L.A. is a heavyweight contender in the battle to be the city with the most splendid street art on Earth. Venice, the San Fernando Valley and the Downtown Arts District are teeming with work by some of the world’s most famous muralists, and our area boasts a torrent of Technicolor innovations from local talent.
City officials imposed a mural ban in the 1990s, but it was lifted in 2013, and our walls have rebounded. A family visit to our great murals will take a bit more planning than a jaunt to the Tar Pits, but it really is worth the effort to brave the freeways and see murals up close.
Why Seek Out Street Art?
- Your kids will think you’re cool (for at least a day). Your hipster tween or teen may be slack-jawed when they find out the family outing this month is a visit to the Venice Beach graffiti walls or a downtown mural tour with a genuine badass street artist. Got a kid who’s into Ultimate Fighting? Celebrity muralist Jonas Never just finished a 20-foot-tall homage to Venice resident and UFC champion Ronda Rousey at Sunset Avenue near Lincoln Boulevard.
- You can ditch the “inside voices.” Most street art explodes with vivid color and is gigantic. Younger children can tell you what they think of the surreal size and inky hues without you having to ask for “inside voices” the way you would in a museum or gallery. By taking kids to see street art, you are also training their young eyes to spot art everywhere. You’re helping them understand that art is born from the hands of people of every age and from every culture and economic level, and that it blooms in everyday neighborhoods where we live and work. Adults love art alfresco, too. Keeping abreast of cutting-edge urban culture helps us feel more connected with younger generations.
- Sensational street art prevents road rage. Angelenos need regular reminders to experience what is exceptional here because it balances out the things that make us want to pull our eyebrows off – like our traffic. My traffic tolerance triples for a week when I walk to murals such as the lovely “Octopus” on North Venice Boulevard near Dell Avenue, or the dreamy sci-fi “Floating Head” on Pacific and Mildred avenues in Venice. Visiting these and other murals might also make you more patient with the kids.
- Murals make you appreciate your neighbors. Murals allow us to glimpse the magical assortment of cultures that make up L.A. “One great thing murals can do is link disparate communities together through story,” says Davida Persaud, arts education coordinator for the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), a nonprofit dedicated to developing and supporting community art. Examples include “Black Seeds” at 2301 W. Jefferson Blvd. in Mid-City L.A. and “La Abuelita” by El Mac, Augustine Kofie and Joseph Manuel Montalvo on the American Hotel in the Downtown Arts District.
- Murals help your kids appreciate their own cultural heritage. Show your kids evidence of the importance of their culture’s role in shaping L.A. through the work of street artists. For information on the location and story behind our hundreds of diverse storytelling murals, go to the SPARC website or tap into the amazing collection of data compiled by the L.A. Mural Conservancy.
- They foster a sense of wonder on a budget. Take one of the free or low-cost tours and your family will never view the city streets you drive every day the same way again. You’ll begin seeing mural art tucked in alleys, plastered on storefronts and gracing garage doors. As Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Views in the Valley
The longest mural on Earth is right here in our own San Fernando Valley. Called “The Great Wall of Los Angeles,” it is painted along a six-block stretch of the Tujunga Wash Flood Control Channel in the L.A. River. The brainchild of artist, activist and Venice native Judy Baca, the mural was brought to life by SPARC with the help of 410 local at-risk kids over five summers.
You can find “The Great Wall” on Coldwater Canyon Avenue between Burbank Boulevard and Oxnard Street in Valley Glen. Before you visit, check out the detailed historic descriptions on the various sections of the mural on the SPARC website, where you can also purchase a downloadable audio guide to the mural. There are no written explanations on site and Wi-Fi seems slow in that zone. Park along the street, walk the half-mile mural and enjoy.
You might also consider visiting “Mural Mile” (www.muralmile.org) in Pacoima, where you can see more than 50 murals in a three-mile radius surrounding City Hall.
