Street Wise: A Stop-by-Stop Guide to Valencia Street, San Francisco

Valencia Street has become the buzzing thoroughfare of San Francisco's hip Mission District
Valencia Street has become the buzzing thoroughfare of San Francisco's hip Mission District | © Rohan Van Twest / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Leon Beckenham
29 November 2021
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Mexican taquerias, rummage-ready thrift stores and locally loved bakeries with lines around the block draw cool-seeking crowds to the Mission.

With San Francisco defined as much by its world-defining tech boom as its flower-power heritage, the shape-shifting city remains as dynamic and creative as ever. At the heart of it all has always been the Mission District: a diverse and ever-evolving neighborhood, blending counterculture roots with Latinx traditions and the hottest new trends. While Mission Street was where all the action was, hop a block west and, with its wealth of thrift stores, dive bars and taco joints, it’s Valencia Street today hogging most of the hipster limelight.

San Francisco Proper

Chic rooftop lounge with fire pit at San Francisco Proper
Courtesy of San Francisco Proper / Expedia.com
A striking mural to the rear of this Beaux-Arts flat-iron building only hints at the wonderland of exuberant design that lies within. Rock-star interior designer Kelly Wearstler pulled out all the stops when it came to decking out this gloriously over-the-top hotel. But it’s not all just style and sparkle, offering rooms bursting with luxury-level comforts like designer toiletries and Italian linens. It’s the rooftop lounge that really steals the show, with its indoor-outdoor bar, restaurant and flaming fire pit – it’s among the most glamorous spots in town. And all just a trot from Valencia Street.

Community Thrift

Store
An eclectic thrift store with furniture, clothing, records, bikes and much more
© Stephen Dwyer / Alamy Stock Photo
There are thrift stores, and there are San Fran thrift stores. Something about the Bay Area generates some of the best bargain-rummaging outlets in the US, and this one on Valencia is no different. The space is a cavern of well-organized second (third? fourth?) -hand clothes, furniture, records, homeware, books and bits and bobs. You can find some real treasures if you put in the hunting time, plus you can leave aglow with the knowledge your greenbacks are going to a good cause.

No Shop

Shop
If you don’t have the time to trawl through racks and rails, this fabulously kooky vintage store has already done the filtering for you. It offers shoppers a curated collection of mostly retro menswear and womenswear, from designer one-offs to classic kitsch pieces and everything in between. You’ll find some snazzy footwear, too, plus quirky shades, jewelry and accessories, mostly at prices that won’t bruise your wallet.

Taqueria El Buen Sabor

Restaurant, Mexican
Carnitas tacos at Taqueria El Buen Sabor in San Francisco, California
© Jarritos Mexican Soda / Unsplash.com
Few restaurants reach the ripe old age of 25 without having a winning formula. At this popular taqueria, it’s great-value authentic Mexican food in generous portions. Besides a jungle-themed mural as you enter, the family-owned corner restaurant has an unfussy cantina feel. A comprehensive is crammed full of Mexican staples like enchiladas, quesadillas, tamales and, of course, tacos. If you’ve really got the munchies, their burritos are huge and touted as some of the Bay Area’s best.

Clarion Alley

Architectural Landmark
Pedestrians survey the street art on Clarion Alley in the Mission District, San Francisco
Courtesy of Manuel Rego Casasnovas
Linking Valencia with Mission Street, this marvelous mural-filled alleyway provides an eye-pleasing distraction as you cruise down Valencia Street. It’s a full 560ft (52m) of socially engaged public art that stretches the whole length of the block. All but two of the properties along Clarion Alley have given permission to be painted on and there have been over 900 since the project began. Book yourself onto a tour if you want to know more about its history and the murals currently on view.

The Beehive

Cocktail Bar, Cocktails, $$$
Harking back to San Fran’s Sixties heyday, this glamorous retro-themed neighborhood cocktail bar channels the spirit of those groovier times. The drinks menu draws heavily on era-appropriate cocktails, with names like Thunderbird and Centerfold, supplemented by a dizzying choice of spirits – tequila and mezcal are particularly well represented. The mid-century vibe extends to the food menu, too, which includes a choice of that most vintage of dishes: cheese fondue.

Dog Eared Books

Bookstore, Shop
Interior of Dog Eared Books Bookshop on Valencia Street, San Francisco, California, USA
© Rohan Van Twest / Alamy Stock Photo
Despite the rise of to-your-door deliveries, San Francisco’s love of the bricks-and-mortar bookstore remains unwavering. This literary landmark has been feeding the city’s book appetite since 1992 with its lovingly curated and comprehensive collection of new and used books. A sense of hushed-yet-friendly calm draws in shoppers for browsing, with everything from the latest bestsellers to offbeat small press and local literature.

Loló

Restaurant, Mexican, $$$
If you prefer your tacos more on the refined side, then Loló has elevated Mexican cuisine to deliciously sophisticated heights. Their menu is largely inspired by the food of Mexico’s Pacific and a blend of Jalisco-California flavors. Playful interiors are infused with a touch of magical realism, while their small-plate dishes are just as beautifully presented. Topping it all off is one of the best selections of agave-based spirits in San Fran.

Arizmendi Bakery

Bakery, Pizzeria, Pastry Shop, American
Exterior of brick building housing Arizmendi Bakery on Valencia Street in the Mission District of San Francisco
© IMAGES@ARTIST-AT-LARGE / Alamy Stock Photo
Lines outside a bakery can only mean one thing – their goods are worth the wait. At this worker-owned cooperative, you don’t usually have to queue too long: lines move quickly but testify to the doughy delights within. They keep the menu tight but changing daily, so you’ll get the likes of cinnamon raisin brioche one day and walnut sourdough the next. They stick to one pizza that changes each day, saving you the trouble of choosing. Just get in line: it’s worth it.

1906 Mission

Cozy queen bedroom with bamboo details and bay window seat at 1906 Mission in San Francisco
Courtesy of 1906 Mission / Expedia.com
It’s no secret that San Francisco has become one of the priciest cities in the US, but thankfully there are still places like 1906 Mission that won’t break the bank. This simple-yet-modern B&B occupies a charming Victorian house, built in the aftermath of the great 1906 earthquake, hence the name. Eco-friendly rooms are clean, bright and comfy, and all bathrooms are shared. A free breakfast selection of bagels, muffins, cereals and fruits sets you up for exploring Valencia Street, a couple of minutes away.

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