Although San Francisco has over 1,000 murals painted throughout the city, the Mission District boasts the largest concentration and the most varietal murals, ranging from social movement depictions, mosaics, artistic renditions, political statement interpretations, and even through to pieces with 3D elements. Mission District’s murals are a pillar of San Francisco’s art culture and community.
The best place to start navigating through Mission District’s murals is outside Precita Eyes Muralists. Beginning along 24th Street, the thoroughfare makes for an easy stroll past skillfully-painted spots throughout the neighborhood.
By following 24th Street, you’ll arrive at South Van Ness Avenue, to a mural that’s enriched the lives of longtime locals for an entire generation. The painting of the Carnaval Mural took place in 1983, in honor of the very first San Francisco Carnaval festival in 1979. After 300 colorfully-dressed drummers and dancers wound their way down Van Ness Avenue—around Precita Park in the Mission District—it became an honored parade and event.
That first Carnaval led to it being one of the biggest and most diverse carnival parades in the country. Muralist Daniel Galvez joined local artists Dan Fontes, Keith Sklar, Jaime Morgan, Eduardo Pineda and Jean Shield in 1983 to recreate the unforgettable energy and capture the diverse spirit of the first event. Referred to as the “Golden Dreams of the Mission,” the 24-foot-high, 75-foot-wide mural is located just above the House of Brakes.
Staying on 24th Street through 25th and between various Treat and Harrison Street locations is Balmy Alley. Painted walls and murals started popping up along Balmy Alley in the mid-80s when civil rights and other political turmoil plagued the streets all over America. This alley’s political art theme carried on through the decades and now, mural themes cover issues like gentrification, human rights, and Hurricane Katrina. Much of Balmy Alley’s art takes on heavy South American and Latino influence and style. New details to original pieces or entirely new murals are constantly added to the Balmy Alley collection.
A few blocks north of Balmy, between Mission and Valencia Street, Clarion Alley marks the next stop on a Mission mural exploration. This art-drenched side-street is the inspired result of Balmy Alley. After paintings and works of social injustices in Balmy were taken notice of by the community, local businesses started asking around for street artists to paint their exterior walls. Many of the murals are the result of the Clarion Alley Mural Project. Established in 1992, The Project is responsible for 150 murals in Clarion Alley. The Project throws an annual Block Party to premiere fresh additions, play live music, and showcase new films. A similar theme of politics and government issues line Clarion Alley, just as it does Balmy, although each one possesses a distinct style of its own. Today the Mission District strives to support and continue to produce engaging and innovative public art in the community.