A humble shopping street crowded with Mexican and Salvadoran mercados, 24th Street proffers a profoundly ungentrified institution. Roosevelt Tamale Parlor, founded in 1922, is where you can buy an inexpensive and fiery lunch - chorizo tostadas or pork tamales or flautas - without encountering such foodie silliness as choosing a vintage mineral water.

The real reason to stop on 24th is Balmy Alley, a tiny streetlet between Harrison and Treat, where you'll come face to face with The Mission District's recent vibrant tradition of mural art. Go when the sun is shining (not hard to do in this good-weather zone) and catch artists' and children's murals blazing to life on otherwise nondescript stucco walls, garage doors, and fences.

If Victorian inns make you feel as if you're stuck in an Addams Family rerun, secondhand bookshops give you the hives, and murals make you think of the Red Guards, you still have to go to The Mission for restaurants like Foreign Cinema, where you can dine on lobster-and-monkfish bouillabaisse in the garden courtyard as you watch a movie on an outdoor screen (and listen to dialogue through the drive-in speaker hooked to your table), or Blowfish for cutting-edge northern pufferfish sashimi, or the Café Valencia for Cuban beef stew with yucca, or the elegant Flying Saucer for applewood-crusted venison. There isn't another neighborhood to match The Mission when the issue is dinner.

Across Media Gulch from The Mission, Potrero Hill has become one of the choicest residential neighborhoods in town. Walk these quiet pastel streets, sunny and windy and steep, for great views of downtown and the shipyards in the bay. You'll get a bright, vivid sense that you couldn't be anywhere but SF.

Compact, hilly, tucked away, Potrero offers sunshine, neighborhood atmos-phere, and a sense of why San Franciscans love the place so passionately.