Most seasoned travellers know not to take Lonely Planet as gospel. We know that the quiet off-the-beaten-track bar/restaurant/attraction/place/country will no longer be so after you have read about it in Lonely Planet. We also know that the great cheap deals that you read about in your trusted guide can always be beaten by going somewhere two streets away from the place mentioned in the guide. This isn’t a fault of the great publishers at Lonely Planet – but a sign of the guide books effect and popularity.
The first thing I do before every trip is buy the Lonely Planet guide, I then spend weeks reading, highlighting, googling and making notes in the margins till my book looks as tatty as my Harry Potter books. I will inevitably go to many more places, do things and eat foods that are never mentioned in the guide – but it gives me a place to start.
So when I decided to check out some of the suburbs surrounding San Francisco I once more reached for my Lonely Planet San Francisco Pocket Guide. I flipped through several chapters before choosing the suburb of Mission. What grabbed my attention though was that there was a great walking tour I could do over a couple of hours and the last stop according to the guide was a Cheese Bar – need I say more!
Although I was excited about my outing I was skeptical that the walk would satisfy, I expected crowds of backpackers, locals capitalising on the route and over priced refreshments along the way.
Lonely Planets Sunny Mission Stroll
Getting There: I jumped on the number 14 bus on Mission street at Union Square, it costs $2 and your ticket is valid for 2 hours so you could also use it to get back.
Arriving: I jumped off the bus at Mission and 16th street which appears to be a hub for the area. My friend had warned me about the amount of homeless people you can find in San Francisco but had yet to see more than you would in any other large city. This changed in Mission. It was heartbreaking to see so many people of different ages and genders living so rough – especially in a country that has so much wealth.
Dot Point Number 1: The first place that LP recommended was Clarion Alley… Lonely Planet win. They alley is about 100 metres long with the buildings on each side covered in graffiti – but not the boring incomprehensible tagging type, but the type that has created stunning murals and statements out of spray paint. As I wandered slowly up the alley I noticed two girls wandering down who also had a copy of the LP pocket-book in one hand and a camera in the other. We smiled and nodded at each other as we walked in opposite directions. I didn’t particularly want to have a backpacker conversation amongst all of the angst and political satire that was brightly splashed across the walls alongside me -“Where are you from? Where are you travelling to?” would have ruined it. Halfway along the alley was a 40 something (maybe) ginger bearded homeless man who said hello as I walked past and being polite, I said hello back. A little further along I stopped at a mural of an elephant that sat under a flowering vine. Suddenly the homeless man was beside me “That was only painted a couple of days ago, when the flowers came out” he said. He then pointed to one further along “That one has been here for a while now, no one wants to paint over it”. As I walked up the alley taking photos he walked with me telling me about the pieces. I reached the end of the alleyway and turned to say thank you to the man, but he was already half way back to his shopping cart.
Dot Point Number 2: Dearborn Community Gardens – this one is a little hard to find. I followed the map, which is correct, however because the gardens are hidden from view until you arrive its hard to discern if you are going in the right direction. But suddenly they are there, appearing in the middle of a completely urban landscape is a picturesque cottage garden that is brimming with life. I stood in awe at the gates, unsure if I could go in to look at the flowers and bask in the sunlight. At that moment an ex-pat German walked past “c’mon, you can go in, just don’t pick anything or eat anything and say hello to the gardeners”- so in I went. The ex-pat went to join the other gardeners who seemed to be doing more gossiping than gardening while I went and sat on a bench surrounded by flowers and bees. Finally when I thought I might fall asleep if I stayed any longer I headed to the exit to say goodbye to the gardeners.
Dot Point Number 3: Goddess Woman’s Building Mural’s – You can’t miss! It’s a giant mural of two women painted on the side of the countries first woman run community centre. I stood on the side of the street gazing up at these two goddess’ in wonder – the detail and the size of them astounded me.
Dot Point Number 4: An ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery, however nearly every store along that stretch of road seemed to serve “San Francisco’s best ice cream”. As I was saving myself for cheese I couldn’t test Lonely Planet’s theory that Bi-Rite was the best. If anyone can advise???
Dot Point Number 5: Dolores park, was under construction – It appears as though the council is improving the iconic park. This wasn’t stopping locals and their dogs from basking in the sunshine around the edges of the park though – and many were eating ice cream, though I neglected to ask them where they had bought it from.
Dot Point Number 6: Mission Cheese, the deciding factor! From the beginning I had a good impression as the place was filled… and not with LP clutches like me, but with locals. I walked up to the bar and stared at the giant black board filled with cheese… it was overwhelming! A staff member approached me and began to explain how it worked – I could choose from one of the different themed cheese “flights” as each one included three different cheese. Then they could recommend a nice wine or beer to go with your choice. The staff clearly knew what they were talking about which made the whole experience more enjoyable as their passion and enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I chose the California Flight – keeping it local. Each plate came with crusty bread, dried fruit and pickles – the cheese it included were:
- Skyhill Chèvre (Sweet, Tangy, Fresh Goats Cheese) – I enjoyed it a lot, especially when eaten with a pickle. It was very “goaty” but not in an overpowering way.
- Golden Valley Pecorino (Tropical and Crunchy Aged Sheep Milk) – this was by far my favourite! Crumbly and creamy – the best texture, was packed with strong flavour – I couldn’t get enough.
- Washed Teleme (Funky, Tangy Washed Rind Blue) – wasn’t the biggest fan of this one (normally I love a nice blue) – it was too tangy and had an overly long aftertaste, it reminded me of the White Castella cheese that we get back home.
It may have been the buzz from the cheese and wine, but when I got back on the bus to head home I definitely felt like Lonely Planet had hit this walking tour on the head. The perfect window into a local community, full of colour and cheese!