In addition to being known as the home of US space exploration and humidity that can add curl to an Afghan Hound’s fur, did you know there is a burgeoning street art scene in Houston? Downtown Houston has embraced graffiti and murals with a Texas-sized enthusiasm which provide unexpected pops of colour, big and small. It’s not just the street art lovers who flock to these Houston murals, Houston wall art has proved popular for the Instagram-loving crowd too. We love to check out the street art scene wherever we are in the world, and Houston’s wall murals are a delight.
How Street Art in Houston is Jazzing Up Its Downtown (And 7 Top Houston Wall Murals Perfect for the ‘Gram)
Houston Wall Art For The ‘Gram
All this street art makes perfect Instagram feed material. Not only do you get instant backdrops for your selfie but you also let to drop in casually how cool and cultured you are at the same time. win/win.
The “Houston is Inspired” mural is one of the most Instagrammed spots in Houston. This first of the Houston wall murals was painted by Mario Figueroa Jr as part of the city’s business initiative to promote the local arts scene.
Mario Figueroa AKA Gonzo247 leads an artist collective, Aerosol Warfare which works to promote street art in the city such as, for example, liaising with businesses hiring street artists to add murals to their buildings. Houston graffiti is straddling the fine line between avant-garde and mainstream commercial success.
Businesses are discovering the widespread attention they get with colorful wall murals
In fact, Gonzo 247 lead the team of 5 artists (including Mr. D mentioned below) that did the Guerrilla Gorilla artwork of giant gorillas around the city for the Houston Zoo in 2015. Check out this cool photo gallery of artist Anat Ronen creating her gorilla wall from start to finish.
Another graffiti wall in Houston is the “Greetings from Houston” wall mural which looks like a cool 1970’s style postcard with its bright colours and iconic Texas images (cactus, oil rig, etc). Created by local talent, Daniel Anguilu, this Houston mural is a perfect e-postcard to announce your stay in the Bayou City.
For a big city in a bigger state “Let’s Preservation The Creation Houston” mural is Houston-sized. About 60 feet tall and 180 feet wide covering 10,000 s.f. of wall, this mural by Mr. D is a riff on Michaelangelo’s famous ceiling at the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Only this creator god is holding a spray paint can (and briefly a football in 2017 when Houston hosted Super Bowl 51).
If you want a whole host of backgrounds for your selfie, you should check out the Houston Graffiti Building. Here’s my son hamming it up in front of some angel wings which appeared on the Just Go Places Instagram.
The so-called graffiti park in Houston is Market Square Park, located in the Historic District of Downtown Houston. Houston is so sprawling it actually has 10 different districts in its downtown area.
Houston Graffiti Building
When we went to the Houston Graffiti Building on a Saturday, there were a handful of photoshoots happening of Quinceanara girls and their entourages.
A quinceanara photo shoot at the Houston Graffiti building.
Quinceanara parties are birthday parties for girls turning 15 and are huge affairs in the Latin American communities of the USA. The fact that these dresses are gorgeous, the girls travel with entourages and have photo shoots should tell you something about what a big deal they are!
A colourful Houston wall mural in Downtown Houston
Lawndale Art Center
The Lawndale Art Center is a venue for local and regional art. It’s got a rotating mural on its facade. The current mural is an approximately 3000 s.f. trompe l’oeil by Francesca Fuchs of cathedral pillars.
Graffiti and Street Art Museum of Texas
When we visited, the opening of the Graffiti and Street Art Museum of Texas has been delayed thanks to the ravages of Hurricane Harvey. They do, however, suggest you check out their calendar for local events.
On the GSAM website you can also book guided Houston murals tours led by a street artist. It’s a 90 minute tour available on Sundays which we would have taken if we had been in Houston on a Sunday. We learned so much from our guided street art tour of Shoreditch that I definitely would recommend a guided street art tour if you have the opportunity.
Check out the Mini Murals Houston website for small-scale murals that pop up randomly on electrical boxes in Houston adding an unexpected pop of color and vibrancy to the city. We saw something similar on the electric boxes in Cork Ireland. There’s a map on the site showing you location of these smaller pieces of Houston graffiti.
The flower-headed ballerinas were one of my favourite works.
Wall murals tend to have more longevity. These Houston murals locations, moreover, have hit a degree of fame that they should stick around for the foreseeable future or alternatively, something else equally cool will have replaced the street art.
