Saturday, May 25, 2013

Exploring the Mission Area of San Francisco


Appearances can be deceiving sometimes. When we arrived at our rental apartment in the Mission area of San Francisco a week ago at 9pm I felt a little anxious, standing on a dark street with suitcases and a toddler, fumbling with a lock. It didn’t look like a great neighborhood. It didn’t help when the next day a good friend commented that he was surprised we were staying there. “It’s not a great area.” he said. Well, after staying there a week, I completely disagree. The Mission area of San Francisco, particularly Valencia street where we stayed, is a fabulous area.

The interior of the apartment we rented.
The first place I loved in the Mission area is the rental apartment we found on VRBO. This apartment was a two-story two bedroom place. The owners kindly lent us necessary toddler equipment (training potty, books, stroller, milk for the first night) and also gave directions for good restaurants, grocery stores and mass transit. The apartment was 3 blocks from the BART (one of San Francisco’s two subway systems) which made the entire city easily accessible. The apartment had free WiFi and cable, although we didn't spend too much time using these amenities. It had laundry on the premises as well, which is a huge help in packing. And we had all of this convenience and comfort for less than a single room would have cost us downtown. I would absolutely stay there again. 

About a two blocks from the apartment, on Mission street, we found two incredible places to satisfy our family sweet tooth. The first was Mission Pie (http://missionpie.com), a small shop serving both sweet
The pie counter at Mission Pie - Yum!
and savory pies. While we were visiting we tried the walnut, the banana cream, the apple rhubarb and the strawberry rhubarb. All of the pies featured properly light and flaky pie crust. The banana cream was the favorite of our daughter, but I liked the tart/sweet zing of the strawberry rhubarb the best, particularly with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Mission Pie sources their ingredients locally and rotates their menu seasonally. I found myself wishing that I lived in San Francisco, because I would probably go to Mission Pie two or three times a week to sit, eat pie and write in their café. On the other hand, perhaps it’s for the best that I don’t live anywhere close by.

The second fun (and funky) place near the apartment is an eclectic soda and candy shop named The Fizzary (http://www.thefizzary.com) which features walls lined with any and every type of soda you
The interior of The Fizzary.
can imagine. My particular favorites were the Chai soda (made by the store brand, Taylor’s Tonics) and the chocolate cream soda. My husband liked the expresso soda. Much to our surprise, our two year old loved the extremely zingy (non-alcoholic!) ginger beer. Other varieties we liked included apple, blueberry, pineapple coconut, and mint lime, but they had hundreds more. The store gives a free taffy with each purchased bottle of soda and the mango chili flavor of taffy was intriguingly spicy and sweet. One of the store owners mentioned that in the future they hope to move some of their soda making process to the back of the store and open that up for viewing. I hope they do!

Dandelion Chocolate (http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/) is already showing how well a company
can do making their production process visible. Dandelion chocolate is a small-batch chocolate company that has a small café in front of their production area. Their street sign caught my attention and lured me into the store with curiosity about what small-batch chocolate is. When I entered the store the enticing rich odor of chocolate washed over me. I couldn't resist and I immediately purchased a snack and a beverage and sat down to watch the chocolate magic happening right before my eyes. Their chocolate is excellent; they use cocoa beans sourced from different regions (two in Venezuela and one in Madagascar) with different drying and roasting procedures to develop unique flavors in their single origin 70% dark chocolate bars. While I was there I tried the lemon-ginger iced chocolate which was light and cooling accompanied by a buttermilk strawberry pie, which had a nice richness along with the tartness which worked well with the thinner, cooler chocolate drink. I liked the cafe so much I brought my husband and daughter back two days later and we shared the Mission hot chocolate which was rich, slightly spicy with a hint of almond flavor. I purchased a tasting pack of their three current chocolate bars and I suspect I will be ordering more over the internet, particularly around the holidays.

My final favorite find in the Mission area is ImagiKnit (http://www.imagiknit.com). I found this store based on the recommendation of a fellow knitter attending my conference. She saw me working on my
current project during a session (I almost always knit while in a classroom setting because it focuses my mind) and came over to chat. She showed me her project and mentioned she had to buy extra yarn while in San Francisco because she hadn’t brought enough. Then she proceeded to tell me about a great yarn shop in the mission area. I immediately looked it up and was delighted to find it within walking distance (about a mile) from where we were staying. I headed over after the conference was finished and spent a happy hour browsing through their stock. ImagiKnits covers two full, large rooms with floor to ceiling shelves, all packed with yarn of various textures, weights, colors and materials. The two employees were friendly and helpful without hovering. While I was there they found just the right yarn for a woman who came in with two of her children, based on the rather vague information she brought them. When I asked for something with a local feel to it they immediately pointed me towards several potential yarns and talked about what made each special to San Francisco. I ended up purchasing some superfine merino to make fingerless gloves for myself; the yarn is by Malabrigo which is a major brand but the particular weight and spin is an exclusive to their store. ImagiKnit was another store that made me wish I lived in San Francisco, but again for the sake of my budget perhaps it’s best that things are as they are.

Overall the Mission area of San Francisco felt energetic, bright and vibrant. The area is famous for
The Women's Building in San Francisco.
The entire building is covered with
these colorful, detailed depictions of women
in many different time periods and roles.
brightly colored murals painted on the buildings and we saw many of these visual treats. There were hundreds of small businesses and intriguing stores; I only scraped the surface in the time I spent exploring there. I wasn’t even able to stop at all the recommended restaurants, and there was a really fun looking toy store that I passed up in consideration of the fact that I would have to get home anything I purchased there. My husband, daughter and I had a wonderful, safe time exploring the Mission area (and were less bothered by San Francisco’s rather aggressive panhandlers than we were downtown) and can’t wait to get back again.