Strolling Venice Beach
Want a free self-guided walking tour of the great murals near the carnival that is Venice Beach? Check out the one created by SPARC at www.venicebeach.com/self-guided-walking-tour-of-the-venice-murals. Keep in mind murals are not permanent, so extinct murals and surreal surprises are the norm.
The tour covers three miles of level, stroller-friendly ground, and you can walk it in a leisurely three hours. I found six must-see murals in a four-block radius that make up a super mini-tour with easy parking at the city’s North Venice Beach parking lot on North Venice Boulevard. Your kids may enjoy the giant “Arnold Schwarzenegger” mural at 1809 Ocean Front Walk, while you may prefer the shirtless “Jim Morrison” mural around the back of that same orange building.
Children love Isabelle Alford-Lago’s trademark grumpy blue “Gorilla” murals, and you can see one up high at the corner of Market Street and Pacific Avenue.
On Windward Avenue at Speedway, you’ll find Jonas Never’s “A Touch of Venice” on the East side of Danny’s Restaurant (which closed last year). The piece is based on the famous opening – shot on that street – of the classic 1958 film noir “A Touch of Evil.” Can your family locate the elusive Orson Welles in the mural?
Move around to the west side of the building to see “Venice Reconstituted” by legend Rip Cronk, then go around the back alley to glimpse the stunner “St. Mark,” the patron saint of Italy’s Venice, gloriously towering over the trash bins.
On the way back to the car, you might get lucky and see muralists and graffiti artists at work at the Venice Public Art Walls located in the sand near the skate park at 1800 Ocean Front Walk.
The Arts District mural scene is glorious and impermanent, with some pieces covered after just a day or two and others that have been preserved and protected for many years.
I loved the Graffiti/Mural tour my family went on from L.A. Art Tours (www.laarttours.com), with a charismatic street artist named Rolo as our guide. He was keen to have us meet his vibrant world. The tour is a deal at $12 per person, which includes convenient free parking (if available) in front of the starting point, the Dejavita Boutique at 1147 Palmetto St. All of these tours are conducted by street artists who are residents of the area, so that visitors have the chance to see hidden gems they might not spot on their own. Tours sometimes even encounter artists at work.
This tour takes two hours and covers about two miles, and though groups are nice and small, it might be best for ages 12 and up. There are stops at a few galleries, including one bathroom and refreshment break. Afterwards, guides point visitors toward other downtown spots where they can grab coffee or a bite to eat.
If you have younger kids, you can contact the organization to arrange a kid-focused private tour, but know that these start at $140.
Of course, you don’t have to take an official tour, go on a certain day or visit a particular group of murals all at once. That’s part of the beauty of this art form. It’s a see-as-you-go, art-where-you-are option that’s always there to explore.
Thea Fiore Bloom, Ph.D., is a freelance writer, artist and regular contributor to L.A. Parent.
More Ways to Explore Murals
The Skirball Cultural Center (www.skirball.org) in West L.A. has commissioned L.A.–based artist Ken Gonzales-Day to create a photo exhibit examining the mural landscape of L.A., from East L.A. to Venice Beach and Pacoima to South L.A. “Surface Tension,” on view from Oct. 6-Feb. 25, showcases what the city’s walls reveal about the many different communities here. The Skirball is hosting a special Playdate called “Make Your Mark” in conjunction with the exhibit, from 10:30 a.m.-noon Oct. 15. Kids ages 3 ½-5 can make their mark on some art to share with the community.
The Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (www.muralconservancy.org) has an excellent searchable list of murals with photos and information on where to find them at www.muralconservancy.org/murals. Some of the murals described in this article are listed there.
The Arts District Los Angeles website, www.artsdistrictla.org, includes a fun photo tour of murals and other public art. Just click the “Public Art” category under its “Things To Do” menu.
The Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC, www.sparcinla.org) website includes lots of great background information on The Great Wall of Los Angeles, as well as a set of 105 Neighborhood Pride murals throughout the L.A. area. Visit www.sparcinla.org/programs/neighborhood-pride-mural and click on each photo for a description and location information.