Houston Dreamers by Pink Lo Mein, Downtown Houston wall art
Here are some of the more famous Houston murals locations. I’ve tried to organise these Houston street art locations by zip code so that’s easier on your sat nav/GPS. Of course, you are driving there…it’s Houston.
Houston is Inspired – 907 Preston St, Houston TX 77002
Market Square Park – 301 Milam, Houston TX 77002
Lawndale Art Center 4912 Main Street, Houston TX 77002
Houston Graffiti Building – 1503 Chartres St, Houston TX 77003
Let’s Preserve the Creation Mural – 2800 San Jacinto, Houston TX 77004
Greetings From Houston Mural – 3601 White Oak Drive, Houston TX 77007
Houston Zoo Mural – 2201 Washington Avenue, Houston 77007
Where to Find The Top Houston Wall Murals
Practicalities for Visiting Houston Wall Art
We stayed at the St. Regis Houston which is a great hotel but not that near downtown Houston. It was about a 40 minute drive to downtown.
We went to the original Ninfa’s (on 2704 Navigation Boulevard) which is famous for creating fajitas back in the 1970’s. My kids love their Mexican food and fajitas remain one of their favourite dishes of all time/cuisines. Of course, we had to do a pilgrimage to Ninfa’s and it was totally worth it! Check out the excellent reviews for Ninfa’s on Navigation on TripAdvisor.
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There’s nothing like a spot of color on an old building to liven up an urban scene, especially when that country is prone to fits of rain like in Ireland. In Cork, the street art springs up on you in bits and pieces, a delightful surprise as you turn a corner or an electrical box catches your eye. Cork is the second largest city in the Republic of Ireland and has a large student population. County Cork is also nicknamed The Rebels and has a history of nonconformity. All of these traits combine to make a fertile ground for some very cool, intelligent and witty street art.
Street art in Cork in Ireland expresses Corkonians’ strong identity.
An abandoned city plot has been turned into a guerrilla sensory garden for children with disabilities.
Started in 2016, Mad About Cork have organised meetings and volunteers to beautify their city. It sounds not so much rebel-like but more positively civic-minded to me!
Street Art in Cork City
Keep in mind, that Cork only has a population of 125,000 so it is much smaller than other cities that I have visited with extensive street art such as Valencia in Spain (population 800,000), Los Angeles (population 4 million) and Sao Paulo in Brazil (population 12 million). The quality of the artistic expression on the city streets of Cork are all the more impression for its diminutive size.
Travelling around the West Coast of Ireland on a bite-size Irish road trip, I loved the candy-coloured buildings in the little villages I passed through. I don’t think there’s much of a difference between that sort of color-strewn village buildings and Cork City’s murals.
Pretty buildings in Kinsale, Ireland
Here are some of my favourite pieces of street art in Cork City.
We have always found the Irish a bit odd. They refuse to be English.
– Winston Churchill
During the Siege of Cork in 1690, the city was collateral damage when 2 British Kings (James II for the Catholics and William III for the Protestants) duked it out.
A portrait of an Easter Uprising Rebel as a young man.
With deep affection and recollection, I think of those Shandon Bells
– Francis Sylvester Mahoney
The famous symbol of City Cork are the Shandon Bells at St. Anne’s Church.
The English Market in Cork is actually older than the Boqueria in Barcelona!
The Firkin used to be important in Cork’s Butter trade but is now an arts venue.
When words fail, music speaks.
A language which we do not know is a fortress sealed.
– Marcel Proust
I’m sure this has something to do with time! But I don’t know Gaelic!
How can you get street art in an authoritarian country like China? Pretty easily. Just limit it to certain areas so it’s technically sanctioned. Win/Win for the people who are given the illusion of freedom and for the government who is still in ultimate charge. In our time in the capitol of China, we found several places to visit in Beijing which could easily have been a young urbanite hangout in any number of cities around the world. For example, the street art and the contemporary art galleries in Beijing congregating around the 798 Art District and the craft beer and boutiques in the hutongs. Is this really Beijing? Yes, it is.
Places where the young and hip hang out in Beijing
798 Art District
You get lots of contemporary art galleries and street art at the 798 Art District in Beijing.
The history of 798 Art District
The buildings in the 798 Art District are part of a former industrial unit that built machinery for the military. The Chinese government gave numbers (like 798) to its factory buildings so that no one knew what was being made inside. Of course, if it started with the number 7 you knew it was stuff for the Chinese military!
