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Streets of San Francisco: Trends Meet Traditions on Valencia Street

The epicenter of all things trendy, beautiful, and delicious in San Francisco's hip Mission District, Valencia Street is more than just a thoroughfare: it's a melting pot. To the East of Valencia lies the old-school Mission neighborhood, where authentic taquerias are packed in several to a block and storefronts blast contemporary Mexican music. To the West, apartment rental prices soar, gourmet grocery stores thrive, and techies work on their tans in Dolores Park. It's this kind of dichotomy that makes Valencia such an interesting place: pricey boutiques, upscale restaurants, and slick bars may have brought gentrification to the street, but Valencia still wears is heritage with pride. Today, upscale cocktail bars stand down the street from classic dives, menus run from eggs benedict to huevos rancheros, and hip galleries pop up within eyeshot of colorful street art.

To get the most out of a walk down Valencia, start out at 24th Street (to get there, just hop a BART train to the 24th Street and Mission stop, one block from Valencia). Right out of the gate, at Valencia and 23rd, Buffalo Exchange is a fantastic place to start your own meander through the Mission. Sure, this second-hand store is part of a nationwide chain. But this particular shop's location in the hipster Mission District means the aesthetic of the clothing that comes through here is unparalleled. Expect the selection here to be better-curated for trendiness and quality than at many other second-hand stores (1210 Valencia near 23rd Street).

Ritual CoffeeIf, like me, you don't believe your day has really started until you've been properly caffeinated, make Ritual Coffee Roasters your next stop. This uber-popular company roasts its beans right here in SF, and honors its espresso with artfully poured drinks: you won't find a prettier, more velvety-foamed latte or cappuccino anywhere (1026 Valencia near 21st Sreet).

It can get pretty crowded inside Ritual, so take your coffee to go and sip while perusing the selection over at Dog Eared Books. The used book table out in front of the store is a constant fixture, boasting a huge selection of paperbacks for under a buck. Inside, the store is a warren of wooden bookshelves brimming with the bizarre, the esoteric, and the hard-to-find. Get lost browsing everything from short story collections, to spiritual texts, to used books in French, German, and Spanish. The store also has a sizable collection of new and used fiction from big-name and little-known authors alike (900 Valencia near 20th Street). If you're into science fiction, fantasy, horror, or mystery, Borderlands bookstore, just down the street from Dog Eared, will be right up your alley (866 Valencia near 20th Street). 

Even though your bag will likely be a little heavier after a stop at Dog Eared, your wallet won't be too much lighter. And that's a good thing, because Valencia's home to a booming boutique shopping scene. 

Boutique windowWhether you're into small-label clothing designers, hand-made jewelry, or vintage deals, this is the place to find it. But even amid the dozens of unique shops on Valencia, one in particular stands out: 826 Valencia, also known as "the Pirate Store." 826 Valencia isn't just an address; it's also the name of a local nonprofit that gets school kids involved in writing and helps teachers get their students excited about literature. And the shop located at the organization's eponymous address certainly continues the story-telling mission. Inside, you'll find everything you could possibly need to stock up for an adventure of questionable motives on the High Seas. Hand-crafted pirate hooks? Check. Mermaid bait? Covered. Treasure chests, eye patches, or perhaps a tin of pills to cure scurvy? Yar, they've got that. Most importantly, proceeds from all the loot they sell go to benefit 826 Valencia's student programs (826 Valencia near 19th Street).

Just across the street, Serendipity is the perfect stop for special occasions: it's well stocked with beautiful, quirky, unique cards and gifts, many from local companies.

If your coffee buzz begins to wane, try adding a little sugar into the mix with a pastry from Craftsman & Wolves. Home to some of the most creative sugar fixes you'll find in the Mission, this place is famous for its croissants (in varieties like twice-baked pear-almond-and-yuzu) and other pastries (726 Valencia at 18th Street). Just a few steps away, Dandelion Chocolate has a hardcore local following for its cocoa-based baked goods and spicy Mexican mochas (740 Valencia near 18th Street). 

Pear almond and yuzu croissantOf course, one can't live off sugar and caffeine alone (or so I'm told). Luckily, Valencia's got a thriving restaurant scene that runs the gamut from sandwich-and-salad cafés to slick urban eateries. Luna Park is known for its upscale kitchen and cocktail menus, which you can sample at half-price during happy hour. Monday through Friday from 4:00-6:30 p.m., stop by for two-for-one cocktails and appetizers (694 Valencia near 18th Street). Curry Up Now is a brick-and-mortar rendition of a popular food truck, serving Indian street food with a twist: think Chicken Tikka Masala burritos, deconstructed samosas, and aloo parantha quesadillas (659 Valencia near 18th Street). About a block further up Valencia, Than Tam II serves authentic, no-frills Vietnamese classics, including bahn-mi sandwiches for around $5 (577 Valencia near 17th Street). 

As Valencia's cross-streets descend in number, meal options get even cheaper. Get saucy at Frjtz, where twice-fried Belgian frites come with dips like curry ketchup and bacon mayo, starting around $4 (590 Valencia at 17th). At Panchita's Pupuseria, scoop up two freshly fried Salvadoran-style pupusas for five bucks (3091 16th Street just off Valencia); or go Argentinian with empanadas starting around three dollars each at Venga (443 Valencia between 15th and 16th Streets). 

Clarion AlleyWalk your lunch off with a leisurely stroll through Clarion Alley. A block-long passageway between Valencia and Mission Streets, the entrance to the alley lies on Valencia between 17th and 18th Streets. The walls on either side of the alley are completely covered in an every-changing array of street art thanks to the Clarion Alley Mural Project. It's the perfect high-low end note to a walk down this street where trendy meets traditional. 

Want to experience the Mission in more depth? Each Saturday, guests of HI's three San Francisco hostels can join a free Mission District walking tour.

 

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