Across the United States, cities will claim that they have the most to offer whether that comes to affordable housing, culture, diversity, tourist attractions, food, and of course - ART. The street art that tourists and residents come across usually has a lot to say about a city. Whether it’s around their political viewpoints or the cultural influence(s) their population may have. Many cities claim to have the best and most unique art, which may or may not be true depending on who you ask. After researching across a multitude of websites claiming to showcase the best graffiti murals, the following cities were represented over and over: Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Honolulu, and Miami.
Given that New York and California are the most populated states and that LA and New York are the two largest cities, it came as little surprise that they were in the mix. And even though San Francisco was not that surprising, we found it interesting that Miami and Honolulu popped up rounding out the top 5 best U.S. cities to see graffiti murals. We highly recommend travelling to all 5 if you are able to, as each area has its own artists that reflects the city’s culture and style. The following are key mural filled areas in each city you should plan to check out on your next visit.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA: The Mission District
The Bay Area is known for its outspoken, liberal culture. Inevitably, the art founded here will reflect that. In San Francisco, the best place for art murals would be the Mission District, a once primarily latino community – the artwork there reflects its culture and politics. With the gentrification the initial residents have been facing, several of them use art as an outlet in the streets of San Francisco and it is with no doubt that the Mission District is one of the most popular U.S. mural districts. The following locations are where to find those San Francisco Mission District murals:
- Balmy Alley: between 24th and 25th st, Treat St, and Harrison St. Given it’s latino population, murals started off in the 80’s about human rights and political abuse in Central America. As the city is facing major gentrification especially in the mission area due to tech workers from the silicon valley, Now the art reflects gentrification and human rights violations.
- Clarion Alley: between 17th and 18th st, Mission St and Valencia St. depicts themes of social inclusiveness.
- The Women’s Building Maestra Peace Mural: 3543 18th st. started in 1994 bringing 7 women from different backgrounds and generations honoring their contributions.
- Carnaval Mural: 24th st and south van ness ave. Painted in 1983 by muralist Daniel Galvez, depicts the energy and spirit from the 1st carnaval event in 1979. A.k.a “Golden Dreams of the Mission.
- Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Vision Center: 2981 24th st. Guided tours of the history and cultural importance behind the murals.
While San Francisco’s mural art is not limited to the Mission, the murals there are the richest in culture throughout the city and are worth taking the time to check out..
NEW YORK CITY: Bushwick Collective
Started by Bushwick native Joe Ficalora after the death of his parents, he decided to give back to the community through art to help him work through the trauma.
“To revive himself of the trauma he went through, he decided to revive his neighborhood”.
Along with other artists, Ficalora started painting murals across several blocks of an abandoned industrial neighborhood. During this process, the Bushwick Collective Murals were born; adding the neighborhood as another New York City tourist spot. Every June there is an annual block party held when selected muralists come together and switch out the art on the walls with new creations. This is also a time for fans to support the art, music, and event.
With New York City being a mecca when it comes to art, fashion, theatre, it is no surprise that street art is has become a major attraction as well. Street art throughout the NYC adds to the rich tapestry provided for tourists to soak in the creativity and diversity that makes up the city that never sleeps. The following are some areas of New York you should check out for some of the best graffiti and street art the city has to offer!
- Bushwick Collective located in Bushwick area of Brooklyn
- Coney Art Walls – Added every summer for visitors to enjoy
- Audubon Mural Project – set with the goal of painting all 314 species of vbirds threatened by global warming.
- The Highline in Manhattan
- East Village Walls
- Graffiti Hall of Fame in Harlem
- Welling Court Mural project – Astoria, Queens
MIAMI, FLORIDA: Wynwood Walls Curated Graffiti Murals
Tony Goldman, curator of the Miami Wynwood walls began the project in a district of the city of Miami called Wynwood that mainly contained a bunch of warehouses.. Goldman saw this as an opportunity to create a playground of structural canvases. He gathered several well-known artists from all over the world to add their touch to the various walls of the warehouses. “Graffiti and street art are underappreciated and not respected historically”.
The results are the Wynwood Walls that launched during Art Basel Miami. Art Basel Miami is a for profit, privately owned and managed international art fair started in the 1970’s and held in Basel, Switzerland, Miami, Florida, and now Hong Kong, China. The results of the Wynwood Walls launching the same week as Art Basel Miami not only raised awareness of the Art Fair, but helped to legitimize Street Art and in time Wynwood as important aspects of modern art. Today the Wynwood Walls are one of the pinnacles of street and mural artists around the world and feature some of the greatest artists to ever paint large scale walls.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: Downtown Arts District
There are so many murals throughout LA scattered between different neighborhoods, it’s hard to know where to start. To keep it simple we suggest starting with the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District. The section of downtown LA has been one of the fastest growing mural districts – well almost anywhere. The district lies in an old warehouse and manufacturing areas just east of downtown LA, next to little Tokyo. Over the last 8 years the entire area has gone through a massive revitalization, of which murals, graffiti and street art have played a vital role. Today, the arts district houses amazing restaurants, cafes, creative spaces, and retail spaces (Montana Shop LA just recently opened their flagship LA location here). We suggest starting here as you can grab a bite to eat or quick cup of coffee and wander between multistory turn of the century industrial buildings and see massive murals by some of the top artists in the world as well as local up and comers. While the district is still in transition, it gives you a great perspective on how business, government and art can work together to breathe life into an area that had become virtually deserted. Beyond the LA downtown arts district, we recommend you check out the following mural districts, and projects:
- Downtown LA Arts District – multiple blocks of murals – be sure to check out the Montana Shop LA store located at the Container Yard in the Arts District!
- Branded Arts – over 8 years and 350+ murals in LA and across the USA.
- LA Freewalls Project was created as a community project to put murals on the walls throughout Los Angeles to create positive, cultural influences (throughout LA)
- Culver City Mural District
- Venice Beach Mural District
- Gower and Melrose Mural District
- Melrose Avenue Alleys – Between Fairfax and La Brea avenues.
When people think of the street art culture, usually Hawaii does not come to mind. However, since 2011, Kakaako in downtown Honolulu has become one of the newest tourist attractions in Hawaii due to its rotating murals that are replaced every February. Kakaako started off as a native Hawaiian fishing village located in downtown Honolulu. During the 1900’s it became an industrialized area full of warehouses, auto repair shops and car dealerships.
Similar to the Wynwood Walls in Miami, it eventually just became worn down warehouses. An artist and Hawaiian native named Jasper Wong took it upon himself to use art to revitalize the area in 2011. Along with this goal, he created POW WOW Hawaii, a group with a focus on making Kakaako beautiful and bring people together through art. The mural art seen here has Hawaiian culture themes and Asian anime styles interspersed with graffiti styles from Brooklyn to LA to Miami.
No matter what city you visit, it does not hurt to stop by and check out the art scene. Especially if you want to get to know the city beyond it’s hyped up tourist attractions. You may be surprised in what you learn in terms of local history, culture, and regional viewpoints.