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A detail of Diego Rivera's 'Pan American Unity' mural featuring Frida Kahlo on view at City College of San Francisco.  Shannon Badiee / Instagram
A detail of Diego Rivera's 'Pan American Unity' mural featuring Frida Kahlo on view at City College of San Francisco.  (Shannon Badiee / Instagram)

The 7 Most Instagrammable Public Art Spots in the Bay Area

The 7 Most Instagrammable Public Art Spots in the Bay Area

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In the Bay Area, art is all around you; it’s simply a matter of knowing where to look. While galleries and museums rightfully boast about their summer shows, you don’t necessarily have to step foot in a gallery in order to see (and shoot) some impressive art.

From the iconic masterworks to hidden gems, here’s your guide to snapping the best public art in the Bay Area.

Calle 24 Latino Cultural District

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We’d be remiss if we didn’t start in the heart of San Francisco’s longstanding muralista community for our public art round-up. The Mission District murals—particularly along 24th Street and the Latino Cultural District—serve as San Francisco’s cultural archivists. As recent threats attempt to censor, destroy and literally whitewash some of the Mission’s iconic murals, exciting new movements within the community resist with paintbrushes, spray cans and creativity. Keep your eyes peeled for the work of Precita Eyes Muralists, Mel Waters, Laura Campos, Eli Lippert and Marina Perez-Wong.

Photo of “Once Upon A Time in The Mission” by Precita Eyes, @_attril, @fouronefever, @cheph415, @dref415, and @frederickoalvarado. 

San Jose’s Japantown Art Walk

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Spend any time in San Jose’s Japantown, and you’ll find yourself transported to a world of massive murals painted by the Empire Seven muralist crew. Founded in 2008  by Juan Carlos Araujo and Jennifer Ahn, Empire Seven and its gallery Empire Seven Studios take art into public places, creating new murals inspired by the city’s past, present and future. For them, community revitalization and beautification happens from the ground up, working with shop owners block-by-block throughout the neighborhood. Though their work is beloved by the public, street artists and muralists are no strangers to having their work defaced. Recently, Bay Area artist Jose Meza Velazquez filed a lawsuit against a real estate developer who painted over his iconic Mural de la Raza. Now is a critical time to document San Jose’s murals and support the next generation of mural-makers.

You can follow a map of the Japantown murals with this interactive map made possible by Yan-Yin Choy of Code for San Jose.

SoMa Street Art

Ground zero for much of the city’s tech chaos, SoMa maintains its creative energy with new work from both local and international artists. Keep your eyes peeled for jaw-dropping blooms by Jet Martinez, vivid sheroes by Agana, monochromatic musings of Zio Ziegler, and portraits of resistance by Jess Sabogal.

‘Free To See’ at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

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The secret’s out. From coral red bathrooms to five floors of rotating exhibitions, SFMOMA has solidified its reputation as an Instagrammer’s paradise. But while many patrons breeze by the first two floors in a rush up to the hottest new shows, they miss an art-filled playground for a photographer with a keen eye. High above the grand staircase at the museum’s third street entrance, you can stand face-to-face with the first-largest painting ever installed since the museum re-opened: an 80-foot-long, 20-foot-high, two-panel mural by Julie Mehretu. Then meet a thousand—1,206 to be exact—San Franciscans and hear their stories in JR’s interactive video mural The Chronicles of San Francisco.  And on your way out, don’t overlook the vibrant Play Sculpture by Isamu Noguchi.

Diego Rivera’s Hidden San Francisco Murals

There’s no need to jet-set off to an international destination to get a slice of art history because San Francisco houses three hidden murals painted by the iconic Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Tucked away in the Diego Rivera Theatre lobby at City College of San Francisco stands the massive Pan American Unity Mural — the largest mural Rivera ever created. By 2020, SFMOMA will move the 10-panel work into a free streetside gallery as the centerpiece of an exhibition dedicated to the legendary artist. The sheer scale and history of all three works are bound to satiate any art-hungry photographer.

Visit Rivera’s ‘The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City’ at the San Francisco Art Institute and ‘Allegory of California’ at City Club of San Francisco.

Murals of Oakland: Downtown and Jack London District

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Oakland heroes and heroines emerge from under overpasses and brighten concrete corners of The Town. Themes of representation, resistance and beauty can be found spanning across sidewalks all over Oakland, providing momentary respite from the realities of its ongoing gentrification. Spend an afternoon perusing the (arguably) largest list of Oakland’s street art maintained by Oakland Wiki, or take a walking tour of some of Oakland’s newest murals by featuring the work of Los Pobres Artistas, Trust Your Struggle, Creative Shields Creators Gone Create and others.

di Rosa’s Sculpture Garden

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With over dozens of objects along a long trail on the rolling hills of wine country, di Rosa’s Outdoor Sculpture Tour surprises the eager photographer at every turn. Mark di Suvero’s For Veroniva rises like a rubescent monument, while Gordon Huether’s aluminum Yucca cuts through the soil like an offering to supernatural beings. And full disclosure, the di Rosa Outdoor Sculpture Tour isn’t quite “free, public art,” but supporting an arts organization that served as a refuge for the community after the North Bay fires should be considered $18 well spent.


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