A family makes its way along the Valencia Street bike corridor in San Francisco. (Chris Hardy )
Reporting from San Francisco — — Nobody does hip like the bicyclists of San Francisco's Mission District.
Weaving in and out of traffic with their Timbuk2 messenger bags slung over one shoulder, they make even a bike helmet look cool. Until recently, emulating them took a big dose of fearlessness. But now that the city has completed a spiffy new bike corridor along Valencia Street — home to some of the hippest and flattest Mission real estate — even those who require training wheels can be Mission bicyclistas for a day, including out-of-towners with rented rides.
Here's the skinny. Pick up a bike from one of the rental outlets near your downtown or Union Square hotel. If you're feeling ambitious, pedal to Valencia Street (it's nearly all flat and all on designated bike lanes ); less ambitious, BART your bike there. Once you hit Valencia Street, ride the bike corridor from 14th to 25th streets at least once to get yourself into the Mission groove. Now you're ready to explore.
This tour is broken into four route stops, including an all-important refueling stop. I've listed them from higher-numbered streets to lower, but you can do them in any order.
The stretch and eat pie for a good cause stop: Consider warming up or soothing those biking muscles by beginning or ending your ride atYoga Tree (between 24th and 23rd streets). Members of the San Francisco Ballet and rocker Michael Franti (of Spearhead) practice under the watchful eye of a bright orange Ganesh in this former storefront church. If 90 minutes of yoga makes you want to eat pie like it does me, hop on your bike and take a short detour on 25th Street to Mission and Mission Pie. Not only does it make and sell amazing pie, Mission Pie also provides jobs and training for at-risk high-school kids.
The literary fashionista stop: Park your bike at the racks at 22nd Street and Valencia and cross the street to Dema (between 22nd and 21st streets). This small, bright shop sells locally made (as in right behind the shop) designs that you won't see anywhere else. The clothes are wearable, reasonably priced and will look good as you pedal along. If your taste runs more to vintage, stop at Retro Fit just up the block at 20th and Valencia. It has beautiful — and beautifully maintained — original and reproduction vintage clothing from the 1940s through the 1970s. On the corner of 20th Street, you'll find Dog Eared Books, where locals go to pick up used and new reading material. Check out the quirky window display, where books are arranged by color rather than subject. Near 19th Street is 826 Valencia and the Pirate Store. When author Dave Eggers wanted to open a tutoring center for kids on Valencia Street, he was told that the building was zoned for retail. So he put a pirate store in front, the tutoring center in back, and 826 Valencia was born. What can you buy in a pirate store? Eye patches. Glass eyes. T-shirts that say, "When in doubt, swab." And, of course, the amazing work the 826 writers are doing. Everything you buy goes to support the eight nonprofit 826 organizations across the country. You can also spend as long as you like watching Karl, the puffer fish, swim in his tank.
The lunch/brunch refueling stop: Too much choice here for one option. Best to decide by the mood you're aiming for.
Option one: Highly civilized. Brunch at Bar Tartine. Outside, it's unassuming. Inside, it's stylish, with a long white marble bar and black wood floors. The restaurant, between 17th and 16th streets, is owned by the couple who own Tartine Bakery on Guerrero Street, home of what is probably the world's greatest bread. Be sure to order anything that comes in the form of a sandwich (called a tartine here). Two caveats: Brunch is served only on weekends, and reservations are highly recommended.
Option two: Fairly civilized. Lunch at Pizzeria Delfina. Make a detour west on 18th Street just past Guerrero to one of the best foodie blocks in all of San Francisco. Lock your bike and write your name on the chalkboard wait-list. This is the "fairly" part of fairly civilized, because there is almost always a fairly long wait for a table and the restaurant doesn't take reservations. But the super-thin-crust pizza is worth waiting for, as is everything else on the menu.
Option three: Totally local. A Gourmet Bi-Rite Picnic at Mission Dolores Park. Bi-Rite Market, on 18th Street, is a local treasure. Yes, it's tiny, packed on weekends and in a neighborhood with no parking. So do what the locals do — squeeze your way to the deli counter, take a number and put together an amazing picnic. This is so beyond sandwiches (which also are offered, if that's what you're longing for). Then, continue west on 18th Street to Mission Dolores Park, sprawl on the grass and enjoy.