Hello, deliciously intrepid heroines! Welcome to San Francisco, one of the world’s most vibrant and jam-packed little cities. Every inch of its 7×7 miles belongs to a unique and vibrant neighborhood (and each neighborhood boasts its own gaggle of sub-neighborhoods!).
Today our journey takes us to LA MISSION, the warm and sunny valley south of downtown, east of the Castro and Noe Valley, and west of Potrero Hill. Protected from wind and fog by Twin Peaks and its own low elevation, the Mission is your best bet for a warm and sunny San Franciscan experience.
Presently, the Mission represents a liminal space: one of abundance, conflict, and gentrification, where high-end boutiques and fancy bars elbow themselves between aromatic botanicas and beloved taquerias. Walk lightly here: there are treasures down every alleyway…
Journey with me today to the Valencia Street corridor. We begin, in true San Franciscan fashion, with a late 11am start at the vibrant 24th and Mission BART station, walking west on 24th past the lovely Mission Branch library – the oldest library in the city! Then, we will cross the street and turn north onto Valencia…
Break your fast and support the community at Arizmendi.
At this cooperative bakery,
the workers are the owners and everyone has a vote. (How heroic!) Here, you can enjoy a mouth-watering assortment of freshly-baked muffins, scones, breads, pastries, and “chocolate things” with your coffee. For those craving lunchier sustenance, treat yourself to a mind-blowing slice of their creative and freshly-baked pizza (I’m sensing a freshly-baked theme here).
According to their website, “Our pizzas feature fresh vegetables, flavorful cheeses, infused oils and a variety of herbs on an organic, thin crust made from our signature sourdough. One distinct variety of pizza is offered each day.” Many of Arizmendi’s offerings are vegan and gluten-free. Plus, they’ve got a little fridge of salads, yoghurts, and hummus if bread just isn’t your thing.
Immerse yourself in real-life magic at the Scarlet Sage Herb Company on 23rd and Valencia.
This is one of San Francisco’s greatest magical gems, in this humble witch’s opinion! Here, you can peruse shelves upon shelves of holistic remedies, essential oils, texts on herbal medicine and magic, locally-made bubble bath, candles, cards, and more than the eye can take in at once. One wall is filled floor-to-ceiling with jars of herbs, roots and powders. Weigh yourself out some Mugwort, Dragon’s Blood resin, or perhaps some Chamomile tea.
Run your fingers through bowls of crystals and inspect the hand-written signs proclaiming the properties of each before selecting one or two to slip into your pocket. Pick yourself out a nice portable cauldron, or a fairy wand. On certain days you can even snag yourself a Tarot reading in the reading alcove above the entrance.
Spend blissful hours here with a wicker basket on your arm, and leave with magic dripping from your hair and shining forth from your eyes! Then, with your pockets full of crystals and aromatic herbs, stroll up Valencia and gaze in the windows of the many intriguing shops.
Be sure to take a peek in Dog-Eared Books’ FREE bin out on the sidewalk! Inside, they boast a wide variety of used and new books of every possible genre. Borderlands, by contrast, specializes in sci-fi and fantasy. Get yourself a pot of tea at their adjacent café and settle in for a good read.
Stock up on pirate supplies.
Now that you’ve satisfied your booklust, wander up the block to the city’s only independent pirate supply store – the infamous 826 Valencia.
No joke. 826 Valencia was founded by author Dave Eggers as a non-profit dedicated to helping young students hone their writing skills and generally get whipped into an enthusiastic frenzy about the literary arts.
The pirate store helps to fund this ambitious and heroic project, and happens to be a work of art in its own right. Peek into the drawers that line the wall and discover bizarre and delightful treasures – beard extensions, flutes, tattoo removers, or an ever-handy bottle of Emergency Treasure Burial Sand.
Be sure to follow the rules posted outside the fish tank viewing room! No marriage proposals allowed. Arrr.
Bones! Shells! Curios of natural science!
Once you’ve stocked up on McSweeney’s books and temporary tattoos at 826 Valencia, pop next door to Paxton Gate and prepare to be amazed.
Terrariums! Taxidermy! Gardening tools! AND SO MUCH MORE. Witness for yourself the incredible taxidermied Unicorn, the fascinating air-plants, and the delightful build-your-own terrarium station. MOSS FOR EVERYONE!
Score a coyote baculum, a porcupine quill, and a fossil or two. Exclaim over the unique jewelry and the lovely glass beakers. Snatch a moment of quiet reflection in the tiny back garden. Overall, indulge your inner natural scientist-slash-explorer heroine-self.
Soak up the art: it’s good for you!
After the dark surrealism of these strange portals to other worlds, I say some fresh air could do a body good!
For a change, let’s stroll up a few more blocks to 17th Street and slip down Clarion Alley
, home to one of the best mural projects in a city made of murals.
Slowly gape your way down this colorful hallway of art. Don’t be shy about taking pictures and posing with the art – the murals here and across the city shift and change and get painted over. Today’s mural may be covered up by tomorrow’s artists. Be sure to investigate the surrounding area for more street art: keep a weather eye open for colors and shapes that please the eye. Walk this alley for as long as your heart desires.
Now, darlingheart, you have two options, and they depend upon the weather.
If the afternoon is still sunny and warm and you desire to lay your body down upon the sweet sweet grass, wend your path westward to Dolores and 18th where you will find the mecca of lounging: Dolores Park
. Climb up high for an excellent view of the city. Spread your sweaters or blankets upon the grass, slip on your sunnies, and spread your limbs under the blessed sun.
Vendors stroll amongst the blankets and bikes, calling out their wares. Beware the cookies and brownies! You may get much, much more than you bargained for. But fear not: there is usually one girl at least hawking “pot-free cookies and brownies” from her large wicker basket.
If the fog has spilled too far to the east and the wind has risen, you might choose instead to make your way to the Samovar Tea Lounge.
For a grab-and-go experience, walk north to Valencia and 15th. For a cozy sit-down experience with more to eat than scones, walk or hop the 33 bus west to the Sanchez and 18th location. There, you can enjoy heavenly chai, sumptuous pots of earthy pu-erh, and refreshing shots of emerald matcha under the loving gaze of bronze Kuan Yin.
Bonus points for ordering one of their signature tea services: choose from Russian, English, Japanese, Paleolithic, Indian, and Moorish. Enjoy a plate piled with insanely good food and paired with a matching tea. Here, amongst warmth and steaming cuppas, you’ll find the perfect end to a heroic day.
Paige [Paige Z’s Tarot and Tea] is a professional witch living in San Francisco with her one-eyed cat, Squeaky Z. When she’s not slinging tarot cards or sipping tea, you can find her blissfully buried in a book.