A pedestrian strolls by a Bruce Lee mural, painted by artist Twick in 2020, on Clay and Grant Street in San Francisco | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard
San Francisco’s illustrious history of adorning its buildings with murals dates all the way back to the 18th century.
The Mission Dolores mural was the city’s first, painted by Ohlone artists in 1791. However, it was covered up by the church altar, hidden for over 200 years.
Historian and artist Ben Wood recovered and digitally recorded the mural in 2004 with the help of archaeologist Eric Blind.
But even before Wood and Blind’s discovery, murals had become entrenched in San Francisco’s history and culture.
Twenty-five artists painted 27 murals on the first and second floors of Coit Tower in the 1930s during the Great Depression. These New Deal murals embodied the atmosphere of the time, depicting the laborers, modes of transportation and industries of that era. Famed Mexican artist Diego Rivera also painted his first murals in the United States in this period—all three of which are still housed in San Francisco.
Mural production in the city took a hiatus after that, resuming in the 1970s as a new style overtook the artistic expressions.
The muralists of the 1970s used their art as avenues for imagination, social change and celebration. Las Mujeres Muralistas, a group of Latina artists formed in the Mission District, stood at the forefront of this trend.
The Mission boasts over 500 murals alone, nearly half of the murals in the entire city, according to SF Mural Arts. It is also home to Balmy Alley, the site of the Las Mujeres Muralista’s first mural and a plethora of present-day murals. The art pieces line the entire alley, covering walls, garage doors and fences alike.
The Mission’s collaborative and community-based murals would be incomplete without the work of Precita Eyes Muralists Association, an organization founded in 1977 that creates, restores and celebrates murals throughout the city.
From the Mission to Haight-Ashbury, from Chinatown to the Tenderloin, San Francisco is filled to the brim with gorgeous murals. Check out some of them below.