The buildings were created in a Bauhaus style by the East Germans who were brought in to joint venture the works. The buildings were huge with lots of light through large windows. The factory opened in 1957 to much fanfare in both China and East Germany.
The Bauhaus inspired warehouse spaces ooze Industrial-chic.
In its heyday, the 798 Art District had more than 40,000 workers living and working in the area. The factory had a reputation for being one of the best in China. The workers were encouraged to have after-work activities such as music and book clubs as well as a healthy dose of Maoist indoctrination to wash it all down. During the Cultural Revolution, you got Chairman Mao’s words of wisdom painted on the walls.
Original Mao slogans which are now more ironic-chic for the trendy Beijing crowd
In the 1980’s the factory was abandoned under Deng Xioping’s reforms known as “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” That’s what you have today – this weird hybrid system of rampant capitalism by the few, a growing middle class that like to shop until they drop and an authoritarian government that lets little things slide when it suits them.
The 728 Art District is full of contemporary art galleries in Beijing
Beijing or Brooklyn?
The Bauhaus-inspired huge warehouse spaces and cheap rent were perfect for contemporary artists to take over. With a bit of industrial chic, ironic (but original) Maoist slogans and wide streets, the area became dotted with street art, art galleries, boutiques and cafes. We went on a weekend and the whole place was alive with trendy young things.
My daughter getting the paparazzi treatment even in the trendy 728 Art District in Beijing
We ate At Cafe which was the first cafe in the 798 Arts District. In keeping with the Chinese theme that it’s who you know that counts in modern China, the owner of the At Cafe is the sister of one of the original co-founders of the 798 Arts District.
An artfully distressed wall at the At Cafe
There are other cafes and restaurants as well. And, coffee shops. It’s cool to drink coffee so there are a lot of coffee shops many with Western names (i.e., Cafe Flatwhite, Voyage Coffee)
The cool crowd sit at outdoor cafes in their sunglasses people-watching and playing on their smartphones. It honestly could be anywhere young, urban and hip – London, Brooklyn or even downtown Los Angeles.
Looking out over the 728 Art District
My kids loved one cafe which we thought was a cat cafe. Unfortunately, the cats were only in the window and we were not allowed to touch them. For those of you worried about the cat’s welfare, there was a store person in the restaurant window playing with the cats. Once again though, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting – a cat cafe that wasn’t a cat cafe.
The 728 Art District has lots of art which is free and open to the public.
Hutongs are the alleys in Beijing formed by the sides of the courtyard houses that line them. These courtyard houses and streets originated from the Yuan Dynasty (the late 13th century) and later dynasties.
You can have a nice new high rise with plumbing or a hutong with communal bathrooms – I know what I’d pick!
In China’s rush to modernisation, hutongs were not considered optimum housing. Even though they were centrally located, courtyard houses were small, crowded and lacked plumbing. It’s not uncommon to see neighbourhood toilets in a hutong. In the mid-20th century, there may have been over 3000 hutongs in Beijing. Now, there are only about 1000 hutongs surviving.
Some hutongs though have become trendy places to visit in Beijing. For example, Doujiao Hutong in the Dongcheng District, is home to Beijing’s first microbrewery, Great Leap Brewing (opened by American expats). Fangjia Hutong has an up and coming hipster scene and an active night life. The area around Gulou (near the Drum and Bell Towers) is another popular area – Houhai Bar Street (the name says it all) and Baochao Hutong is more diverse with a boutique hotel, restaurants and retail therapy on offer.
This is an American craft beer we had in the Fangjia Hutong
Fang Jia Hu Tong
We decided to visit the Fang Jia Hu Tong in the Dongcheng district. Known as for its up and coming hipster scene, looking around you can definitely see this hutong is a neighbourhood in transition.
When did innovation become rock & roll in China??
There are pockets of gentrification in Fang Jia Hu Tong but you still see some of the old timers hanging around their homes. In the evening, Fang Jia is a popular place for Beijing hipsters and expats to hang out.
One of the cafes in Fangjia Hutong
Music and dancing in Fangjia Hutong
We ate at local hipster joint Ramo with its huge windows and Tolix seats. It has a great view of the action outside and good food and beer. What more could you want?
Older residents hanging out in Fangjia Hutong
The 798 Arts District is definitely more of a daytime venture than Fan Jia Hu Tong at least as it currently stands. On the other hand, things in China seem to move at the speed of light so who knows where the trendy places to visit in Beijing will be in a year’s time?
