Murals on Balmy Street in San Francisco’s Mission District, a predominantly working-class area populated by immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Although Balmy Street is small, it is all the same famous for its murals. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

San Francisco is the most recognized and favored destination of travelers around the world. It’s iconic nature and diversity is compelling to those looking beyond churches, museums and Pier 39. One of the City’s most seductive icons are the hundreds of murals that can be found in just about every corner, writes our travel editor Al Auger.

We’re not talking graffiti, these are visual offering by mostly unknown artists that bring joy, passion and truth to the lucky viewers. One neighborhood, the Mission, displays by far largest selection of wall art to be found in the City.

There is hardly a street where there isn’t at least one or more to be found. Multi-storied buildings are huge canvases for these unforgettable tributes and memorabilia to the Hispanic world and its people. In what’s considered the “Outer Mission,” the bevy of murals become more than eye-candy for the mind. The artists are story-tellers, as well. There are captivating tales of glory, tragedy, culture, deep religious virtues and family. And there is what might be called the spiritual center of this paean of an al fresco art museum, Balmy Alley.

Balmy Alley begins at 25th St. and ends at 26th St. Every wall, every garage and entry door is a story: One dramatically shows the burden of capitalism and militarism on the peon with his leaking sack of grain bowed under a great boot, a little girl with an empty plate sitting on boxes of vegetables for export. A surprising number venerating militant and resisting women. And another even more unexpected subject treated with respect and honor in this perceived planet of macho: The Latino gay world.

We traveled this marvelous exhibition of art and story for three hours and still only touched such a small segment. But, what we experienced will be with us forever. For grounding in this huge arena, we discovered Precita Eyes Muralists and the Galeria de la Raza (see sidebar).

Mission Murals Information

Precita Eyes Muralists: According to founder and director Susan Kelk Cervantes, Precita Eyes Muralists is one of only a handful of community mural arts centers in the United States. Now celebrating its 40th anniversary. Its wide-ranging menu offers information, education, events, music and more.

Address: 2981 24th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110

Galeria de la Raza: Now observing 47th year, the Galeria’s mission is to “foster public awareness and appreciation of Chicano/Latino art…and explore art, culture and civic society.”

Address: 2857 24th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110