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Exploring the Mission

A steampunk tour of San Francisco's Mission District and its many one-of-a-kind attractions

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

San Francisco’s Mission District has long been a cultural hub for the city’s Latino community. More recently, it’s become known for gentrification, trendy restaurants and a thriving arts scene. But it also has many locations with steampunk appeal, including thrift shops, vintage clothing retailers, a pirate supply store (really!) and even a steampunk-themed miniature golf course.

Urban Putt

Our tour begins at Urban Putt, the aforementioned golf course, on Van Ness Avenue in the southern part of the Mission. Opened in 2014 inside a former mortuary, it has 14 holes described by SFist as “a steampunk-meets-Rube-Goldberg experience.” A full-service restaurant is upstairs. The doors open at 4 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Location: 1096 S. Van Ness Ave. (corner of 22nd Street). Website: urbanputt.com.

Next, we walk a couple blocks west to Mission Street, the district’s main commercial corridor. Carousel Consignment SF, near the corner of Mission and 20th Street, sells pre-owned furniture and home décor ranging from mid-century modern to contemporary. When we visited in late June, we found some steampunkish light fixtures and an easy chair upholstered with a Union Jack. The space itself has a Victorian feel and is available for private events. Co-owners Kelley Wehman and Illy McMahan met at Burning Man in 2008, and “quickly learned that they shared a love and flair for circus and all things vintage,” the website says. The store opened in 2012. Location: 2391 Mission Street. Website: carouselsf.com.

Siegel’s Clothing Superstore and Tuxedos, aka the Zoot Suit Store, specializes in men’s apparel with a focus on the 1930s and 1940s. Among the inventory is a nice selection of vintage-style vests with prices beginning around $50. According to the website, “Siegel’s outfits virtually every retro-swing band in the US, Europe, and Asia.” They also outfitted at least one steampunk editor, as I purchased a vest and will likely return in the future. Location: 2366 Mission. Website: zootsuitstore.com.

A few doors away, Mission Thrift is packed with clothing and accessories for men and women, including great deals on hats ($10) and men’s vests (also $10). These, too, would have filled my shopping bag, but I’ve already met my hat quota and none of the vests would fit. Location: 2330 Mission St.

Until recently, any guide to Mission District thrift stores would have included Thrift Town, a huge location at 17th and Mission that outfitted several generations of San Franciscans since opening in 1972. Sadly, it closed last year, citing increased costs and declining sales. The store was part of a family-owned chain that continues to operate 11 other locations in California, New Mexico and Texas.

Next, we walk a few blocks west to Valencia Street, a more upscale shopping and dining area. Clustered together between 19th and 20th Streets are four locations of note:

Evan Chambers

Paxton Gate is like a natural history museum where the exhibits are for sale. You'll find taxidermy, animal skulls, insect specimens, minerals, etc., plus a selection of home décor that you could easily envision in a steampunk movie set. On one shelf, I spotted metal sculptures by Southern California artist Evan Chambers, whose work appears to be steampunk inspired. (At last year’s Sausalito Art Festival, Evan told me that he was really inspired by Hieronymus Bosch and his work just happens to look like steampunk.) Location: 824 Valencia St. Website: paxtongate.com.

826 Valencia Pirate Supply Store is a fundraising vehicle for 826 Valencia, a nonprofit that offers educational programs aimed at improving writing skills among “under-resourced” students. You’ll find a wide range of pirate-themed apparel, accessories and edibles that can also be ordered online. The nonprofit has inspired similar efforts in other cities, including Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store in New York, Greenwood Space Travel Supply in Seattle, and Hoxton Street Monster Supplies in London. Location: 826 Valencia St. Website: 826valencia.org.

City Art Cooperative Gallery is owned and operated by more than 100 local artists whose work is exhibited on a rotating basis. Among the featured artists when I visited in June were Shane Izykowski, who describes his art as “macabre and creepy”; and Natalie McKean, whose work is influenced by MC Escher, Frank Frazetta and other science-fiction artists. Location: 828 Valencia St. Website: cityartgallery.org.

Octopus Books

Borderlands Books specializes in used and new fantasy, science fiction, mystery and horror. In 2015, threatened with closing, the store instituted a sponsorship program in which customers pay $100 per year for various perks, such as film screenings and preferred seating at author events. The store operates a café next door. Later this year, Borderlands plans to move to a new location on Haight St. Current location: 866 Valencia St. Website: borderlands-books.com.

One block north is Schauplatz Clothing, a small but well-stocked store that specializes in vintage men’s and women’s apparel from the 1930s through 1980s. When I mentioned that I edited a steampunk website, the owner pulled out a few pairs of steampunk sunglasses that he kept behind the counter. Location: 791 Valencia. Facebook: SchauplatzVintage.

Finally, Community Thrift is a large thrift store with clothing for men and women plus books, home décor and a well-stocked furniture section. Proceeds support more than 200 Bay Area charities. It’s next to Clarion Alley, one of several alleys in the Mission decorated with colorful murals in a wide variety of artistic styles. Location: 623 Valencia St. Website: communitythriftsf.org.

Getting there: BART has stations at 16th and Mission Streets and 24th and Mission Streets.

A note of caution: The Mission District has long had a reputation as one of the more crime-ridden neighborhoods in San Francisco. The crime rate has declined in recent years, but you should still exercise the same vigilance you would in any urban area, especially after dark. It’s generally best to stay close to the main commercial areas along Mission and Valencia streets.

See our visual tour in the gallery below.

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