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Livable City Goes Very Big for Sunday Streets Mission

A bustling city street lined with trees, filled with pedestrians and a cyclist, under a clear blue sky.
Source: Vita Hewitt

It was Sunday Streets as far as the eye could see this weekend as Sunday Streets Mission closed the huge swath of Valencia Street from 26th Street to Duboce Avenue off from cars and opened it up to pedestrians, partygoers, vendors, jugglers and live musicians. Thousands of people and 150 exhibitors packed the Valencia Corridor on a sunny Sunday with just the right amount of breeze as Sunday Streets celebrates its 15th season of transforming streets into car-free community spaces, one glorious Sunday at a time.

Sunday Streets Mission holds a very special place for one of Valencia Street’s most recognizable characters, Amandeep “Deep” Jawa, known for his tricked-out adult tricycle equipped with an enormous speaker sound system.

“My wife and I got married at Sunday Streets Mission back in 2011 on our front porch,” Deep said. 

“You see Valencia come alive. This is the street it kind of wants to be all of the time. We haven’t figured out how to get it there,” Deep adds. “What’s not to love? There’s people out. There’s kids out. There’s activities, there’s tons of music, and it’s just one of those moments where you’re like, ‘I love this town.’ There’s a lot of places where this couldn’t happen.”

Like all of San Franciso’s Sunday Streets events, Sunday Streets Mission is organized by the nonprofit Livable City, which strives to improve San Francisco neighborhoods for walking, biking and transit. And in 2023, Sunday Streets is now celebrating its 15th year of bringing car-free open spaces to neighborhoods across San Francisco throughout the summer and fall.

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It felt like a kid takeover of Valencia Street as families came out in force and were treated to a custom “bubble torch,” a rock-climbing wall provided by SF Rec and Parks, and a day that started with a free swim at Mission Community Pool.

And in a nod to the newly established American Indian Cultural District, part of which falls in the area where Sunday Streets Mission is held, this year’s festival added a new American Indian Cultural Center and Marketplace with Native American musicians, DJs, vendors and cultural groups.

Valencia Street has been in the news for its reconfigured bike lanes. But on Sunday, all of Valencia Street was a bike lane—and a skateboard lane and a rollerblading lane. And of course, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition was on hand to talk about it.

“We are awaiting the opening of the center-running two-way bike lane between 16th Street and 23rd Street, and we look forward to seeing what it does in improving this very important bike corridor,” SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Janelle Wong said.

But the real bicycle action was at the coalition’s Freedom From Training Wheels area, a youngsters’ bicycle rodeo featuring “striders” and balance bikes for 2- to 5-year-olds. And adults could behold the magic of watching young children learn to pedal a bike for the first time. 

“We don’t believe that training wheels are the right path to learning to ride a bike. They teach you bad habits,” according to SF Bicycle Coalition contractor Dan Allison. “We want kids to not go through the training-wheel stage. We want them to go from balanced bikes to pedal bikes.”

“When you see a kid realize they can ride a bike, the look on their face,” he adds. “They’re like ‘I’m in charge of the world now.’”

There were more kids’ activities on wheels at the exhibitor booth for Cub Scout Pack 88 and Troop 415, whose table was stacked with Pinewood Derby cars and kits for building them. But don’t call these troops “Boy Scouts.”

“We don’t call it Boy Scouts anymore,” parent Scott Diliewski says. “We are Scouts BSA because we are inclusive. We let boys, girls, nonbinary and everyone in.” 

And kids rocked out to beats at the booth for the music school Little Mission Studio, which had the simple but brilliant idea of bringing out buckets and drumsticks, and letting the youngsters just pound away. “Kids just gravitate towards it, especially the littlest ones,” a volunteer named Matt said. “They see that the drumming, and they say ‘I have to go do that, I have to play.’”

Cute overload ran high at the booth for the Stockton-based dog shelter Finding a Best Friend Rescue, which brought more than a half-dozen pups and puppies who are eligible for adoption. “Our Mission is to spay and neuter everything,” says that organization’s volunteer Regina Sanchez. “We’re rescuing a lot of dogs from severely abusive and neglected situations. We do a lot of outreach to our homeless encampments out there. We try to encourage everyone to spay and neuter their dogs.”

So, were any of these pups adopted Sunday? “We have one person thinking about it today,” Sanchez admits. “We’ve gotten a lot of interest, so that’s really great. And the dogs have gotten a lot of love, which they really want.”

Music stages popped up all over Valencia Street, with several live bands playing at any given moment. Many of Valencia Street’s nightclubs and music had live performances happening right outside their storefronts, while radio stations like Radio Valencia and Mutiny Radio were broadcasting live from the scene.

Live performers in other fine arts made the street their stage, too, with the belly dancing of Fat Chance Belly Dance, skateboard tricks from the team at Double Downs Skate Zine and capoeira by ABADA Capoeira and SF Capoeira Academy.

Sunday Streets is a natural fit for the highly parkleted Valencia Street, and the street’s merchants got creative with their shared spaces. The body sculpting shop Shaped AF was providing forever bracelets and “free compliments for everyone.”

“The thing about being on Valencia Street is we have a lot of brick-and-mortar stores that bring out their stuff to go ahead and sell out in the street. So it’s also helping the small businesses,” says Toya Wynn, production coordinator for the outdoor event company Into the Streets, which helps coordinate Sunday Streets. “This is one of our most popular Sunday Streets, and it’s also one of our largest gatherings. Anywhere between 20,000 to 25,000 people come out for Sunday Streets Mission.”

If you missed Sunday Streets, you’ve got a couple more opportunities to enjoy Sunday Streets this year. Sunday Streets Western Addition happens Sept. 24, and Sunday Streets Excelsior happens Oct. 15. Oct. 15 is also Sundays Streets Phoenix Day, the grand finale of neighborhood-hosted block parties all over town.

“Make sure to gather your neighbors to organize a block party in your neighborhood, or join us in the Excelsior,” says Livable City Deputy Director Amy Lin.