Two of SF’s most colorful neighborhoods, the Mission and Castro sit next to each other in a largely fog-free zone. Both are easy to explore on bike.
The Mission: One of SF’s oldest ‘hoods and anchor of Latin American cultures in SF, the modern-day Mission is rapidly evolving. You’ll find a mix of public art, trendy restaurants, expensive pour-over coffee, inexpensive taquerias (think tacos & burritos), airy boutiques, soccer fields, and a pervading aura of tech-hipster chic. And lots of people on bikes.
The Castro was proclaimed “gay capital” of the US by Life Magazine in 1964, and it’s still the cornerstone of gay culture in SF. It boasts a lively commercial corridor, stunningly ornate victorian architecture, rainbow crosswalks, and the city’s most cherished movie theater, the Castro Theatre, which is your best bet for a Disney sing-along or classic film noir.
What to See on a Bike
- Women’s Building “MaestraPeace” Mural: Covering two sides of a four-story building (and some of the inside, too), this is probably SF’s most breathtaking mural. Painted by seven women, the mural depicts female icons of all sorts. Easy to get to by bike, since it sits between Valancia St. and Dolores Park. 3543 18th St., just east of Valencia.
- The Old Mission, or, more specifically, Mission San Francisco de Asis: Built in 1776, the oldest building in the city is not a spectacular piece of historic architecture. In fact, it’s downright humble, but this building has seen it all: the gold rush, the 1906 and 1989 quakes, the ’90’s dot com bubble. The adjacent graveyard is of particular interest: it’s one of three remaining in the city (including the National and Pet Cemeteries in the Presidio). Buried here are Native Americans and early immigrants who helped build the Mission as well as some of the city’s founders. You’ll find the founders’ names not only on gravestones but street signs as well.
- Dolores Park: An expansive hillside park with stunning views of downtown from its highest point. On warm weekends, the place turns into a citywide picnic for locals looking to shake off the workweek. Food, drink, and other types of “indulgences” fuel the crowd as they do their best to soak in the sun and be San Francisco. Grab some of the best ice cream in the city at Bi-Rite Creamery, catty-corner to the park at 18th and Dolores, if the line doesn’t scare you away. Dolores Park covers two blocks between Dolores and Church, 18th and 20th.
- Valencia St.: North-south corridor with excellent bike lanes and stop lights timed for bicyclists. Valencia is filled with the trendiest of the trendy boutiques, restaurants, cafes, and bars. There’s also a writing center called 826 Valencia named after its own address posing as a pirate store.
- Clarion Alley Murals: Inspired by Balmy Alley (see below), and curated by local artists, this alley is filled with modern-day murals of all sorts and styles, many of them politically and socially themed. Keep your bike with you as you ponder the art, otherwise it might just roll away with someone else. Clarion Alley connects Valencia St. and Mission St., between 17th and 18th.
- Balmy Alley: Curated by non-profit Precita Eyes, Balmy has been showcasing Mission murals since 1972. Many of the works here depict the struggles of Central American peoples. Balmy Alley connects 24th & 25th, between Treat Ave. and Harrison St. Need a good taco fix? Grab some at the taco stand in front of Taqueria Vallarta, on the corner of 24th and Harrison. Or maybe its ice cream: treat yourself to odd but delicious flavors of Humphry Slocombe ice cream at the corner of 24th and Harrison. At the very least, go check out the 2-headed calf on the wall.
- Castro Theatre: The best movie theater in SF. From the organ music before movies to the sing-alongs and classics, the Castro Theatre reminds us what a movie experience should be. If this theatre ever went away, the city may not recover. On Castro between Market and 18th.
- Human Rights Campaign: Proudly filling the retail space of Harvey Milk’s old camera shop and campaign headquarters, HRC is non-profit working for LGBTQ equality. A plaque out front commemorates Harvey. Truly a historic spot.575 Castro St., between 18th & 19th.
- GLBT History Museum: Preserves and interprets history of gay, lesbian,
bisexual, and transgender people. 4127 18th St., 1/2 block west of Castro St.
How to Get There
From Hayes Valley: The Mission and Castro are just south of our Hayes Valley shop. A short 3-mile ride will take you into the Mission, past Dolores Park, and over to Castro St. We of course recommend deviating from this route to explore as much as possible.
From Fisherman’s Wharf: There are a few ways to go from the wharf to the Mission & Castro. To avoid the most hills, follow the waterfront around the baseball park, past the houseboats, then into the Mission below Potrero Hill. (1st option below). If you’d prefer a more direct route and don’t mind a hill, take Polk St to Market St., then hop on Valencia St. (option 2 below).