Unless you have a dog who takes you for daily walks around the block, you may not be getting outside as often since pandemic pandemonium struck. If that’s the case, here’s a dose of inspiration. Below are just a few of the local attractions that you can safely explore while stretching your legs.
This sidestreet in the Mission is famous for being smothered in awe-inspiring art. Balmy Alley branches off south from 24th Street close to Humphry Slocombe. According to its official website (the spot has got to be special if it’s got its own website, right?), the murals here began in the 1980s as artists’ dialogue about human rights and political movements of Central America.
The murals change regularly, so make sure to check in even if you’ve visited in the past.
If you are further from the Mission and want to find some art closer to home, you may be lucky enough to find a print of a honey bear in a window near you.
The bears are part of muralist fnnch’s attempt to bring out a sense of hope and reassurance to the community in San Francisco during COVID-19. Originally a street art series on boarded-up storefronts and then a fundraiser selling art quality prints, fnnch eventually began selling low-cost versions of the Warholesque honey bears.
Now they can be seen peeking through windows of houses and businesses around the city.
All the bears wear masks, reflecting the period when masks were first being adopted, though this has become more of a political statement recently. Some bears hold a glass of wine, while others hold up signs saying “VOTE.”
The most recent character is a tutu-wearing bear, with a portion of the proceeds supporting the San Francisco Ballet.
Paint the Void
Another city-wide project to promote the arts during the pandemic is Paint the Void, a project that has raised $230,000 to support artists. The program creates grants for artists to create art on boarded-up businesses to lift the spirits of neighbors (that’s you!) and promote artists. You can track down murals that have been commissioned through the project, including the work of artists Elleree Fletcher, Inga Bard, and Emily Fromm.
Stairways of San Francisco
Depending on whom you talk to, hills are the greatest or worst part of getting around San Francisco. The cable car was one of the first solutions to the problem of traversing those steep slopes, but city planners have also carved out thousands of steps of urban stairways. While some are a modest few steps, others are nestled between dewy garden plots (Filbert Steps, Greenwich Steps) or tiled in complex geometric or floral mosaics like the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, Lincoln Park Steps, or Hidden Garden Steps. You might just find yourself developing a staircase habit. There is an entire book devoted to the subject if you prefer, but a quick reference can be found online here.
UCSF Mission Bay Art
If you are in the vicinity of the Mission Bay campus, you also have the pleasure of discovering your local campus’s roster of artistic works.
You may have noticed two giant slabs of steel standing 50 feet tall in the sand directly in front of Subway (at least, I hope you’ve noticed). This forms an impressive conjunction of high art and fast food, because the creator Richard Serra is renowned worldwide for his sculpture.
If you visited SFMOMA’s lobby in the past four years, you may have wandered through the maze-like structure of another Serra piece before it was returned to the Stanford Cantor Arts Center in 2019.
Walking across the Mission Bay quad, you have probably also noticed the curiously hard patio chairs, or the apparently abandoned -80° freezers lying on their sides–these turn out to be bronze sculptures by Jim Iserman.
For a walk on the surreal side, you can mosey over to Byers Hall’s second floor lobby, which contains what appear to be regular books on display.
In fact, these are ninety repurposed books which have been painted over to depict “all manner of actual, invented and subverted subjects, ranging from ‘The Death of Painting’ to ‘Premature Articulation’ to ‘String Theory.’”
The larger collection includes outdoor and indoor art, with the major pieces listed here and many smaller prints and canvases located in hallway galleries throughout campus buildings.
These are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to San Francisco art installations.
There has always been a bountiful public art scene in the city. Here are the locations of dozens of murals located across the city, and feel free to explore different neighborhoods.
Hopefully these options help you breathe some fresh outdoor air while exploring the beauty of the city. Stay tuned for another guide to getting outdoors in nature.