X Marks the Excelsior

What’s the difference between the Excelsior, Outer Mission, and Crocker-Amazon? Here’s our spreadsheet cheat sheet to these borders.

The Excelsior District might not be the most fashionable part of town, but it’s the San Francisco you thought you were moving to. The Excelsior is one of the City’s most affordable and diverse neighborhoods with an unusually high percentage of family households, but it doesn’t have a universally accepted definition of its borders.

Maybe that’s because realtors aren’t falling all over themselves to assign bogus abbreviated nicknames to this particular neighborhood.

Google Maps and Wikipedia have significantly different descriptions of the Excelsior, Outer Mission, and Crocker-Amazon’s boundaries. Locally, the term “Outer Mission” is used with notable inconsistency. Some people say it’s synonymous with the Excelsior, while others define Outer Mission as Mission Street’s Bernal Heights phase between 24th Street — which is definitely the “Inner Mission” — and the I-280 overpass.

It is neither of those, according to the crystal-clear neighborhood boundary lines defined by the San Francisco Planning  Department. (The Outer Mission and the Inner Mission don’t border each other; the Excelsior is in between.) We’ll use Planning’s guidelines for the purposes of this exercise, which define Outer Mission as  the Mission Terrace-Balboa Park area, and Crocker-Amazon as a small handful of the southernmost residential blocks between Geneva Avenue and the Daly City border.

By this measure, the Excelsior is defined by super-noticeable boundaries that are, paradoxically, not well-known. The way-out-there end of Mission Street serves as the Excelsior’s eastern boundary from the Alemany Boulevard overpass to Geneva Avenue  — or, in visual terms, from the defunct Joe’s Cable Car restaurant to the terrifically tacky old-school marquee of the Billiard Palacade pool hall.

The I-280 Southern Freeway overpass is considered the Excelsior’s wall to the north, the beginning of its sideshow tire track-marked street intersections and boxy, pastel-colored tract houses, which form remarkable geometric compositions when viewed from the tops or bottoms of hills. 

The “east side” of the Excelsior is very explicitly the San Bruno Avenue — U.S. Route 101 parallelism from I-280 down to Paul Avenue. The Excelsior’s zig-zaggier southern edge mixes the outrageously steep, community garden-covered hills around McLaren Park with a series of residential streets named for international countries and their capitals.

There is even some racist history deep in those beautiful, multicultural street names! When President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, China Street was renamed Excelsior Avenue to properly reflect our newfound national hostility. Japan and India streets were also changed to Avalon Avenue and Peru Avenue, respectively-slash-disrespectfully.

The southeast border meanders through McLaren Park and Crocker-Amazon Playground. Ironically, Crocker-Amazon Playground is located across from — but not within — the Planning Department’s defined borders of Crocker-Amazon.

The Excelsior is an unapologetically un-hip neighborhood that has lots of cheap taquerias, and zero big-name boutique chef ventures. It’s one of those places so remote that every major pedestrian intersection makes you manually push a button to get a walk signal.

But if you long for an ungentrified San Francisco that still has affordable places to live, few tangible reminders of the tech boom, and real, living populations of children and old people, the comfy confines of the Excelsior will totally push your buttons.


Read more stories from SF Weekly‘s Excelsior issue:

On the Outskirts But Certainly Not ‘Sleepy’
The little neighborhood at the far end of Mission Street has its fair share of news-worthy drama.

A Thrilla at Manila
Manila Oriental Market, the pan-Asian grocery at the corner of Mission Street and I-280, is a treasure.

Infinite Appetite, Finite Budget
Its main drag looks a lot like Queens, N.Y., which happens to be the most diverse place in the U.S.

Excelsior’s Princess Diaries House Keeps the Dream Alive
Anne Hathaway got her angst on in a historic Excelsior firehouse. Go there and relive your teenage dreams!

Head Banned
The neighborhood nicknamed ‘Dispensary Row’ has sparked, um, a  row over zoning that’s kept new marijuana businesses away from the family-dominated district.

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