As districts go, the Mission is about as good as it gets in San Francisco.
Could it be the history? Sure; the Mission Dolores neighborhood is the literal birthplace of the city, with an eponymous chapel that dates back to 1776. How about the weather? Actually yes, thanks to an advantageous location east of Twin Peaks that keeps it generally warmer and less foggy than much of San Francisco throughout the year. And don’t even get us started on the pulse of the area, with its bevy of raucous nightlife hangouts and a Carnaval celebration that would have even the most conservative among you shaking your moneymakers along Harrison Street.
Its most colorful asset, however, is a thing of beauty, patrimony, and originality all to itself.
If you’re among the scant few who have yet to delve into the history of Muralism in post-1920’s Mexico, consider the Mission District’s ubiquitous street art your crash course. Part social commentary, part aesthetic poetry, this vibrant collection of painted words and images tells a story at once global and unique to San Francisco. The themes range from the rich diversity of Latino heritage to the struggle for LGBT rights and just about everything in between.
And while it’s certainly possible to find and appreciate these works of contemporary art on your own, it never hurts to have some idea where to begin your pigmented pilgrimage. That’s why we here at Spinlister have put together a detailed Mission Street Murals bike tour, which may be simultaneously the shortest and most colorful bike ride you’ll take in San Francisco.
Take a minute to get yourself acquainted with the route and some of our favorite stops along the way, then grab your rental bike and let the visual smorgasbord begin.
MISSION POOL AND PLAYGROUND
Located at the corner of 19th and Linda, the Mission Pool and Playground has been a staple of the Mission Dolores neighborhood for decades. Its pool, playground, soccer pitch, and tennis/basketball courts are open to the public year round, so it’s understandable that a utopian scene of cooperation and togetherness adorns the entire front of the clubhouse.
The San Francisco Women’s Building, on top of providing a safe community center run for women by women, is also home to one of the most spectacular pieces of wall art in the city. Dubbed the MaestraPeace Mural, it was painted in 1994 by a litany of San Francisco’s most well-respected artists from Miranda Bergman to Juana Alicia, and depicts some of the most influential female figures throughout history and around the world. You’ll definitely need a few minutes to soak in this 4-story masterpiece, so be ready to dismount and have a look around.
Step inside Clarion Alley, which runs east to west for one block between 17th and 18th streets, and you’ll be transported into a narrow channel of vivid colors and sociopolitical engagement. The project to completely cover the alley walls in art dates back to 1992 and the creation of the Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP). Since that time, its six original founding members have expanded in both size and project scope, however the alley continues to be a focal point of diversity and inclusiveness in a city rife with gentrification.
Also known as the Golden Dreams of the Mission, this massive 24 x 75 ft. mural on the corner of 24th and South Van Ness pays homage to the founding of San Francisco’s Carnaval celebration in 1979. What began as a few hundred dancers and revelers gathered in the Mission on a chilly day in late February has since grown into one of the largest and most celebrated Carnival festivities in the U.S. The scene was memorialized by muralist Daniel Galvez in 1983, with the help of several other area artists.
The original paintings along Balmy Alley date back to the 1970s, making it the unofficial godfather of San Francisco alleyway murals. 10 years later, a formal plan was devised to cover the street’s exterior surfaces in artwork celebrating Central American culture, in opposition to the regional sociopolitical turmoil of the time. These days the themes are significantly more varied, however the spirit remains the same. With dozens of individual works on display, Balmy Alley has the highest concentration of murals anywhere in the city.