Home to some of the most inventive and visionary minds, it only makes sense that Santa Monicans love to live a life saturated in color. Of course, we’re talking about the over 130 different street murals adorning all sorts of walls and surfaces across the city’s limits. From small works of art displayed over utility boxes to giant murals that span entire businesses, these public exhibits of creativity have turned Santa Monica into an urban jungle ornamented by thoughtful brushstrokes and haphazard spurts of spray paint. Today, thousands of locals and visitors alike treasure the one-of-a-kind pieces of art to be found in our community, making special trips just to see these illustrious creations for themselves.
But, street art is much more than just ‘interesting to look at.’ Like other art movements, it’s a form of expression. Thought-provoking. An opportunity to spark profound ideas and interesting conversations. In many cases, these murals are meant to reflect an integral piece of Santa Monica’s history, from activism to pop culture. Suffice to say, as striking as these displays are, incredible bursts of bright color flowing over ordinary objects, they also represent unspoken pieces of insight into the inner workings and beliefs of our community. Street art has a lot to offer, and to celebrate this, as well as honor the iconic pieces throughout the city and the artists who have left their mark on Santa Monica (literally), we’ve put together a short self-guided tour that features 5 murals everyone needs to see. So, grab your camera and fuel up on some Santa Monica coffee, because you’re about to embark on an artistic adventure like no other.
How Street Art Defines Santa Monica
To fully appreciate the murals Santa Monica has to offer, we should first talk about the purpose that these pieces of work serve. At its core, public art is a tool that’s quite multifaceted. Just step into the city yourself, take a look around, and you’ll notice all the ways street art has influenced the wellness and functionality of its inhabitants, including:
- Generating a stronger bond and sense of community between Santa Monicans- Art is rooted in freedom of expression. Consequently, cities that encourage public displays of art are then seen as spaces that value engagement and conversations with their locals. The presence of street art, therefore, helps us build emotional connections to the community by implying that our own city values and appreciates our thoughts and opinions.
- Diversifying the city and strengthening Santa Monica’s individuality and uniqueness- In and of itself, street art is diverse. Brought to life by artists with distinct styles, backgrounds, and influences, it only makes sense that Santa Monica’s murals are brimming with enough expansive individuality to reflect those of us who call SaMo home. After all, we’re a city of misfits, and having the public space to match is a perfect reminder that it’s okay to stand out.
- Help residents feel more at home and happier- Residents of areas with large public art scenes typically report having a higher quality of life. Why? Color makes us happy. It’s a fact of human nature- these bright pigments evoke a sense of optimism, motivation, and joy. They wake us up. Inspire. Energize. From making our long commutes more interesting to dressing up a boring wall we pass on our morning walks to the nearby Santa Monica coffee shop, art brightens up our day by adding fresh character to normal everyday environments.
5 Must-See Murals in Santa Monica
Ready to explore Santa Monica and check out some art? We’ve got you covered with this self-guided tour that’ll take you to all the best murals our city has to offer. This adventure will have you exploring 4 different local neighborhoods- Pico, Downtown, Main Street, and Ocean Ave- so don’t forget to energize with a breakfast burrito from your favorite Santa Monica breakfast spot before heading out!
Reflect and Inspire by Marcel “SEL” Blanco- CLARE Foundation, 901 and 1002 Pico Blvd
These dual murals can be found painted over the CLARE Foundation facility as an ode to the incredible work this organization has done for Santa Monica. Specifically, this local non-profit is on a mission to reduce addiction by offering treatments and other invaluable resources to those struggling with substance abuse. To mirror their work, as well as to inspire those visiting the foundation to seek help, SEL decided to paint a story that details empathy and optimism in times of crisis. Displayed over separate buildings, you’ll find two individuals, deep in thought and surrounded by birds flocking the words ‘REFLECT’ and ‘INSPIRE’. Through this work, SEL intended for spectators to think about what might be affecting the subjects, but also understand that despite whatever their current situation may be, they are the only ones in charge of their own destiny.
Our Pico Neighborhood by East Los Streetscapers- Virginia Ave Park, 2200 Virginia Ave
This work of art is the culmination of 9 years of work. That’s right, from 1996 to 2005 East Los Streetscrapers collaborated with their commissioners at The City of Santa Monica to create Our Pico Neighborhood. This mural is meant to honor the diversity, spirit, and history of the local community. Depicted in the painting itself is a collection of overlapping images that feature real Santa Monicans. For the most part, visitors will notice scenes of locals in everyday life, like proud SaMoHi graduates, folk dancers, kids playing soccer, and farmers selling produce. There are even a couple of nods to culturally important moments and figures, like the first planes that landed in Santa Monica, our iconic sycamore trees, and Thelma Terry, a community leader who was able to touch the lives of many through her mission to serve the youth of Pico. As a whole, this mural is here to celebrate Santa Monica’s past, present, and future by amplifying the passions and achievements of its inhabitants.
Mural by David Legaspi- Heal the Bay Aquarium, 1600 Ocean Front Walk
Interested in seeing what a community effort mural looks like? Head out to the Santa Monica Pier to see Mural by David Legaspi. Located right by the steps near the Heal the Bay Aquarium, Legaspi used his canvas to create a stunning underwater world full of fish, whales, sharks, kelp, and more, while encouraging passersby to pick up a brush and help him paint. It’s a fun testament to the kind of wonderful things our community is capable of creating when they come together.
Jay Adams Tribute by Dvate- Dogtown Coffee, 2003 Main St.
Back in the 70s, Santa Monica’s very own Zephyr revolutionized skating. Fueled by talent, genius, and defiance, the boys flipped the sport on its head by popularizing pool and surf-style skating. To this day, you can still feel the mark they made as both skaters and Santa Monicans. As a fellow skateboarder himself, that’s exactly why muralist Dvate knew he wanted to paint something to honor the legacy of former Zephyr member, Jay Adams. To top it all off, the Jay Adams Tribute is actually painted on the rear wall of what used to be Jeff Ho Surfboards and Zephyr Productions, aka the surf shop where the team spent most of their downtime. Today, that building is now Dogtown Coffee, a coffee shop inspired by skate culture and on a mission to keep the spirit of Zephyr alive and well.
Need a food break at this point of your mural tour? Dogtown Coffee’s the ultimate Santa Monica coffee shop pitstop for all of your lunchtime needs, including refreshing iced lattes and teas, hearty acai bowls and avo toast, wraps, bagels, smoothies, and, of course, our famous breakfast burritos.
Santa Monica Beach by Art Mortimer- Parking Structure One, 1234 4th St
Santa Monica Beach is a classic example of Santa Monicans going the extra mile for their neighbors. Commissioned by the Milken Family Foundation for their parking garage, this artist was inspired to bring a taste of the beach bum experience over to the more urban Downtown Santa Monica setting. To do so, Mortimer painted a mural that features bright images of Santa Monica Beach with both contemporary and historical references. His hope was to bring some joy to the locals’ workday by sprucing up their normal view with a spectacular beach scene they can enjoy while they’re hard at work in the office instead of the regular, boring parking garage wall.
Experiencing Art in Santa Monica
When all is said and done, Santa Monica just wouldn’t be complete without its street art scene. As a community, it’s important to spotlight these creations and recognize these artists as individuals who helped transform the city into an area that more closely reflects each of our experiences and passions. A city that’s just as unique and offbeat as all of us. And while we may not be able to thank these creators personally, what we can do is visit their work and continue their conversations. It’s the least we can do, to keep the art alive.