Pedestrians walking by the art wall in May 2015. Photo by Lydia Chávez

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.”

The percentage of visitors who stopped in each San Francisco neighborhood in 2014. Results taken from SF Travel’s 2014 survey.

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.”

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  1. “The city’s 18 million visitors in 2014 spent an estimated $10.7 million at San Francisco establishments – up by $3 million from in just four years.”

    An editor, fact-checker, someone: please fix this sentence so that it makes sense. Are you meaning to say that 18 million people spent just 59¢ each in SF city proper? Somehow I doubt it.

    1. Err…Oh dear. That’s $10 billion with a B. Thanks for pointing this out, I’ve corrected it.

  2. Always wondered why nobody has capitalized on this and opened a decent hotel in the Mission. For such a global destination, SF has shockingly few hotels outside of the downtown area.

  3. “Everybody is creating things all around here. It’s very stimulating.”

    “People are craving local travel – being off of the beaten bath [Note to ed.: that should probably read as “path”]. They want to understand local culture, and have a drink with a local.”

    This just in from the year 2017: The Mission plummets as go-to tourist destination as all the people who created the murals were priced out or kicked out of the neighborhood.

    1. Kevin, the Murals have been here for many years, yet it’s just in the past 5 years that the Mission has become such a tourist destination. Could it possibly be that the influx of new restaurants, boutique shopping, and the cleanliness of Valencia street has helped this. I guarantee that in 2017, even more folks will be visiting the mission as it continues to get safer, cleaner and full of more diverse establishments.

      1. you missed my point … or do you not realize that the mural artwork keeps evolving? … street art is not a static situation in the Mission — yes it will be safer when all the culture has left the neighborhood, but there will be no soul left to celebrate (that was the point I was trying to make)

        1. The artice is about more people coming to the mission. The area is more diverse than it was 5-10 years ago. Meaning their is more variety of things to do, see and eat. I would argue their is MORE culture now than 5-10 years ago. You may be bigoted toward the new culture coming in, but it’s culture none the less. This is why more folks are coming to the mission. I understand the street murals/art changes, but that has been that way for 30-40 years. It doesnt explain why more folks have been coming lately to the misssion.

          1. “Bigoted” is an interesting choice of word. Perhaps a more conversational word would have been “biased,” and yes I am biased toward culture that comes from America’s minorities. That’s where many aspects of U.S. culture that I love spring from, particularly music: jazz, blues, rock, hip-hop. I would like to protect this in my neighborhood.

            I’m curious, though, JT: I would like you to see some examples of how the Mission has “more culture than 5-10 years ago,” as you put it. (Disclaimer: I have lived in the Mission since 2006.)

          2. John, I am a CORE organizer for the Clarion Alley Mural Project. The artists who originally started this project back in 1994 had their artist warehouse demolitioned so that luxury condos could go up. I’ve hosted the block party in the alley as a fundraiser to buy paints and graffiti guard for the murals (the oh so great tourist attractions that you first name in this article). More people are coming to the Mission because money and white people are making it feel more sanitized. The influx of economically privileged people are clearly feeling entitled, as there is an eviction EPIDEMIC (I was also displaced by two white male brothers from North Carolina who wanted to move to the Mission for it’s “culture” from a home that was previously owned by a Latino male). The point is, you sound rather biggotted and uninformed yourself, with your article and also with your responses here. Don’t you, as a writer and fellow artist, have a responsibility to your readers and yourself to inform people of the WHOLE STORY not just a white-washed PR campaign sounding story?

            Also fwiw white modern day colonizers coming to an existing culturally diverse neighborhood that is not predominantly white, and using their economic privilege as a violent weapon to displace those very people, then hosting tours and talking about all of the “beautiful culture” here, is LITERAL HYPOCRISY THAT IS HONESTLY SICKENING. And with this article, you are completely enabling this tragedy to continue.

          3. Correction – I mistook John Thompson as the writer of this article. This article was written by Ben Paviour. Thankq Kevin for pointing that out to me.

  4. The people who create the culture, the murals, the food and music are all being thrown out while city officials look the other way. Valencia is not the Mission anymore.

  5. IF one person leaves the mission, and is replaced by another person, is the neighborhood less or more cultural? I would argue it’s equal. If more peple are in an area than before, I would argue that there is now more culture in the area. I believe that all people have equal culture. You just need to learn about those people. That is all I was trying to say. Now, since the mission has more people, it has more culture as ALL people have somthing to offer. Not just artists, techies, musicians, and real estate agents. ALL people have equal culture.

    I apologize if I hit a nerve and offended people. It just offends me when folks think certain people are better than others.

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