These beautiful mural collections are a window into the past.
We love San Francisco for its vibrant, eclectic art scene. It seems that there is a new hidden mural around every corner! But if you’re looking to explore some famous mural collections around the city, it’s absolutely worth taking a stroll through these beautiful alleys and projects. Each one houses a vibrant, diverse display of murals by mostly local artists. Some of these masterpieces go back decades into Bay Area history, meaning you can pinpoint certain social movements, artistic styles, and more. If you’re interested in taking a tour of public art in San Francisco, be sure to check out Precita Eyes, a community mural organization that gives a variety of tours in the city.
Read on to learn about these 4 essential destinations where you can see public art, in no particular order.
1. Balmy Alley
According to the Balmy Alley website, this is the most concentrated collection of murals in San Francisco. It began in the mid-80’s as a space for artists to express their outrage during that era of human rights abuse and political failings in Central America. Since then, it has grown into much larger collection that addresses social justice issues both locally and internationally. The Alley is constantly evolving and growing as more artists add new pieces to the weathered walls. Be sure to walk through on foot rather than attempting to get through in a car.
Find Balmy Alley between 24th and 25th Streets, parallel to Treat Ave and Harrison St in the Mission.
Umbrella Alley is a collection of colorful murals at Fisherman’s Wharf that was designed to be interacted with, meaning people can stand in front of the murals in strategic points to become a part of the art! It’s a fun destination if you want to get a perfect Instagram pic, and the whole space is made more vibrant with the addition of colorful balloons and umbrellas suspended from above. There are currently 6 murals complete, and 3 more in progress. The alley is run by local volunteers and artists, and made possible through donations. They ask for a recommended donation of $5 per guest, payable via Venmo to @Alley-Artists.
Find Umbrella Alley at Fisherman’s Wharf, at 757 Beach Street. The entrance is marked by a Wells Fargo ATM. During spring/summer 2021, the Alley is open from 10am-6pm daily, and during winter 2021 it will be open from 11am to sunset.
The Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP) began in 1992 when a group of volunteer artists took inspiration from the nearby Balmy Alley’s socially-engaged murals. Since then, they have produced over 700 murals over the years! The website states that CAMP is a space where “where culture and dignity speak louder than the rules of private property or a lifestyle that puts profit before compassion, respect, and social justice.” As opposed to Balmy Alley, CAMP began with no specific theme in mind, instead prioritizing “social inclusiveness and aesthetic variety” and allowing participating artists to explore themes that fit those two realms. The organization prioritizes work from Bay Area artists, and continues to build the collection on a limited basis. Be sure to walk through on foot rather than attempting to get through in a car.
Find the Clarion Alley Mural Project between 17th and 18th Streets and Mission and Valencia Streets in the Mission.
4. The Box Shop
The Box Shop is an artists’ collective, founded by Charles Gadeken over 20 years ago (you may know him from Entwined, a large light art installation that was on display in Golden Gate Park until this past April). In addition to a huge warehouse that holds equipment for creating every type of art piece, the Box Shop also features 20 large shipping containers which serve as individual art studios for rent. As for the murals themselves, the goal is to cover every surface of the site with vibrant art pieces, all of which are commissioned by local artists. This beautification of the Box Shop is happening in conjunction with the India Basin neighborhood development plan. You can donate to the Box Shop here.
Drive or walk by the Box Shop Frontage, located at 10 Hunters Point Blvd in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood.
Featured image: Sean Davis via Flickr