Where to find street art in Beijing China
We took a driver and guide to the 798 Arts District and to the Fan Jia Hu Tong.
If you want to stay in the 798 Arts District, the Gracie Art Hotel offers boutique hotel accommodation.
We stayed at what is considered the best of the renovated courtyard hotels in a hutong in Beijing – the Red Wall Garden Hotel in the Wangfujing area. We loved it so much that we stayed there on both our visits to Beijing.
If you bought Red Bull in the USA thinking that the drink would follow through with its promise to provide you with wings, then you were entitled to a $10 refund from the company. Why? A court found that Salzburg-based Red Bull was guilty of false advertising because no one who drank it got wings. If you are only hearing about this little cash windfall now, too bad the lawsuit only applied to drinks bought between 2002 and 2014. On the other hand, are you still looking for wings? I’’ve got some beautiful angel wings for you, courtesy of American artist, Collette Miller. She started painting angel wings on buildings in 2012 in Los Angeles. Since that time, the Global Angel Wings Project has spread worldwide.
Angel Wings street art by Colette Miller are supposed to remind us of the good that is inside us despite the mistakes we make.
The Los Angeles Global Wings
Colette Miller is a Los Angeles based creative who has worked in film, music and art. She started the Angel Wings paintings as a way to remind people that people of the angels of the Earth.
In the very beginning I wanted the wings to remind humanity of their true, divine selves – the self we all have that is our higher nature.
The wings are an Instagram craze because they are human-sized street art. Pretty irresistible if you ask me.
Colette has given a TedX talk on the wings as well where she talks about how she started her street art project when she was driving around Los Angeles and saw all the empty walls in the city. Frankly, having experienced Los Angeles traffic myself, I can see that she probably sat in her car a fair bit and it would be a short step to hallucinating angels everywhere!!
There are now 25+ angel wings in Los Angeles.
We tried to find the first angel wings (near 5th and Main in downtown Los Angeles) which used to be the largest outdoor drugs market in the world. It may no longer have the title but there is still plenty of homeless people and unsavoury activity around the neighbourhood. I found it shocking to see people living out of shopping carts and tents in an American city this rich.
We hightailed it out of there in our suburban Dodge Caravan rental car which might as well have said ‘Rob Me’ on it. We found two of them in the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District (about 1/2 a mile from the previous location).
Angel City Brewery is covered in street art including Miller’s Angel Wings by the entrance. We stopped by the brewery for a drink amidst the city’s hipster crowd. On a Sunday afternoon, lots of young people were playing card games and hacky sack and drinking craft beer surrounded by children and dogs in a warehouse.There was music blaring and a craft market in one corner of the space. Really, it couldn’t be more of a cliche. Not that it stopped us from having a drink (or two).
My husband decided he was going to go with the Weeping Angels look from Doctor Who. Don’t blink!
There are also a pair of wings on a silver gate at Art Share which is also in the Los Angeles Arts District. Here I am trying to recreate John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame X pose which was so shocking to Parisian society when it came out. Yeah, it was the best I could come up with.
The Global Angel Wings Project, an Instagram phenomenon started by artist Colette Miller
Santa Barbara prides itself on being the California Riviera (so much so that its trademarked the slogan). A Riviera anywhere in the world conjures up images of beachside affluence and glamour. When you think of contemporary cool, you think of Brooklyn. What do you get when you mix the Riviera and Brooklyn? Something that is uniquely Santa Barbara – wine tasting rooms, street art and warehouse conversions that add a bit of gritty urban edge to this relaxed coastal city. Contemporary cool radiates out of the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara.
There’s plenty to do even with kids in the Funk Zone district of Santa Barbara
Where is the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara?
The Funk Zone district is wedged between the Pacific Ocean, Highway 101 and the Santa Barbara Amtrak Station. The perimeter streets of the area are State, Cabrillo, Garden and Montecito. It is a short distance to the well-touristed Stearns Wharf area.
In historical times, this neighbourhood held the manufacturing and marine industries in the area. In that respect, it is similar to Cannery Row in Monterey. Since the late 1980’s the area’s warehouses have been taken over by artists and alternative businesses.
You can see more Tolix chairs in this warehouse conversion cafe.
Fear not, hipsters, the funk in the Funk Zone refers not to anything smelling funky but rather the funky quirkiness of the area. Possibly in ages past it did smell funky with all the manufacturing and the fish nearby.
