A weekend in San Francisco can be full of surprises.
I spent a week in San Francisco when I was in Junior High for a school field trip and we visited Alcatraz and Ghiridelli Square (we had to learn just enough for it to be supported by the school, of course).
In High School, I went to California twice for Spring Break music trips.
In 2007 I stopped in San Francisco while moving from Virginia to Washington State and visited a friend.
Each trip was very different.
Recently, I visited another friend in San Francisco and saw two neighbourhoods that had been left out of my previous trips.
Mission District and Casto District are very distinct and different neighbourhoods, but both hit the spot and left me happy and satisfied.
Mission District is the original San Francisco.
The city started here with the Spanish mission to reach out to the Native Americans.
My friend and I went for the Cinco de Mayo weekend festival. The district is home to most of San Francisco’s Hispanic population and two of the best gelatarias in town! You can read about them here.
The streets in The Mission are covered in graffiti. The graffiti is done by different artist groups in the city and sometimes cover entire buildings. They are beautiful and are often religious themed.
We found Balmy Alley, which is filled with murals by Precita Eyes, a local arts centre serving San Francisco. The artists get permission from homeowners to create artwork on the back of their houses and Balmy Alley is one of the most colourful alleys in The Mission.
Another colourful San Franciscan neighbourhood is the rainbow-flag-waving Castro District.
Stomping grounds of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to office in California, one of (if not THE) most famous LGBT person in the US and the topic of the current film, Milk, this part of San Francisco has been welcoming the LGBT community since the 1970s.
Rainbow flags line the streets and tower over buildings. The city of San Francisco is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the country and The Castro is its hub.
Up and down the streets you can see men holding hands of men and women holding hands of women without any fear. This is a place gay people can feel comfortable and at home.
When Harvey Milk realised his high profile made him a target, he said ‘If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.’
The Castro has definitely become a place where anyone can feel comfortable coming out of the closet and Harvey Milk’s work for gay rights and his subsequent assassination certainly changed the lives of many people who were previously afraid to be themselves.
Drinks at Twin Peaks introduced us to a group of outgoing men chatting up the bartender.
Obviously regulars, they directed us to a good restaurant in the area serving burgers and salads to people on a budget.
Dinner was good, the streets were colourful and the people were friendly.
It was a perfect evening in the Castro and a wonderful way to finish my time in San Francisco.
It’s no wonder why I didn’t discover these neighbourhoods in my school trips to San Francisco.
Most schools might feel the Mission was too dangerous or that students shouldn’t be exposed to the openness of the Castro.
I believe that with the right perspective and openmindedness, the Mission and Castro Districts are perfect windows through which to see San Francisco.
It is a city of ethnic and sexual diversity and that diversity is more a part of the living, modern city of San Francisco than Alcatraz Island or the Ghiridelli Chocolate Factory.
When visiting San Francisco, exploring the Mission and Castro Districts can give you a different perspective on the people living in San Francisco.