Did you know that San Francisco is one of the top three cities for murals in the United States, alongside Los Angeles and Chicago. The best murals in San Francisco adorn buildings and alleyways with public art, social and political expression, and cultural heritage. Although some of the artwork may be short-lived, many murals symbolize fragments of San Francisco’s history and ever-changing cityscape. Some murals may be up for years, while others fade or get covered by more art. That’s part of the magic! Murals give you a great opportunity to explore the city and see public art for free.
It’s easy to become absorbed in your own world as you stroll through San Francisco’s neighborhoods, trying to get to your next destination. Maybe you’re on your way to work, running some errands, or about to meet a friend for dinner, but if you spend some time looking up or walking around, you may be surprised to find a wealth of street art in the city.
Murals are often commissioned by individuals, public organizations, and private businesses to spruce up the outside of buildings. You can even find murals on churches, schools, and the occasional garage door. You’ll find murals all over San Francisco, tucked away in corners or alleyways here and there, or prominently displayed on the side of buildings that paint our streets with vibrancy.
As top San Francisco real estate agents, we know the city inside and out, so we’ve put together a list of neighborhoods where you can find the best murals in San Francisco.
Alleys of Murals in The Mission District
The Mission District is infamous for its public murals, which have been popping up since the 1970s. Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley are the main hotspots for murals in San Francisco. Fences and garage doors are adorned by bright depictions of the neighborhood’s diverse cultural heritage, with many of the pieces revolving around social and political themes. The Mission is also home to the Clarion Alley Mural Project which uses public art as a form of activism. The Women’s Building (3543 18th Street) is another destination for mural sightseeing. The MaestraPeace Mural is a multicultural collaboration between 7 female artists, honoring women’s contributions from around the world.
With over 400 murals, The Mission has the highest concentration of street art in San Francisco. If you’d like to learn more, the Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitor Center is a community-based not-for-profit that collaborates with local mural artists and offers tours that explain the historical and cultural significance of various murals in San Francisco. The public library also offers two walking tours of murals in the mission district for free.
Are you interested in buying a home in the Mission District? This neighborhood is a hub for culture, cuisine, and adventure. It features several Latino arts and cultural organizations which are embedded in the neighborhood’s history. It boasts a wealth of diverse restaurants, dozens of taquerias, and is home to the infamous Mission burrito. Along with a diverse mix of trendy restaurants and cafes, the Mission is known for its local shopping including produce markets, thrift shops, boutiques, and used bookstores. The Mission’s geographical location protects the area from the wind and fog, making this neighborhood often warmer and sunnier than other parts of San Francisco. The Mission is bordered by Bernal Heights, Noe Valley, The Castro, Duboce Triangle, SoMa, Lower Haight, Hayes Valley, Potrero Hill, and Bayview. Mission Dolores Park is located in this neighborhood and is one of the most popular parks in the city.
Hundreds of Murals just South of Market (SOMA)
The South of Market (SOMA) neighborhood boasts over 130 murals. If you look up at the corner of Market Street and Civic Center, you will see a large mural that says “TRUTH.” If you walk down to Taber Place and 3rd Street, you will find “Alley Cats” by Mel Waters, just completed last year. “Bending Over Backwards” by Susan Greene features an upside down woman on a bright blue wall on 8th and Harrison Streets.
This neighborhood has experienced a lot of growth since the recent tech boom. SOMA is home to many of San Francisco’s museums and small theater companies. Walking along the streets, you’ll find that things seem to be more spread out. Although it’s a large district that has undergone a lot of development in recent years, the SOMA still has room to grow.
Discover Murals in the Tenderloin
“Rotten Apples” by Spanish artist Aryz is a large mural four stories high on the corner of Eddy and Polk Streets. The building features a sepia-toned mural of a woman with a basket of apples and a distinctive little top hat floating off to the side of her head. At Olive and Polk you can try to decipher the meaning of John Vochatzer’s strange and surreal mural. It features a cross-legged Hindu woman with a crown and four arms being carried by a turtle in a park, with birds, bugs, and fish that have wings flying in the sky.
The Tenderloin has a rich and fascinating history that can be seen through some of its social and politically charged mural art. People often differentiate this neighborhood from “Tenderloin Heights” and “The Tendernob,” which refer to the nicer areas around the Upper Tenderloin and Lower Nob Hill. The Tenderloin is home to the historic Alcazar Theatre, the gorgeous Glide Memorial Church, and Sgt. John Macaulay Park.
Bluesy Murals in Western Addition
Western Addition has over 80 street murals. If you’re in the neighborhood, check out the “Blues Evolution” mural by Santie Huckaby at Post St. and Steiner St. This piece was sponsored by the Blues R&B Foundation to celebrate the strength and accomplishments of several prominent blues musicians from the San Francisco Bay Area including Jimmy McCracklin, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Billie Holiday, and more. A beautiful mural with cherry blossoms and koi fish by Marina Perez-Wong called “Heart Song For Japan” can be found at Fell and Scott Streets.
The Western Addition was the first multicultural neighborhood in San Francisco, which is why it is currently one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city. The Fillmore has a rich music history and was known for its bustling jazz scene. You can experience a snapshot of it at the Fillmore Street Jazz Festival in July. The Western Addition is home to several restaurants, Japantown, and Alamo Square Park, which allows off-leash dogs on the west side.
Groovy Haight-Ashbury Murals
The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood is lively and full of interesting things to see. The Haight was home to 60’s hippie culture, but nowadays it’s one of the hippest and trendiest commercial centers in San Francisco. Here you’ll find several high-end boutiques and vintage shops, alongside thrift stores, record shops, cafes with music and poetry, and trendy restaurants. The Haight is also known for its large concentration of beautiful and often colorful Victorian homes.
You can see all kinds of different murals in this neighborhood, from the “X-ray of a Wolf” by Nychos right on the corner of Haight and Ashbury to something more cute like the door on Upper Haight Street that says “community” and features an elephant with a monkey, rabbit, and bird on its back. You can also see a rockin’ mural of Jimi Hendrix at 1524 Haight Street— the place where he lived in San Francisco (which is now the Ashbury Tobacco Center).
Go For a Tour of the Best Murals in San Francisco
Murals paint snapshots of San Francisco’s cultural heritage, representing different communities, time periods, artistic styles, and social and political ideas. Pictures are nice, but street art is made to be seen in person. Next time you’re walking down the street, look up or wander around to see what hidden gems you may find! You can also go on your own walking tour using the SF Murals iPhone app which allows you to find murals and learn about the artists using an interactive map of the city.
If you’re looking to buy or sell a home in one of San Francisco’s many neighborhoods, reach out to Danielle Lazier :: SFhotlist team and COMPASS San Francisco for a free consultation!