As we’ve mentioned before, San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, which HI San Francisco City Center hostel calls home, is full of underrated beauty beneath its gritty surface. There’s the stunning architecture hidden in plain sight, and then there’s the larger-then-life pieces of art on the sides of tall buildings and in alleyways that turn the city into a giant public gallery. In fact, the hostel itself is one such giant canvas with a seven-story piece called Self Consuming Self - Dave painted on the back of the building. The image of a man looking at his own heart through a microscope, created by anonymous artist BiP (Believe in People), is now an iconic signature of this part of the city where the Tenderloin and Little Saigon intersect.
While you can find impressive murals all over San Francisco, many of the ones in the Tenderloin are unique because they are usually done by underground artists who aren’t commissioned like the ones in the Mission mostly are. A lot of the murals also happen to be done by artists from all over the world, adding to the city’s cosmopolitan melting pot. The rogue street art of the Tenderloin is an extension of the neighborhood’s tradition of rebellion and its role as a haven for misfits through the decades – from speakeasy owners and hustlers in the early twentieth century right to the graffiti taggers of today.
A good place to start when looking to spot some of the local works of art is the alley on Olive Street half a block below HI SF City Center on Ellis Street. The wall here changes every few months, and every time it does, it seems like the new mural surpasses the one before it. This March, the first half of the wall is paying homage to the movie Office Space and San Francisco’s BART system, while the second half towards Polk Street features a crazy scene by Italian muralist Ozmo inspired by French painter Edouard Manet.
Carry on to Polk Street and you’ll run into the Lady with Apples at the corner of Eddy Street, then go around the block back down Larkin Street to see what treasure might be hidden along the side streets. If you’re looking to find more iconic pieces you can head to Turk Street to see the whimsical piece titled On the Shoulders of a Wizard and then continue down to McAllister for an excellent photo opportunity with a giant peace sign, which is another artwork created by an international artist (James Reka from Australia).
On your next visit to HI SF City Center hostel, be sure to set aside some time to just wander the streets to really gain an appreciation for the many surprising and wonderful things there are to discover here. That’s the beauty of traveling somewhere for the first time or the fiftieth: some things may stay the same, but there’ll always be something new and different to remind you why life on the road can never get old.
Take a look at our Facebook album of more Tenderloin beauties, and be sure to follow for more insider info!