Nobody needs to tell you that pent-up travel demand is at an all-time high following a full year of pandemic-enforced lockdowns, shelter-in-place mandates, and more Zoom calls than anyone cares to admit. But with domestic COVID-19 inoculations on the rise, people are starting to think about where their future travels will take them. With the summer season quickly creeping up, travelers will likely be looking for nearby escapes that offer an array of wide-open spaces and attractions. The answer? Outdoor art.
The U.S. is punctuated with countless destinations that boast truly impressive street art displays, which can be enjoyed entirely al fresco. Popular tourism magnets like Brooklyn, San Francisco, and the Wynwood Walls in Miami attract droves of visitors each year. But there’s no shortage of under-the-radar spots worth adding to your list for outdoor art. From meticulously curated collections to larger-than-life installments, here are some of America’s top mural hot spots you’ll want to see for yourself.
Disclaimer: People planning travel of any kind should visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization for the most current COVID-19 alerts and updates. Be sure to also review any travel advisories related to the destination(s) you’re planning to visit, and keep yourself and others safe by wearing a face covering, practicing social distancing, and bringing the appropriate food, drinks, and other supplies when possible.
1. Costa Mesa, California
Tucked away in Southern California, Costa Mesa is bursting at the seams with breathtaking murals and outdoor exhibits scattered throughout the city. Nicknamed the “City of the Arts,” it appears no canvas is off limits. From storefronts and restaurant exteriors to paint-covered utility boxes, the vibrant works are omnipresent. The city’s latest addition is a dazzling Dolly Parton mural dedicated to frontline workers and her recent $1 million donation to fund COVID-19 vaccine development.
2. Tacoma, Washington
Head about 30 miles south of Seattle and you’ll wind up in the trendy city of Tacoma. Known as a glass art mecca thanks to the Museum of Glass (featuring works by Dale Chihuly), their outdoor art game is equally notable. The Tacoma Mural Project was launched in 2010 as a collaboration between artists and the community. Dozens of displays cover the city, but the greatest concentration can be discovered downtown along Market Street and Opera Alley.
3. Houston, Texas
The Avenida has become one of Space City’s trendiest art and entertainment districts. Visitors can feast their eyes on a whimsical collection of outdoor art, including hundreds of hand-painted mini murals that adorn the area’s traffic signal control cabinets. The Houston Arts Alliance also launched an interactive arts map to showcase more than 520 additional public masterpieces. The 230-foot-wide Sky Dance Mural is a favorite. Created by C. Finley, it’s the largest mural in Houston and was commissioned as part of Downtown Houston’s ongoing Art Blocks beautification initiative.
4. Providence, Rhode Island
Providence has long been regarded as Rhode Island’s creative capital (largely due to the Rhode Island School of Design). To experience the city’s artistic side on foot, stroll along the Avenue Concept. As the state’s first privately funded public art program, the collection includes dozens of murals and sculptures sprinkled throughout Downtown, the South Side, and the West End. There’s even an app with self-guided tours to help navigate the works. The Latinx artist-led “Mi Gente Siempre Responde” banner project was completed in August and includes seven murals to honor the healthcare workers helping manage the pandemic.
5. Chicago, Illinois
Chicago has it all: an iconic culinary scene, epic architecture, celebrated sports teams, world-class museums, and so much more. But the bustling Fulton Market District has quickly evolved from its industrial roots into a colorful creative hub. The B_Line is a mile-long street art corridor under a historic train line that houses some of the Windy City’s finest examples of urban art. A stay at The Hoxton, Chicago provides the perfect basecamp to explore everything this artistic enclave has to offer.
6. Vicksburg, Mississippi
Nobody would blame you if Mississippi isn’t the first place that springs to mind when you think of the country’s outdoor art capitals. But the historic city of Vicksburg packs a surprising punch—in fact, it features more public art than any other city in the state. One of its signature attractions is an assortment of 32 riverfront murals. Each dynamic work depicts a different snapshot of the city’s storied past. The nearby Vicksburg National Military Park (often referred to as the “art park of the world”) is teeming with 1,400 sculptures, monuments, and architectural memorials like no other.
7. Hobe Sound, Florida
Hobe Sound is a laid-back seaside escape nestled along South Florida’s Atlantic coast. The tranquil community blends “old Florida” charm with an understated sophistication thanks to its antique shops, eclectic eateries, and natural gems like Blowing Rocks Preserve and Jonathan Dickinson State Park. But its artistic side is demonstrated through the Hobe Sound Mural Project, a beautification initiative spearheaded by local artist Nadia Utto. Since 2009, approximately 40 skilled regional artisans along with more than 100 individual residents and visitors have contributed to the lively range of murals that now blanket the town.
8. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Did you know the City of Brotherly Love also goes by the “City of Murals?” Mural Arts Philadelphia is the largest public art program of its kind in the world and the organization has created more than 4,000 works over the past 35+ years. The murals have become a reflection of Philly’s civic landscape and portray a broad range of topics, including sports, immigration, pride, historic moments, and more. Mural Arts also offers a range of public, private, and virtual tours, and since 50 to 100 new pieces are added each year, there’s always something new to see.
9. Abilene, Kansas
The arts are alive and well in the quiet corner of Kansas known as Abilene. This picturesque city is dotted with a number of unique murals, many of which tie into the destination’s interesting past. For example, the Train Mural celebrates Abilene’s days as a Chisholm Trail cow town, while the Wild Bill Hickok Mural pays homage to the city’s famous former town marshal who became a folk hero of the American Old West. Fun fact: President Dwight D. Eisenhower actually grew up in Abilene, and multiple public works are dedicated to his memory.
10. Greensboro, North Carolina
Greensboro is home to more than 160 murals and outdoor pieces completed by local and internationally renowned artists. The recently completed Selfie Walls are particularly popular on Instagram and feature portraits of celebrities ranging from Billie Eilish and Elon Musk to Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. From towering brick facades to bridges and crosswalks, any surface is fair game for these stunning displays.
11. Buffalo, New York
While New York City and its surrounding boroughs get a lot of love for their legendary outdoor art, Buffalo has exploded over the past few years with new murals and public installations created by some of the greatest street artists in the world, like Eduardo Kobra, Felipe Pantone, Shantell Martin, Logan Hicks, Louise Jones, and more. The Greetings from Buffalo postcard mural by Casey William Milbrand has become one of the city’s most recognizable street art attractions, but there are tons more to explore.
12. Reno Tahoe, Nevada
Inspired by nearby art and culture festival Burning Man, it’s not shocking Reno Tahoe has emerged as a creative center attracting all sorts of mediums. With more than 100 striking murals in Midtown Reno alone, the city boasts one of the largest concentrations of street art in the county. Embark on a self-guided tour or tap a professional from Art Spot Reno to make sure you find them all. The city also celebrated numerous mural-themed events throughout the year, such as Reno Art Fest slated for June.
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