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Adam Brinklow

The overlooked and forgotten murals of San Francisco

With over roughly 450 murals in San Francisco, there are a few hidden and long-forgotten ones that deserve a second look

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Over 450 murals decorate the Mission District. SoMa boasts over 130, and nearly 100 festoon the Tenderloin. Building-side murals are part of San Francisco's history, culture, and attitude.

But there's more to the mural tradition than just the Mission. Almost every neighborhood has at least one mural to call its own (or did, before it was lost to time), even if you've never noticed. Here are a few of the city's more obscure parapet portraits, fixed to surfaces in neighborhoods where you're probably not on the lookout for them.

While you’re at it, check out Curbed SF’s guide to San Francisco’s best public art.

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1. Untitled

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195 Tioga Ave
San Francisco, CA 94134

There's no title and no artist cited for this chill looking whale tucked onto the fading back of a Visitacion Valley building at the spot where Delta Street temporarily becomes a footpath. His one eye peers at you down on the street corner, knowing all and seeing all but keeping it all to himself.

Photo by Adam Brinklow

2. Gateway to the Pacific Basin

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98 W Portal Ave
San Francisco, CA 94127

A mosaic rather than a mural, this one on the side of the Chase Bank dates to 1977 and is the work of two California artists and one British one. There are five pairs of working people, each representing one of the agricultural hubs of the Pacific, from Japan to California.

Photo by Adam Brinklow

3. El Toreador

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50 W Portal Ave
San Francisco, CA 94127

Sirron Norris'd “El Toreador” isn't exactly hidden, of course. But its prominent placement right up over the door of the El Toreador restaurant might lead you to overlook it as signage the first time you walk by. Norris' work in West Portal turned out to be even more prominent than he'd like in 2015, when he discovered that local realtors were using it sans permission in a calendar.

Photo by Adam Brinklow

4. Noah and His Ark

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1 Zoo Rd
San Francisco, CA
(415) 753-7080
Visit Website

The Mothers Building on zoo grounds was onece a women's shelter, decorated in the late 1930s by New Deal arts agency the Federal Art Project and artists Dorothy Pucinelli and Helen Forbes. Sadly, it's in bad shape these days, and opportunities to get inside the building (now an event space) don't come along as often as they should.

Photo by Adam Brinklow

5. David Chiu Mayoral Mural

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1814 Clay St
San Francisco, CA 94109

Pac Heights would scarcely have a mural presence at all if not for Las Vegas-based artist Dray's oddly titled “David Chiu Mayoral Mural.” The building was briefly the headquarters of Chiu's mayoral bid in 2011, of which this piece is the only lasting legacy.

Photo by Adam Brinklow

6. Untitled

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680 18th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121

San Francisco artist Leon Loucheur usually specializes in "deconstructed" animals, but fortunately kept his bird on this Argonne Elementary School stairwell more or less intact, presumably for the benefit of the kids.

Photo by Adam Brinklow

7. Positively Fourth Street

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2 Marina Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94123

In 1974, artist John Wehrle was teaching art classes as the de Young for the "princely sum of $648 per month." He and John Rumply decorated the museum's old facade with several painted panels like this one. A few years on, "Positively Fourth" migrated to Fort Mason, and sadly is no longer with us.

Photo by Adam Brinklow

8. Educate to Liberate

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799 Masonic Ave
San Francisco, CA 94117

Miranda Bergman's political art, of course, decorates much of the Mission, but you can find this piece north of the Panhandle at the CCSF campus, painted on the side of a low wall beneath a chain fence.

Photo by Adam Brinklow

9. Beach Chalet Murals

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1000 Great Hwy
San Francisco, CA
(415) 386-8439
Visit Website

The WPA murals at the Beach Chalet are quite famous. Even so, thousands of people visit the site every year without actually going on to take a look at them, or even overlook the scenes of everyday life circa the Great Depression when they do.

Photo by Adam Brinklow

10. What Do You Think? (1998)

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Lyell St
San Francisco, CA 94112

This one's a collaboration between Precita Eyes and Caltrans, and yet it's largely hidden underneath a freeway in Glen Park. A hidden treasure.

Photo via SF Murals

11. Untitled

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40 Circular Ave
San Francisco, CA 94131

Another Lochter piece, this tattooed shark cruises along parallel to the freeway on a stretch of Sunnyside wall.

shark mural Photo by Adam Brinklow

12. To Dogpatch With Love

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800 22nd St
San Francisco, CA 94107

Chip Thomas (an Arizona doctor by day) got carte blanche to erect one of his giant wheat paste portraits on the side of a Dogpatch building. The figures you'll see there are two generations of Dogpatch neighbors.

13. Allegory of California

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155 Sansome St Fl 10
San Francisco, CA
(415) 362-2480
Visit Website

This was the first of three Diego Rivera murals in San Francisco (the other two are at City College and the SF Arts Institute), and, in a way, the weirdest, painted as it was inside what was at the time a stock exchange and is now a dining club for one percenters. It's not really forgotten, of course, and yet, many locals have never popped into the building to actually see it.

