SF’s filled with vibrant public art pieces that invite tourists and locals alike to gawk at them. Arguably, there's no better time than now to see some of our city's best left-of-center outdoor murals, sculptures, and other creative works — albeit while staying six feet away from others.

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🌈You guys took so many beautiful pictures of this mural that I completely forgot to post the finished piece! 💖 I’m so happy that a lot of passersby found something special in this mural that touched them. You can’t imagine how much your tags, comments and messages mean to me. . “Laverne Cox” will be on display another 5-6 months. . 📍347 Fillmore st, San Francisco . ❤️ If you identify as a trans woman and live in the Bay Area - please message me! I’d love to do a photoshoot in front of this mural in a cool dress💃🏼 . . . #mural#art#sf#sanfran#lowerhaight#haight#lavernecox#muralart#sanfrancisco#rainbow#trans#transgender#lgbtq#lgbt#australiancattledog#acd#blueheeler#artist#artsf#sanfranciscoartist

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Alas, amid a time marked by social distancing and a global pandemic, one of the least risky activities one can do is spending time outdoors, walking about and embracing natural sunlight. With that in mind, here's a list of what we believe are currently the twelve best examples of outdoor public and street art —including a few boarded-up storefront murals slated to stick around for at least a couple more months — in San Francisco to enjoy while practicing proper social distancing.

Celebration of Love

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The Celebration of Love mural was painted in 2008, quickly becoming one of the more controversial pieces of public art in the area (with some claiming that such a mural belongs in "some neighborhoods like the Mission, but not in a 'nice' neighborhood like ours”). This mural was also erected the exact same summer that gay marriage was legalized in CA —  before they were abruptly stopped again by Prop 8 the following November. Fast-forward a decade later, and the mural still stands might in the heart of The Castro — with gay marriage now legalized throughout the country, per the 2015 SCOTUS ruling in its favor.

Location: Noe and 19th Streets (The Castro)


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#bayviewgateway #bayviewrising #station25

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Located at Bayview Gateway, in the newer opened space along Islais Creek, Cliff Garten's 20-foot-tall, stainless steel Islais models the original coastline before construction veered its course. When the sun dips below the horizon, stringed LEDs illuminate the steel, making it appear to undulate like a flowing stream; during the day, the blue-hued steel echoes and aged patina nods to the color palette of the still-recovering Islais Creek.

Location: 3rd Street and Cargo Way (Bayview-Hunters Point)

Hope Will Never Be Silent

Designed by Illuminate founder Ben Davis, this beaming (and uplifting) bit of writing is perched at Harvey Milk Plaza above Soul Cycle in The Castro. It pays tribute to the late LGBTQ rights icon Harvey Milk and glows as a beacon Davis intended to exist as a sign of resilience amid times of struggle and strife. Suffice to say the latter intention still, unfortunately, rings true.

Location: 400 Castro Street (The Castro)

Le Papillon

A truly jaw-dropping feat, muralist Jane Kim and an all-female team of creatives completed the Butterflies in the Sky mural in the Tenderloin district as "a giant paint-by-number” piece earlier in the year. The 50-foot-tall monarch butterfly painted on the north wall of a building at Hyde and O'Farrell Streets — which is owned by SF’s “biggest landlord,” Veritas Investments — while the south wall showcases members of the five families of butterflies found in San Francisco, including the now-extinct Xerces blue butterfly.

Location: Hyde and O'Farrell Streets (Tenderloin)


Skygate was built in 1985, becoming San Francisco's first piece of corporate-funded public art. Constructed of stainless steel and sculptured by Roger Barr, the piece exists as a towering homage to the memory of Eric Hoffer (a longshoreman at many of SF’s docks, poet, and philosopher) who died in his San Francisco home in 1983.

Location: 1574-1636 The Embarcadero (North Beach)

Hidden Garden Stairs

SF’s Hidden Garden Stairs are... well... a hidden gem worth popularizing; it's a less trafficked, smaller version of the famous 16th Avenue Tiled Staircase. Finished in 2013, the flora-and-fauna-inspired steps feature flowers, butterflies, leaves and other garden staples.

Location: 2545-2551 Lyon Street (Cow Hollow)

Caruso’s Dream

Caruso’s Dream sits in a class all of its own, though evoking much of the similar themes of floating grandeur of Chinatown’s Language of Birds. Designed by mixed media artists Brian Goggin, with the help of film produces Dorka Keehn, the hanging set of 13 pianos features — created from materials that draw on the history of the area, including vintage chicken-wire glass and pilings from the old Transbay Terminal — embellish the AVA 55 Ninth apartment building. The warm light glowing from inside the pianos illuminates those materials from dusk to dawn, but the natural Golden Hour light that bathes the baker’s dozen pianos affords them a certain character synthetic bulbs can’t elicit.

Location: 55 9th Street (SoMa)


Ideated by environmental artist Ned Kahn, Firefly, a 12-story kinetic sculpture, is one of a handful of kinetic public art (read: installations that actively move to emulate a certain motion) mirror the flashings of fireflies — which have experienced Anthropocene-like dips in global numbers over deforestation, rampant urbanization, and warming temperatures. Check out the sculpture on a particularly windy day, as that’s when it’s most lively; come nightfall, gusts trigger a series of lights at night that sparkle and mimic the glow of fireflies.

Location: 525 Golden Gate Avenue (Civic Center)

Arelious Walker Stairway

The Arelious Walker Stairway, in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, is a luxuriant homage to Dr. Arelious Walker, a former pastor and advocate for the neighborhood. The intricate design features various cultural textiles and ceramics, including Adinkra cloth from Ghana, Native American painted pottery, and woven patterns from Central America and the Middle East.

Location: Arelious Walker Drive (Bayview-Hunters Point)

Say Her Name

Say Her Name, a mural that was completed in June at the boarded-up Hotel Abri on 127 Ellis Street in the TenderNob, was erected as an act of solidarity with our BIPOC communities during the height of this summer’s  BLM protest. Painted by Russian muralist Kate Tova, it stands as a vivid remembrance of the black women who lost their lives to police violence — like Kendra James, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Meagan Hockaday, and Shelly Frey. The mural is also covered in a variety of quirky charms and beads that are meant to symbolize beauty’s many forms and interpretations, particularly as they apply to today’s unattainable standards. Tova has more recently painted a similar piece, Laverne Cox, in the Lower Haight at 347 Fillmore Street.

Location: 127 Ellis Street (Tenderloin)


At 92 feet tall, Venus is San Francisco’s tallest piece of public art, having still held that honor since it was completed in 2017. Designed and created by Lawrence Argent, a Denver-based visual artist behind the mammoth monolith, the swirling statue of Venus is open to the public at Trinity Place. The towering stainless steel edifice refracts the sun’s rays in sometimes dizzying amounts, making it never appear the same on any one day.

Location: 33 8th Street (Civic Center)

Mural Outside Beaux

Elliot C. Nathan, the lauded and beloved queer San Francisco artists behind “Loads of Love” at Powerhouse and countless other local murals, helped liven up the wooden boards safeguarding Beaux’s street-facing window panes earlier this summer, painting them with the kaleidoscope of light-hearted characters he’s known for. The mural, too, now acts as a lovely backdrop to enjoy while drinking and macerating outside the now-opened nightlife staple.

Location: 2344 Market Street (The Castro)

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Image: Courtesy of Kate Tova