Balmy Alley

Featuring Distinctive Murals that Definitely have Something to Say

If a picture speaks a thousand words, the murals painted on the walls in San Francisco’s Balmy Alley impart entire volumes of thought, ideas, political views, social commentary and much more. Balmy Alley is the largest and most concentrated collection of murals in the city and is yet another facet of life here that makes San Francisco such a unique place to live and visit. The Alley is located between Treat Avenue and Harrison Street in the city’s Mission District and runs from 24th St. to 25th St.

Legend has it that the first mural painted in Balmy Alley was created in 1972, long before it became a canvas for some of the Bay Area’s best artists/political activists. Two women, Patricia Rodriquez and Graciela Carillo, who came to be known as Las Mujeres Muralistas, created that mural simply to make a statement and share it with their community and the world. In the mid-80s, local artists founded a project to line the whole alley with murals as a means to celebrate indigenous Central American cultures and protest U.S. intervention and civil rights abuses in the region.

Since then, many murals and artists have come and gone and the central theme has become more diversified but the murals still provoke thought and are packed with social commentary. While standing and appreciating the talent of each artist and the message that they convey, you may be struck by how unusual, unlikely and altogether cool the Alley truly is. It’s an alley, after all, lined with garages, fences and gates leading to the back yards of the people who live there. While standing and appreciating a mural, you may be temporarily startled when it begins opening and the owner attempts to drive out of his or her garage or when a stylized Dia de los Muertos skull swings wide for a kid taking the garbage out.

Best of all, a thought-provoking stroll through the Alley is free. If you’re lucky, you may get to watch an artist working on a new mural or performing restoration work on one they created decades ago. Like other San Francisco art installations and museums, Balmy Alley is best viewed on foot and at your own pace. Although there is some street parking nearby (depending on the time of day,) numerous bus and BART routes run through or quite near the Mission District and you’re much better off taking mass transportation. You’ll definitely want to bring a camera and when you have reached the end of the Alley, the Mission has lots of great places to eat and drink. So if you’re visiting the area or want to treat out-of-town guests to a unique San Francisco experience that they will talk about for a long time, head over to Balmy Alley!