A Local's Guide To Street Art In San Francisco

When someone mentions San Francisco our first thoughts are usually of the tourist-packed Pier 39 and its resident seals, guided tours of Alcatraz and the puzzling sight of cars winding down the famous Lombardo Street. While all of these are of course must-sees, you might find yourself wanting to escape the crowds and get a feel for local life in the city. San Francisco’s weird and wonderful collection of street art offers a true insight into life as a local (for free!), so grab your camera and follow our guide to the best street art spots in San Francisco for your chance to experience this iconic city like a local. 

By Emma White 

Mission District

San Francisco is home to an impressive array of murals and mosaics. The highest concentration of street art installations can be found in the city’s Mission District which famously boasts over 500 individual pieces covering a wide range of different styles and artistic disciplines. The street art in this area has been an integral part of the local culture and community since the early 1980s and has been a popular place of interest amongst locals and tourists ever since. This fascinating district is practically a free outdoor art gallery and definitely deserves a place in your city break itinerary. 

Photo: foragingforinspiration.com

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Balmy Alley

The most notable street in the Mission District is Balmy Alley. This one-block-long alley is the number one spot for admiring the remarkable works of art that engulf the buildings on either side. These murals mainly document the experience of the Latino community and portray various social, political, religious and historical messages. “The culture contains the seed of resistance (1984)” is one of the most iconic Balmy Alley murals painted by artists O’brien Thiele and Miranda Bergman. This piece represents the struggles faced by those living in or originating from Central America. 

Photo: ipernity.com

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Themes include poverty, violence and war contrasted with celebrations of music, culture and love. Originally painted in 1984, the mural was intended to highlight the realities of the Central American wars and to oppose the U.S. government’s intervention. This particular artwork was also part of an artistic project named PLACA which saw dozens of artists and activists coming together to create a visual display which would represent the solidarity and respect for the people arriving as exiles from the wars to the Mission District.  

Photo: artandarchitecture.com


Clarion Alley 

Balmy Alley’s younger brother, Clarion Alley, has followed a similar artistic evolution since the early 1990s and is now just as colourful and lively. The art here is supported and produced by the Clarion Alley Mural Project, a community-based, artist-run organisation set up in San Francisco who aim to provide socially engaging and aesthetically innovative public art. Clarion Alley’s murals take inspiration from those on Balmy Alley and often include protest imagery and messages about race, class, and politics, however artists are free to paint whatever they want. This spot has a younger, more relaxed vibe and you can expect to see anything from painted superheroes, to quirky cartoon characters and other references to popular culture. Be sure to check out the beautiful tribute to music icon Prince, “Rest in Purple”, painted by Mel C. Waters. 

Photo: Trover

Haight Street 

If you remember the 60s, head over to Haight Street for the ultimate blast from the past! This groovy street was the epicentre and original birth place of the Hippie Revolution in San Francisco, and is filled with remnants and recreations of the glory days and the clock permanently stands at 4.20pm. The walls of the eccentric souvenir shops and bohemian cafes are plastered with brightly-coloured murals which echo the flower power and tie-dye vibes of the sixties. 

Market Street Railway

Another great spot for street art is right on the corner of Church Street and 15th Street near Duboce Park. This elaborate mural, named Market Street Railway Mural, shows a bird's eye view of San Francisco's Market Street and is divided into sections relating to different eras in the city’s past and future, from the 1920's to the present, and through to a hypothetical future world. The mural celebrates public space and the importance of the community in the city. It contains lots of detailed references to well-known events in the city’s history and portrays various San Francisco groups and subcultures throughout the years. So if museums aren’t your thing, why not check out this mural for a quick history lesson on the city!

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