In the past 20 years, street art has been sprayed onto walls all over the world, and California is no exception. Perhaps it’s because of California’s liberal, inclusive ethic, or maybe because Hollywood employs so many in the creative class. Regardless, there’s no denying that California street art is impressive and it’s proliferating all over the state.
This guide features ten California cities, towns and offbeat locations that are covered with street art and graffiti. Take time out of your weekend getaway, or even your daily life to check out the cool walls in these locations.
Northern California Street Art
Some of the most concentrated and easy to find street art in California is in San Francisco’s Mission District. This traditionally Latino neighborhood is a hotspot for murals that tell immigration stories as well as highly political messages about gentrification, and racial and economic injustice.
Check out this Mission murals guide for the full downlow on on the Mission’s mural history as well as specific instructions on where to find the murals.
In addition to the Mission, you can also find plenty of murals in Haight Ashbury and throughout the Civic Center neighborhood. There are also a series of WPA-era murals at Coit Tower, the Rincon building and at the Beach Chalet.
You may also want to check out the Paint the Void project, which is an initiative that engages artists to paint boarded up storefronts.
Since 2017, murals have been cropping up in San Jose thanks to the POW!WOW! Worldwide organization. POW!WOW! hosts street art festivals in 12 cities around the world. To date, they have helped to curate 46 murals in downtown San Jose as part of the festival and an ongoing artist in residence program. SJ Walls is currently working on a series of murals along the Guadalupe River parkway. Their intention is to create a public art corridor that will encourage long-term trail and park usage.
Wide Open Walls is an annual mural festival which has festooned Sacramento with over 120 murals. The organization is working on making art part of daily life in Sacramento. They are doing that by reaching a wide audience with their outdoor art gallery. They engage locally and have Sacramento artists on their board and steering committee.
“In Sacramento we do not build walls to keep people out, we paint walls to bring people in.” -Mayor Darrell Steinberg
Eureka, California may seem like an unlikely place for California street art. The region is more known for huge redwood trees and Victorian architecture. But an artsy ethic is a strong component of Eureka’s Bohemian culture (because they are indeed one of many Boho towns in California).
Eureka has leveraged that culture by tapping their large resident population of artists. The city partners with local businesses for an annual street art festival and they’ve also invested in a project to have local artists paint the utility boxes around the city.
Here’s a mural map.
Donner Summit Tunnels
If you are more interested in California graffiti, rather than large-scale murals, then the Donner Tunnels are for you. These disused rail tunnels are located at Donner Pass and are part of the 1868 rail network that connected California with the rest of the nation. In 1993, the railroad re-routed the tracks and the tunnels were abandoned. It’s now become a 5 mile round trip urbex trail that wanders through six graffiti covered tunnels.
Learn more about how to find the trail with this complete guide to the Donner Summit rail tunnels.
Southern California Street Art
Downtown Los Angeles
All over the world, you can find neighborhoods that have transitioned from sketchy wastelands into cool artist districts with street art. You can find this in Brooklyn, Berlin, South Salt Lake City and now in LA. DTLA is a neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles which is bordered on the north by Union station and on the south by Skid Row. It used to be a scruffy warehouse district but it’s been gentrified into a seriously cool neighborhood, thanks to deliberate planning by the DTLA Arts District.
Venice Beach began as a classic California beach town, with an amusement pier and miles of sweet sand beaches. It got rundown in the 50’s, which made it the perfect home for young counter-culture artists and Beat poets. The area started waking up in the 80’s and many visual artists retained studios in the Venice Beach. So it’s a natural evolution that Venice beach would become a hotspot for street art in California. You can find murals all throughout the neighborhood and also some legal practice walls at “the pit”.
Here’s a full guide for finding the Venice Beach, California murals.
In addition to San Jose, POW!WOW! has also been painting up walls in Southern California. POW!WOW! Long Beach has hosted a regular mural festival since 2017. Their mission is to bring art and culture to public spaces while cultivating community pride. They’ve done so by curating over 60 murals throughout Long Beach. The group has engaged with world renowned artists like Australian Fintan Magee and Hong Kong artist Caratoes, and also famous local LA-based artists like Tristan Eaton.
Explore on your own with this mural map.
San Diego’s street art culture is very much like that of San Francisco. Some of the most established murals are in Chicano Park in the Barrio Logan neighborhood. This park was established as a protest against San Diego’s refusal to give Barrio Logan its own green space. The local residents took matters into their own hands by occupying the land and building their own park. Chicano Park is tucked under the overpass that goes from I-5 over to Coronado Island. A series of Latino themed murals have been painted vertically along the freeway support structure.
Learn more about the Chicano Park murals.
There are also many murals in downtown San Diego that feature environmental themes and which are part of the Sea Walls project. You can also find graffiti and murals in the North Park neighborhood.
Slab City is an offbeat counter-culture community hunkered down in the hot desert east of the Salton Sea. The area is a magnet for off-the-grid retirees and Millennials who eschew the traditional suburban life. Slab City sits on the site of a former army base and the foundation “slabs” and old guard huts have been painted up. There is also an astonishingly colorful project called Salvation Mountain, which was painted in a religious fervor by Leonard Knight. While there, you can also visit East Jesus, which has painted objects and Burning Man-type sculptures make out of unlikely junk.
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