The whole city of Oakland is a canvas. Over 1,000 murals can be found throughout the city, covering once-empty walls in explosions of color. Street art is inherently radical, and many of Oakland’s murals deal with themes of protest, injustice and identity. Like the city itself, Oakland’s murals are bright, bold and unapologetic. By nature, street art changes all the time, but there are enough murals in Oakland to satisfy any urban explorer. Although street art can be found anywhere in Oakland, certain neighborhoods have more murals than others. Here is a self-guided tour to three of Oakland’s best mural neighborhoods—a full map of all the murals in the city is available at VisitOakland.com under “Mural Map.”
San Pablo and Golden Gate
San Pablo Avenue, which runs the length of Berkeley, Northwest Oakland—often called the “Golden Gate” neighborhood—and Emeryville, is home to some of the city’s best murals. Start your San Pablo mural explorations in front of Novel Brewing Company, on 65th and San Pablo, where a large mural by local street artist GATS PTV awaits you. GATS PTV has a distinctive style of Aztec-style figures and geometric shapes—you’ll see more of their work later.
Continue along San Pablo to Paradise Park Café (a great spot to stop for a coffee), where another, smaller GATS PTV mural is on display.
Next, cross the street to St. Columba Catholic church, at the corner of San Pablo and Alcatraz. Next to the church, which often has art displays of its own, a long, abstract mural runs for almost a block.
Continue up Alcatraz to see the rainbow mural at Yu Ming Charter School (even behind a fence, it’s stunning). Continue past Yu Ming, take a right onto Herzog Street and follow it for a couple of blocks. This will take you to Golden Gate Recreation Center, where large murals depict civil rights leaders and scenes from Oakland’s history.
Temescal has long been an artists’ haven in Oakland, and the street art in this neighborhood proves it. Start your exploration of Temescal street art at Brand X Huaraches, on 43rd and Telegraph. The shoe store, which sells Mexican-style huarache sandals, is covered in murals from top to bottom, including paintings of their merchandise, flowers, abstract figures and more.
Continue behind Brand X to explore the murals covering the adjoining buildings—in total, murals cover nearly a block of 43rd Street. Once you’ve seen those murals, hop back onto Telegraph and head a block up to 4400 Telegraph Avenue, the lot owned by the community group Critical Resistance. The murals here change frequently, since group members gather to update them, but they are always bright and colorful, and a recognizable façade reading “Building People Power” is permanent.
Finish up your mural tour of Oakland by making your way up Telegraph to Shoe Palace, a several-story shoe store with Oakland-themed murals from top to bottom. When you’re done taking in the giant Bay Bridge painted across the side of the building, you’ll be right across from Temescal Alley, home to local artisans and small shops purveying perfect holiday gifts.
During the protests following the murder of George Floyd—and during other Black Lives Matter protests before that—downtown Oakland became a workshop for art-as-resistance. Artists used boarded-up storefronts and empty walls to depict their feelings regarding racism, inequality, identity and justice—and most of the murals remain.
There is no wrong way to go from the downtown Oakland 12th Street and 19th Street BART stations, since murals cover most available wall space. But there are a few particularly striking murals.
At 1431 Franklin St., across from Frank H. Ogawa plaza and about a block up from the 12th Street BART station, Troy Lovegates, a San-Francisco based Canadian street artist, painted a massive portrait of Derrick Hayes in 2017. Hayes is a homeless Oakland resident and vendor of the homeless-produced newspaper Street Spirit. He befriended both the owner of the building and Lovegates, and they decided to adorn the building with his friendly smile.
Not far from the painting of Hayes, at 1500 Broadway, is a massive mural honoring the lives of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, signed with messages from protestors and activists. Further up Broadway, the famous Art Deco Breuner building is decorated with murals of John Lewis, the Oakland skyline and more.
Oakland’s murals are forever changing, but they all speak to the spirit of the city: a place where color and identity are celebrated and creativity is embraced. Each neighborhood has its own unique art, and there’s no wrong way to explore—but these three areas serve as an introduction to the city’s vibrant street art-and-murals scene.