Bay Area Local Life

A Guide to the Street Art in Downtown San Jose

A city’s character, history, and idiosyncrasies are often displayed in its street art. Many of Downtown San Jose’s gray buildings and concrete structures have come alive with the vibrant colors and abstract metaphors of street art, and these murals paint a picture of this city’s identity while also creating a sense of community. We’ve put together a guide to the street art in Downtown San Jose, so you can plan an expedition to see these murals for yourself.

"Afternoon"

Where St. John Street turns into Almaden Boulevard, you’ll spot a mural, “Afternoon,” of an old woman and a young boy on a wall next to Highway 87. The old woman leans on a staff, while the young boy plays a flute. This creation by Polish artist Sainer is his first solo creation in America, and it tends to be overlooked because it’s tucked away in a less frequented corner of the neighborhood. According to the Mercury News, the mural was produced with support from the organization Empire Seven Studios, whose mission is to “create an awareness of an artistic presence in the public.”

"Life Is Abundant in the Face of Death Imminent"

Visit the De Anza Hotel, and walk around the side to see the mural, “Life Abundant in the Face of Death Imminent.” According to The Mercury News, local tattoo artist Jim Miner is the creative mind behind this project, which depicts a colorful cornucopia image. The cornucopia serves as a reminder of the area’s agricultural past, and the overall design incorporates many Egyptian influences—a nod to the hotel’s own Egyptian Art Deco style.

"Phylum of the Free"

From the front, Lido’s Nightclub is just a nightclub. But from the side, it’s an artistic monument, depicting “Phylum of the Free.” In this mural by Jeff Hemming, giraffes are depicted side by side with heavy machinery, per the Mercury News. The mural is a metaphor for the technological advancements that have shaped the Silicon Valley clashing with the natural environment. While the metaphor about the complexity of development is sobering, the mural is bright and cheery, with gorgeous colors and warm hues.

"Panda Cafe and Bakery"

While some murals depict complex messages about society’s issues, others are just plain cute. “Panda Cafe and Bakery,” painted by Phuong-Mai Bui-Quang, is a favorite in Downtown San Jose. Apparently, lipstick kisses can frequently be seen on the cheeks of the pandas, mementos left behind by passersby who just couldn’t resist those adorable bears. “It's a brilliant design to entertain diners along 1st Street,” writes The San Jose Blog.

"A Place in Mind"

Artist Jose Arenas led the team that created “A Place in Mind” to showcase the journey of immigration his parents took when they came to the United States. The mural, with Mexican art influences, depicts boats, calling to mind the many possible directions one can take in his or her life. The Mercury News reports that the artwork also discusses the question of belonging, something many immigrants struggle with as they build a new life in a new country.

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