase raw milk legally (unlike in Canada). We bought some eggs, yogurt, milk, bananas and kombucha for our breakfasts.
Following the market, we returned to the apartment to do some relaxing before heading off again in the evening for a nice stroll down Valencia and Mission Streets. We found some quiet side streets, such as Liberty Street and 21st Street, that had beautiful Victorian houses with intricate details. They were all so unique and appeared in a variety of colours. We walked by so many outdoor markets selling fresh produce. It reminded me of Mexico! We visited the Valencia Whole Foods and Mission Market. There were many local independent shops, convenience stores, restaurants and bars and even a theatre called Roxie Theatre, where they show independent films. It was cool to see! I am definitely loving the Mission and there is so much more to see and do.
We returned to the apartment and met and chatted with another individual who is also renting a room here (our host has two private bedrooms that she rents out on Airbnb) and then relaxed the remainder of the evening.
I am looking forward to touring Alcatraz Island and Prison tomorrow and checking out the Embarcadero!