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1. Untitled

195 Tioga Ave, San Francisco, CA 94134
Photo by Adam Brinklow

There's no title and no artist cited for this chill looking whale tucked onto the fading back of a Visitacion Valley building at the spot where Delta Street temporarily becomes a footpath. His one eye peers at you down on the street corner, knowing all and seeing all but keeping it all to himself.

195 Tioga Ave
San Francisco, CA 94134

2. Gateway to the Pacific Basin

98 W Portal Ave, San Francisco, CA 94127
Photo by Adam Brinklow

A mosaic rather than a mural, this one on the side of the Chase Bank dates to 1977 and is the work of two California artists and one British one. There are five pairs of working people, each representing one of the agricultural hubs of the Pacific, from Japan to California.

98 W Portal Ave
San Francisco, CA 94127

3. El Toreador

50 W Portal Ave, San Francisco, CA 94127
Photo by Adam Brinklow

Sirron Norris'd “El Toreador” isn't exactly hidden, of course. But its prominent placement right up over the door of the El Toreador restaurant might lead you to overlook it as signage the first time you walk by. Norris' work in West Portal turned out to be even more prominent than he'd like in 2015, when he discovered that local realtors were using it sans permission in a calendar.

50 W Portal Ave
San Francisco, CA 94127

4. Noah and His Ark

1 Zoo Rd, San Francisco, CA
Photo by Adam Brinklow

The Mothers Building on zoo grounds was onece a women's shelter, decorated in the late 1930s by New Deal arts agency the Federal Art Project and artists Dorothy Pucinelli and Helen Forbes. Sadly, it's in bad shape these days, and opportunities to get inside the building (now an event space) don't come along as often as they should.

1 Zoo Rd
San Francisco, CA

5. David Chiu Mayoral Mural

1814 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94109
Photo by Adam Brinklow

Pac Heights would scarcely have a mural presence at all if not for Las Vegas-based artist Dray's oddly titled “David Chiu Mayoral Mural.” The building was briefly the headquarters of Chiu's mayoral bid in 2011, of which this piece is the only lasting legacy.

1814 Clay St
San Francisco, CA 94109

6. Untitled

680 18th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121
Photo by Adam Brinklow

San Francisco artist Leon Loucheur usually specializes in "deconstructed" animals, but fortunately kept his bird on this Argonne Elementary School stairwell more or less intact, presumably for the benefit of the kids.

680 18th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121

7. Positively Fourth Street

2 Marina Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94123
Photo by Adam Brinklow

In 1974, artist John Wehrle was teaching art classes as the de Young for the "princely sum of $648 per month." He and John Rumply decorated the museum's old facade with several painted panels like this one. A few years on, "Positively Fourth" migrated to Fort Mason, and sadly is no longer with us.

2 Marina Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94123

8. Educate to Liberate

799 Masonic Ave, San Francisco, CA 94117
Photo by Adam Brinklow

Miranda Bergman's political art, of course, decorates much of the Mission, but you can find this piece north of the Panhandle at the CCSF campus, painted on the side of a low wall beneath a chain fence.

799 Masonic Ave
San Francisco, CA 94117

9. Beach Chalet Murals

1000 Great Hwy, San Francisco, CA
Photo by Adam Brinklow

The WPA murals at the Beach Chalet are quite famous. Even so, thousands of people visit the site every year without actually going on to take a look at them, or even overlook the scenes of everyday life circa the Great Depression when they do.

1000 Great Hwy
San Francisco, CA

10. What Do You Think? (1998)

Lyell St, San Francisco, CA 94112
Photo via SF Murals

This one's a collaboration between Precita Eyes and Caltrans, and yet it's largely hidden underneath a freeway in Glen Park. A hidden treasure.

Lyell St
San Francisco, CA 94112

11. Untitled

40 Circular Ave, San Francisco, CA 94131
shark mural Photo by Adam Brinklow

Another Lochter piece, this tattooed shark cruises along parallel to the freeway on a stretch of Sunnyside wall.

40 Circular Ave
San Francisco, CA 94131

12. To Dogpatch With Love

800 22nd St, San Francisco, CA 94107

Chip Thomas (an Arizona doctor by day) got carte blanche to erect one of his giant wheat paste portraits on the side of a Dogpatch building. The figures you'll see there are two generations of Dogpatch neighbors.

800 22nd St
San Francisco, CA 94107

13. Allegory of California

155 Sansome St Fl 10, San Francisco, CA

This was the first of three Diego Rivera murals in San Francisco (the other two are at City College and the SF Arts Institute), and, in a way, the weirdest, painted as it was inside what was at the time a stock exchange and is now a dining club for one percenters. It's not really forgotten, of course, and yet, many locals have never popped into the building to actually see it.

155 Sansome St Fl 10
San Francisco, CA