Exposed brick wall, tin tiles, industrial lighting & vintage print. An A+ tablescape from the Brooklyn School of Interior Design.
5 Things to do in the Funk Zone
The Santa Barbara Surfing Museum is dedicated to the sport of surfing. Keep in mind that they are only open for a few hours on Sunday though. Keeping regular hours doesn’t really gel with the whole Hang 10 lifestyle.
The Urban Wine Trail takes you around 20+ wine tasting rooms for local vineyards. Many of the tasting rooms are in the Funk Zone district.
Santa Barbara Winery (established in 1962) was around long before Funk Zone got trendy.
The Arts Fund is a community gallery exhibiting local emerging talent, including teen artists. There is a Funk Zone Art Walk every Friday evening from 5-8 pm where the galleries stay open for visitors.
I love the dripping paint exterior of this arts community centre.
2. Eat Up
For casual fare, the Lucky Penny has salads and sandwiches as well as excellent coffee. The Lark is a bit more fancy with its farm-to-table dining ethos.
The Lucky Penny cafe is covered in pennies.
Mixed color Tolix chairs go with the industrial vintage vibe.
3. Drink Some More
There are so many wine tasting rooms, bars etc. that it would be criminal not to keep these enterprises afloat. If you are a beer lover, there’s locally brewed craft beer at the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company.
Flowers in a vintage bathtub, too cool for school
4. Brave Traffic
For cycling fun of both the two wheel and the four wheel surrey kind, check out Wheel Fun Rentals. We had done the silly surrey in Monterey though and were ready for something more epic. Unfortunately, the kids still aren’t tall enough for Segways (available from Segway of Santa Barbara).
Caving into the kids’ pleas, we decided to test the limits of California road safety with a three-wheeled SB Buggie. Basically it is a two seater scooter that putters along on regular roads with the minimum of steering and ignition. If you want to turn you need to do a really wide turn and hope no one is coming fast towards you. There’s no reverse function either. It is a lot of fun though once you get used to it.
We looked silly but we had a lot of fun.
There’s plenty of shopping available in the area from the random touristy stuff to the more avant-garde stuff.
Our favourite shopping was in a truck parked on the street. Technically Stabiles calls itself a mobile boutique (not a shopping truck) that sells artisanal goods. We bought a tillandsia (an air plant) that sits on its own artisanal stand (excuse me, sculpture).
A shopping truck selling home accessories.
Air plant sculptures done by local artist, Sam Guzman. Loved it so much, I bought one.
For other things to do, check out the Funk Zone website for the latest happenings. Spending the day here is an enjoyable alternative to the white bread affluence of the rest of Santa Barbara (with or without kids).
A Photo Gallery of the Funk Zone
It’s much easier to show you the contemporary cool that is the Funk Zone rather than to explain it in words.
Industrial paraphernalia used as planters.
My kids were fascinated with the Lucky Penny’s penny coins exterior.
I could wile away the time with a glass or two of wine here.
I love the use of old vintage windows as partitions.
A whole store devoted to stand up paddle boards.
Practicalities for Visiting
There are a couple of hotels in the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara, including Hotel Indigo (an eco-friendly boutique hotel) and the Harbor View Inn (across the street from the beach).
In keeping with our search for vintage coolness, we stayed at AutoCamp Santa Barbara which has restored vintage Airstreams available to hire similar to a hotel room. Our Airstream was adorable with a tiny kitchen, tinier bathroom and flat-screen TV. We had a double bed for ourselves and a pull out double bed for the children. Outside the Airstream, there is a little patio area with a gas grill, a couple of Adirondack chairs and two adult bicycles for your use.
Autocamp Santa Barbara rents out restored vintage Airstreams for tourists.
AutoCamp Santa Barbara has its 6 Airstreams located at one edge of a regular trailer park. I wondered what the families who live in the rest of the trailer park make of the steady stream of tourists who use AutoCamp. The Airstreams were all in use when we used AutoCamp. The family next door to us were tourists from London too. They were bemoaning how crazy expensive the USA was because the value of the British pound has plummeted thanks to Brexit.
Our kids absolutely loved the Airstream. My husband and I felt we were sandwiched in a sardine can. I preferred the Bacara Resort and Spa which is where we stayed last time we were in Santa Barbara. It’s got a great spa, pools, beach access and nice views of the oil rigs off the California coast. The Airstream was a fun experience but really it’s not my thing.
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