Balmy Alley runs from 24th St. s. to 25th St. between Treat and Harrison sts. In the heart of the Mission, this is one of the best places in San Francisco to see a concentrated collection of murals at a leisurely pace. Local artists began using the alley’s walls, fences and garage doors as a canvas in the mid-1980s as a means to protest political and human rights abuses then taking place in Central America.
Since then the range of subject matter has broadened; a lot of the art is still explicitly political, but you’ll also see pride-filled expressions of Latin American culture, tributes to victims of AIDS and Hurricane Katrina, and psychedelically inspired designs. The images are a mix of saintly and secular. An Indian goddess graces a wall between two windows with iron grilles, while nearby is Michael Jackson in classic crotch-grab pose, complete with black fedora and one dangling jheri curl.
Strong, matriarchal women and a rainbow coalition of children are well represented. And since the alley is lined with residences rather than businesses, it's conducive to strolling and stopping for a closer look. If you want to learn more about the history behind the art, Precita Eyes Mural Arts & Visitors Center offers guided walking tours.
Note: Parking is problematic, especially on weekends, so take advantage of public transportation; Muni bus #48 runs along 24th Street. The area around 25th Street can get somewhat iffy after dark.