On the edge of the mural district (see previous post), at 3321 Sixteenth Street, is the Dolores Mission, built in a very distinctive style (colonial, white-washed, tall towers, very ornate doorways). The local high school, 2 blocks away on 18th/Dolores, is done in the same style and it would be easy to think at first that you’d found the Mission Church!
The actual name is Mision San Francisco de Asis (after St Francis of Assisi) and was founded in June 1776 under the direction of Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784). It soon came to be known as Mission Dolores because of a nearby creek called Arroyo do los Dolores, or Creek of Sorrows. It is the oldest original intact Mission in California (of the chain of 21 established by Father Serra) and the oldest building in San Francisco. It has always had a central place in the religious, civic and cultural life of the city. These Missions are an important part of Californian history and show the strong link to Mexico at that time.
Visiting the Mission is a good way to spend a couple of hours and find out about some of the local history. Entrance is $5 per adult, $3 for seniors and kids. Open daily, 9-4, except Thanksgiving, Christmas New Year’s Day, Easter, and closes early on Good Friday. You go first into the chapel of the Old Mission, which survived many earthquakes, including that in 1906. It’s lovely, in a way that’s so different to the cathedrals in Europe. Note the painted wooden ceiling, gravestones set in the floor, and side altars that seem to have marble columns that are actually painted wood, as is the gorgeous front altar.
The Basilica next door was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and has pretty stained-glass windows of the saints associated with the various Missions in California and a wood carving of Mater Dolorosa. This is an important basilica because Pope John Paul 11 visited (see papal signs on sides of front altar), a fact of which they are very proud, as the walkway outside has many photos from his visit. One small room off the walkway has a tiny museum, telling the history of this Mission, including the story of Father Junipero Serra, the local Indians and their way of life then (note the soap plant, called soaproot (Chlorogalum pomeridianum), which can also be eaten) and a section of the original adobe wall.
Just outside the museum note the statue of Junipero Serra, plus one in the cemetery, which is a peaceful place, pretty with flowers and blooming bushes, replanted with traditional plants from the 1790s. It has the burial places of many notable early/first San Franciscans.
A great place nearby for lunch is Dolores Park Café (corner 18th/Dolores, opposite the high school). You can sit outside if it’s sunny, and the food is great. The soup of the day may be chicken tortilla and they offer very nice salads.