Lately, no art movement seems to generate more excitement than street art. Infused with genuine street cred that has attracted a global roster of artists and fans as well as created new superstars, this style of visual art turns public spaces into free form canvases that can be enjoyed by all. With a decades long tradition that precedes cultural movements like hip hop, the Golden State is one of the best places to check out street art concentrated in urban locations including the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego. Here is your guide to some of the best ways to experience the wide and wonderful canvas that makes up California’s homegrown street art scene.
Balmy Alley – San Francisco
Long home to San Francisco’s alternative arts and music scene, the city’s Mission District is also the location of Balmy Alley, a legendary spot to see the work of both established muralists, as well as up-and-coming talents. The earliest murals date back to the 1980’s and were political statements about US policies in Latin America.
Location: Between Treat Ave. and Harrison Street
Where to stay: Kimpton Sir Francis Drake in Union Square or The Kimpton Buchanan in Japantown
First Fridays Festival – Downtown Oakland
This monthly gathering of artists, musicians, spoken word performers and local culinary favorites is a great place to stroll Oakland’s emerging downtown scene and see street art in the making. Held in Oakland’s KONO district, the First Fridays Festival is rapidly becoming a signature Bay Area event.
Location: Telegraph Avenue
1AM Gallery – San Francisco
Instead of pounding the pavement looking for great SF street art, you can actually get an informative overview, insider tour and chance to create your own (perfectly legal) street art thanks to the graffiti gurus at 1AM Gallery. For some DIY explorations, you can also download the gallery’s 1AM Mobile app from the iTunes store.
Location: 1,000 Howard Street
In the mid-Eighties, as Melrose Avenue became a global mecca for hip style, the street and surrounding alleys became a magnet for street artists that have since become household names like Banksy and Shepard Fairey. The scene evolved further as shop owners started asking the renegade artists to paint their stores and ever since, street art has become an indelible part of the fabric of Melrose Avenue.
Location: Melrose Avenue from La Brea Ave. to Fairfax Ave.
Where to stay: Kimpton Hotel Palomar LA-Beverly Hills or the The Kimpton Hotel Wilshire in the Miracle Mile
Based in New York, Graff Tours also recruits local LA artists to lead tours through their city’s best street art locations. Artists plan routes, provide overviews of techniques and styles of all kinds of public art (including graffiti, wheatpaste and stencil art) and often show their own work.
What started as a political stand-off over a plot of land between local authorities and Latino activists and community members in the 1970’s has since became a park below the Coronado Bay Bridge that is now home to the largest concentration of murals in the country. Located in San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood, Chicano Park’s 70-plus murals were recently restored and later catalogued by a University of San Diego student project. The 8-acre park is now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Location: Barrio Logan
Where to stay: Kimpton Solamar Hotel in Downtown and or the Kimpton Hotel Palomar in the Gaslamp District
Street Painting Festival – Temecula
Part of the annual Temecula Art Festival weekend, the Street Painting Festival takes place every June and transforms the town’s Main Street into a canvas for plein air masterpieces done in chalk by families, kids and professional artists who use the asphalt to create murals of over 100 square feet in size.
Location: Old Town Temecula Town Square
Balmy Alley: Creative Commons; Melrose Ave: _neezy/Flickr; Chicano Park: teddeady/Flickr