Mission Street nightlife

To view our full gallery or to purchase prints, please visit our album here.
By Simon J. Lau


One thing that surprised me upon returning to San Francisco from my stint in New York was just how far the Mission District had developed since I left. When I first moved to San Francisco in 2007, few people if any proposed meeting in the Mission besides an occasional (daytime) burrito run. The Mission District was still a very rough neighborhood and lacked a vibrant nightlife. Fast-forward a few years and by my return in 2012 the neighborhood had become a weekend and nightlife destination. With countless bars, lounges, and restaurants, people from all walks of life and all corners of San Francisco converged here each day and each night.

Looking back, it’s not surprising to see how the Mission District developed into a hip neighborhood. As our guest writer, Mariela, discussed in her article, Reimagining My Grandmother’s Mission District, “the Mission was an affordable alternative to the more established neighborhoods with quick access to Financial District and highway access to the Peninsula (not to mention a warm microclimate to boot).” Given these attractive characteristics, it was only a matter of time before the Mission District’s broad appeal attracted a new and growing fan base. This led to investments into new development and the renovation of historic spaces.

Despite the obvious issues associated with gentrification, the Mission District has become much more accessible to many more people in and around San Francisco and the larger Bay Area. As a local history junkie, one of my personal favorites includes the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema located in the former Idle Hour Theater (now the New Mission Theater). It’s an arthouse cinema that features many independent films. Similar to the Sundance Kabuki in Japantown, there is a bar here and it serves food and drinks during showings. It’s a fun space and in reverence to its history, it has been nicely renovated to preserve many of the building’s historic features.

Reimagining my grandmother’s Mission District

To view our full gallery or to purchase prints, please visit our album here.
Writing by Mariela De La Mora at Winging at Life; Photography by Simon J. Lau


The Mission is me. I am the Mission. The Mission District is the neighborhood that my family has called home since we settled here from Mexico in the 1970s. On the stoops of its houses, my parents met and fell in love. Through its streets, my grandmother and I made our weekly trips to the carniceria, or butcher shop, to gather fresh meats for our family dinners. These streets meander among and between colorful murals, traveling mariachis, and fresh produce stores along Mission Street, Valencia, and Guerrero.

Although the political and cultural demographics of San Francisco, and the Mission District specifically, have changed considerably across its history, the Mission District has maintained much of its early colonial roots. For instance, the Mission District was originally occupied by the Ohlone people, Native Americans who inhabited large swaths of land in and around the Bay Area, extending down through Monterey. When Spanish Missionaries arrived in the 18th century, they converted many Ohlane people to Christianity. Those who refused were enslaved and enlisted to support the building and maintenance of the Missions. In the first half of the 19th century, a great deal of global instability arose. Ruled by the Spanish for nearly a century, Mexico gained independence from the monarchy in 1821. However, this new republic grappled with its newfound independence and, for decades, the Mexican government was overwhelmed by civil unrest. It was during this period of civil instability and cross-border disputes with the US that the US declared war on Mexico, leading to what would later be known as the Mexican-American War. When the dust finally settled, the US had annexed Alta California, which included San Francisco, and Texas. Despite the many changing of hands and governorship, the Mission District, home to the original Spanish Missionaries, remains a Spanish-speaking enclave to many Central and South American immigrants today.

The rise of technology companies in the last two decades has created a gradual, but drastic shift in the Mission District. This shift includes changes to both its demographics and its urban architecture. Beginning in the 1990s, many young urban professionals that supported the dot-com boom moved to the Mission District. The Mission was an affordable alternative to the more established neighborhoods with quick access to Financial District and highway access to the Peninsula (not to mention a warm microclimate to boot). The neighborhood’s growth and rising popularity among urban professionals led to dramatic rent hikes and gentrification. This trend continued with the second technology wave in the 2010’s. Similar to the dot-com boom, this second wave led to growing tensions between the local community and newcomers. Most recently, San Francisco’s Planning Commission adopted “interim controls” to restrict redevelopment of the Mission District. Despite many new condos and high-rises already in the pipeline, these controls placed a 15-month moratorium on market rate redevelopment beginning in January 2016 (SocketSite).

Not much has changed yet everything has changed. Some people use the word “gentrification”. I happen to think it is just another movement – a population shift. It is still a Latino enclave, but there is new life being breathed onto the streets. These are the same streets that my mother would never have let me walk alone as a kid. Those same areas are now lined with outdoor tables and young couples sipping red wine on a Tuesday evening. The Mission District is now home to all types of people – whether you have lived here your whole life or are brand new to the city. The Mission represents a cultural melting pot that can be home to anyone looking for a new life, or just a change of scenery. Because now, the Mission is everyone.