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Off the Beaten Path in San Francisco
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It's a pity so few visitors to San Francisco stray off the beaten path and out to 24th Street in the outlying Mission District. They're missing one of the most lively, colorful and diverse areas they could ever hope to explore. The lower reaches of the street are part of a larger thoroughly Hispanic enclave. Walking there is like walking through the working class districts of Managua, San Salvador, Guadalajara or just about any other Mexican or Central American city. Everything is much as in the home countries of the Latinos densely crowded into the teeming area - the sights, sounds and smells, the language, the shops, bars and restaurants, the look and very feel of the place.

It's like that along the initial five blocks of 24th Street, from Potrero Avenue on the east up to Valencia Street. Yet just a little farther up 24th, in the eight blocks between Guerrero and Douglass Streets, it's as if you had crossed an international border, from a Third World country into affluent America. The upper area is also crowded, but primarily with hip, relatively free-spending Anglos. Clothing stores display, not inexpensive work clothes, but the latest in trendy fashions. Residents eat in restaurants featuring continental cuisine and snack in pizzerias as well as taquerias.

Lower 24th Street is noisy with talk and laughter and Latin music. The doors of many establishments are wide open, whatever the season, the sounds from inside drifting out to mix with those on the street. Don't miss the bold, colorful murals on the exterior walls of several buildings, and the excellent contemporary Latino art and crafts at the Galleria de la Raza on the corner of Bryant Street.

Hungry? Numerous restaurants and cafes offer moderately priced Salvadorean dishes, and Mexican, Nicaraguan, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Peruvian and more. Lots of snacks available, too, including the iced mango and tamarindo fruit bars - "Delicias de Michoacan" - sold from push carts by street vendors.

Tired? You can rest on the benches in a mini-park just across the street from the Galleria de la Raza, or in the bricked plaza a few blocks away atop the Bay Area Rapid Transit system's 24th Street station, where the district's principal street, Mission, intersects with 24th. The intersection is the crossroads of the district, the plaza its most lively spot. It's invariably full of people, frequently including people who mount soapboxes to proclaim the merits of any number of causes, some good, some bad, but all the subject of heated, heartfelt oratory.

The shift from Latino to Anglo comes four blocks up the street, in another flat area just beyond a short, hilly residential section. This is English-speaking territory: Coffee and doughnuts available 24 hours a day at a shop on the corner of Church, liquor stores offering premium wines and beers from around the world. Delicatessens, Irish bars. Pizza, gourmet ice cream, chocolates, cheeses, "natural foods," sushi, bagel and knish shops. Hometown newspaper stands, boutiques, new and used bookstores. And people, lots of people. Lots of restaurants, too, some as inexpensive as those on lower 24th Street.

Copyright (c) Dick Meister