Raise your hand if discovering colorful street art is one of your favorite things when exploring a new destination 🙋♀️ And, in my case, at home too.
In this post, we’ll explore the beating heart of San Francisco street art — the Mission District.
Since the 40s, the Mission has been home to San Francisco’s Mexican and Central American immigrants. In the last few years, it has experienced swift gentrification associated with the city’s emergence as a global tech hub. Hello hipster coffee shops, high-end boutiques, and overpriced restaurants serving new California cuisine.
Despite recent changes, Latin culture still thrives in the Mission. The neighborhood is home to hundreds of murals that tell the stories of its residents and their multicultural backgrounds. These colorful fixtures cover garages, homes, and businesses, showcasing the immigrant experience, modern politics, and the rapid changes ushered in by the tech boom and its impact on the local community. The artists here do not shy away from the political.
It’s an eye-popping visual lesson in San Francisco history and culture.
Where to Find Mission Street Art
There is street art all over the Mission, but you’ll find the highest concentration along 24th and its side streets (Balmy alley, Cypress alley, Osage alley, Lilac Street, and Lucky Street stand out) as well as in Clarion Alley near 16th and Valencia/Mission.
And it’s 100% possible to explore Mission street art on foot! In fact, it’s the best way and one of my favorite things to do in San Francisco! I usually encourage visitors to spend at least half a day moseying around the neighborhood and taking in the open-air art gallery.
For a self-guided walking tour, Balmy Alley is a great place to start. You can then stroll down 24th Street towards the neighborhood BART station, taking detours into the alleys mentioned above along the way.
From there, make your way onto Valencia Street and head towards the Women’s Building, an iconic nonprofit hub covered in street art that is absolutely worth a stop.
End your tour at Clarion Alley, another thriving San Francisco street art hotspot where vibrant pieces change with the seasons.
Tips for Exploring Mission Street Art
A note before we dive into our photo tour. The Mission District — especially around the 16th and 24th Street BART stations — is home to many of the city’s homeless residents. Everyone minds their own business for the most part, but sometimes you’ll come across someone exhibiting unpredictable behavior, likely in the middle of mental episode. In situations like this, it’s best to quickly move along and be on your way. Don’t expect the worst (I’ve done this walk alone many times), but do exercise caution.
At night, the alleys along 24th Street can become isolated. Best to avoid exploring these on foot alone if it becomes too late.