Long Beach, California is a city with a long and rich history. Stretching back to the 1800s it was first a cattle ranch and then a sheep ranch. Its location was perfect for a tourist destination, which is what eventually brought people to the area from other parts of Los Angeles via the Red Car Trolleys. The Red Cars are gone but the Pike is still a hub of tourism with the Aquarium of the Pacific and the Queen Mary as its major attractions. As the years have gone by and the population has swelled to half a million people the city has had its share of troubles. But in the last few years, the city has made a big push to improve its image, focusing mainly on revamping the downtown and shoreline village districts in the southwest corner of the city. One of the ways they are attempting to beautify the city is by adding pops of color in previously drab and unloved pockets of town with murals painted by local artists.
What’s the difference between street art and graffiti? While there are some graffiti artists who use their talent for good and produce beautiful work, the biggest difference between the two is that graffiti aims to destroy while street art aims to improve.
One of the biggest proponents of this artistic rejuvenation (actually worldwide) is Pow! Wow! which was started by Jasper Wong in 2010. It’s been a yearly event in Long Beach since 2015 with a week long exhibition in the summer. The artists work for several weeks prior to to complete their murals for the exhibit.
The fun of mural hunting is that they are not always in obvious places. Many times they are hidden in alleys or otherwise hidden spots. Luckily, there is a map of the Pow! Wow! Long Beach locations on their website, and a physical map of all the art in downtown Long Beach can be found at Made by Millworks on Pine Ave.
Alright, let’s dive right in.
Long Beach Boulevard
On Anaheim Street between Locust Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard there is a collection of murals on all sides of an empty set of buildings.
Several murals in the Cambodia Town neighborhood of Long Beach were completed for the Long Beach Arts Council in summer 2017.
This mural was part of the Pow! Wow! line up 2017. It’s on the outside of Alex’s Bar.
Museum of Latin American Art
The Museum of Latin American Art, or MOLAA, has rotating exhibits featuring Latinx artists. It’s a small museum, but I’ve enjoyed the exhibits I’ve seen the few times I’ve visited. Plus, free admission on Sundays!
Rose Park Neighborhood
I actually flipped a u-turn after driving past this beautiful piece by Detroit artist Sydney James. Rose Park is an up and coming neighborhood with trendy restaurants and bars.
Third Street Promenade
Third Street Promenade is a car free area between Pine Avenue and Long Beach Blvd along 3rd and Broadway. The first two pieces are across from each other on 4th street, and the last one is a few block over. There is so much to see and do in this area – there is a ton more street art – it’s a great spot to park your car and walk.
East of downtown is the hippest part of Long Beach, a neighborhood called the East Village. Encased in only a few blocks are trendy restaurants and bars and a ton of art work. These two pieces are on the same wall. And the following one is on the building next to it.
These two pieces are in a place I didn’t even know was accessible until I tried. I saw War Kiss (the second piece) from the 710 freeway and knew I had to find it. It’s absolutely stunning in person.
Long Beach is what I like to call “LA lite”. It has the culture – all kind of authentic foods, museums, and obviously, art. It is inclusive – Pride weekend, a branch of Hamburger Mary’s, and rainbow painted crosswalks in the ‘gayberhood’ on Cherry and Broadway. It’s a food and adult beverage lover’s paradise – there are so many restaurants and bars it’s hard to keep up. But even with all that it’s much smaller in size than LA – although it is a really big city both size and population – plus it has a beach. LB – 1 LA – 0
There are so many more beautiful murals and hidden art pieces in the city, a full list would be crazy long. I’ll spare you at this point and hope I’ve inspired you to go explore.
Where’s your favorite spot to hunt for street art? Let me know in the comments!