They’ve seen the island prison, tried the turtle-shaped sourdough bread, and hugged Lombard’s curves in their airport rental. San Francisco-bound travelers are increasingly looking for something authentic, local, and real, and for that, they’re going to the Mission District.
The Mission was the 6th most visited neighborhood in San Francisco in 2014, up from the 11th spot in 2009, according to the intercept surveys conducted at airports and travelers’ kiosks by the San Francisco Travel Association.
“People know about it. They know the name,” says Jon Ballesteros, Senior Vice President of Policy at San Francisco Travel. “The Mission has developed itself as a destination organically.”
Many travelers come to the Mission after hearing about its murals.
“Some friends told us this was the place to go an visit,” said Katia Tita – visiting from Paris, France with her husband – on a recent Friday at Clarion Alley. “Everybody is creating things all around here. It’s very stimulating.”
Lauren Douglas of Los Angeles said that she didn’t know too much about the neighborhood. “That side is kind of scary,” she said, gesturing towards Mission Street from Clarion. “This side is less scary.”
Travelers like Tita and Douglas have driven the growth in tourism dollars. In 2014 The city’s 18 million visitors spent an estimated $10.7 billion at San Francisco establishments – up by $3 billion in just four years.
Kelly Lynn Jones, owner of Little Paper Planes on Valencia Street, estimates that more than half of her customers are tourists. Her employees use their French and German “every day” to communicate with customers. “Everybody has a map — like a physical map,” she says. “The Mission is on that map.”
Avital Ungar owner of Avital Food Tours says her company’s Mission tour is now one of the most popular. The Mission’s density of famous restaurants draws some interest, but Ungar also attributes the trend to a local experience.
“People are craving local travel – being off of the beaten path,” she says. “They want to understand local culture, and have a drink with a local.”
And that means a local stay as well. The Mission has more Airbnb listings than any other neighborhood in the city, according to a June 2014 story by the San Francisco Chronicle — a trend Ballesteros expects will continue in spite of the controversy surrounding the company’s impact on the local housing market.
Regardless of where they say, Ballesteros says SF Travel most often hears from visitors interested in the neighborhood’s murals. Many stick around for restaurants and shopping.
“Everyone’s been to Alcatraz and those kinds of places, so we’re trying to go places that aren’t as visited,” says Lauren Douglas of Los Angeles. “I like everything so much more up here: the weather, the people, all of that.”