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17 April, 2014

A Mural Tour in the Mission

Posted in : Travel Guide for San Francisco - CA on by : The Gourmez


I love murals. As with all art, however, I don’t understand the history or technique of what I’m gaping at, so I was excited when my friend invited me to check out the Precita Eyes Muralists tour with her. Precita Eyes is an association of artists who work with the San Francisco Mission community to create and preserve mural artwork on the area’s many decorated businesses and personal residences. They sponsor proposals to bring about new murals, teach child and youth art classes, and take the lead in restoring many of the murals that have been in the area for the nearly 40 years of the organization’s existence.

Tours are held every weekend for $20 per adult—check the website for the full range of prices and tour types. We took the classic tour.


It begins at the Precita Arts Center at 2981 24th Street with an informative—and appreciatively short—slideshow of the history of muralists and the murals done by notable artists within San Francisco. Our first in-the-flesh mural was seen as we exited the makeshift theater and entered the gift shop.


Why yes, that is a ballerina skeleton! I thought it was beautifully colorful and fun, and the artist is none other than Patricia Rose, who is likely to be your tour guide as well as she is the director of the tours program.

Patricia Rose, showing off electrical-box art.

Patricia Rose, showing off electrical-box art.

Make sure you take the time to explore the gift shop. It has several early sketches for large-scale murals on the walls in addition to a lot of really interesting souvenir items. More interesting than another magnet of Alcatraz Island, I promise you.

From the Precita Eyes center, we stopped at the Harrison and 24th St. intersection to check out the restoration work of their young muralists.


Working with a pre-existing piece, the artists expanded on the theme of Aztec legends to create a vivid mural for the community to enjoy. Right across the street is another example of how talented young artists can be.


That mural decorates the bottom floor of the Missions Girls center, and the Mission Girls were responsible for its creation. It’s a wonderful example of paint mimicking graffiti artwork.

A few blocks down, we turned left into the primary draw of the tour: Balmy Alley.



This alleyway of private residence garages is covered with murals. I won’t attempt to name any particular artist or title, but I will share a few of my favorites from the murals we saw. Most of them were done as testimonials to the wars and peoples’ movements in Latin America in the 80s and 90s.




This next one is a close-up of the mural pictured in full at the top of this post. Within the eye, you can see the silhouette of a soldier. It’s an image symbolic of many of the murals’ themes: renewal in the shadow of past violence. I think I could stare at the artwork for hours and still not get close to picking up all the subtleties within them.


This mural is part of a larger work that has detachable milagros added to its background image. Make sure you look at the milagros closely. Many of them have double meanings, and the heart hides an especially appropriate one for an alley of murals.


After spending a good thirty minutes in Balmy Alley, we walked back toward Harrison St. and past this whimsical residential mural.


Turns out the cat creeping on the side of the stairwell was the invention of the family’s child. I’ve rarely seen a cat’s stalking of potential victims captured so perfectly.

The next major landmark we came to was at St. Peter’s Church just a few blocks farther up 24th St.


It’s been recently restored with the help of … the community! Notice a theme in this blog post? That same community raised the funds to bring the artist back to the USA to lead the restoration work. It’s quite impressive.

Mural_Tour_71Once the restoration was complete, the mural was dedicated using a traditional ceremony—Mayan, I think. Patricia pointed out the circle painted on the sidewalk that was used for that purpose.


The tour ended a few more blocks up 24th at the 24th and York minipark, which has been voted the prettiest park in the Mission.


It’s home to a lot of traditional murals with brilliant colors.


But Patricia brought us there to highlight the mosaic work, a type of mural that is becoming more popular with cities because of its durability.


The park’s centerpiece is a mosaic snake for climbing on and running around that I thought was breathtaking.

Up close on the snake’s back.

Up close on the snake’s back.

 One of many plaques celebrating different types of crafts embedded within the snake’s scales.

One of many plaques celebrating different types of crafts embedded within the snake’s scales.

Its head.

Its head.

That park was an appropriate place to end the tour because it brought us back to the people of the Mission who have done so much to support the muralists among them. Again and again, I was impressed by Patricia’s obvious love for her neighbors and her enthusiasm for using the arts as a means of fostering community. It was an impressive element of a tour that I found well-worth taking. If you’re interested in learning more about the artwork you pass in the Mission, make sure you take an hour or two and hit it up sometime.

For the rest of my photos from the mural tour, and there are many, click here.

Tour taken 8 March 2014.

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