The city’s iconic murals have received recognition as the rest of the nation is reminded of what we all already know: the giant paintings that adorn the sides, fronts and backs of many buildings in Santa Monica are among the best and the most beautiful in the country.

In a recently published reader’s choice poll by the national newspaper USA Today, Santa Monica ranked second in a list of 10 US Cities You Must Visit To See Incredible Street Art. It was pipped at the post by Philadelphia.

“The seaside city of Santa Monica is an artistic haven in Southern California. Although it’s relatively small, it boasts over 100 murals from artists like Ruben Rojas, Jonas Never and Shepard Fairey,” the article says.

The last name on that list was recently responsible for the large mural on the Pierside Hotel at Ocean and Colorado directly across from the Santa Monica pier. In a press release written regarding the rebranding and redesign of the hotel, Fairey said, “Santa Monica is a beautiful place with a vibrant history filled with creators and rebels from surf, skate, and music culture. No neighborhood is one-dimensional, so I chose to emphasize themes and bits of history related to Santa Monica that I most enjoy.

“I’m drawn to the hippie spirit of the neighborhood, which is welcoming of all types; the natural beauty, ocean air, and the way the Pacific Ocean Park — once it was abandoned — provided a fertile wasteland for surfers and skaters to flourish.”

Another often overlooked site is the side of the Red Cross office in Santa Monica at 1450 11th Street. For over 20 years the parking lot wall was adorned with a faded, 140-feet-long mural painted in 2002, but local artist Boo Simms has given the exterior wall a facelift in an event that was deliberately aimed to coincide with a local community blood donation drive.

“I’d read about the five lines of service that the Red Cross offer [disaster relief, blood service, training and certification, service to the armed forces and international service] and I honestly didn’t know how extensive their work was, but I wanted to reflect all of this as much as possible,” Boo says.

All the paint needed to coat the 140-foot length of the wall has been generously donated by the Dunn-Edwards Corporation
CREDIT: Mimi Teller/American Red Cross.

On June 29, members of the community were encouraged to come along to the center and donate blood. After which they were then encouraged to pick up a paintbrush and tap into their inner Bob Ross, by helping paint the new mural.

“It was amazing,” Boo says, adding, “I think the youngest we had helping out was five years old and the oldest was 70-something. We mapped it all out in chalk the day before, with different parts sectioned off and images pasted of what the finished section should look like.”

As we spoke, Boo was adding the final finishing touches and she very much hoped it would be completed by the end of the day, which was Friday.

“Everyone has a story about the last time they painted, or perhaps it had been years since they’ve held a brush, or this is the first time they’ve ever actually painted, or maybe they’ve only ever painted a wall in their house,” Boo laughed. “And they’re all nervous about brush strokes, but, you know, there’s no wrong way to do it here, we just want everyone to have a bit of fun. Yes, of course one or two went outside the lines, but that’s no problem.”

Artist Shepard Fairey probably boasts the biggest canvas in the city, with this piece on the side of the Pierside Hotel
CREDIT: The Pierside Hotel

Boo is one half of the culinary duo behind Lady & Larder, a Santa Monica-based specialty cheese and cured meat shop located at 828 Pico Blvd that she runs with her twin sister. She says her painting is more of a therapeutic thing, but how does a painter top a 140-ft, wall-sized work of art..?

“The projects I’m most drawn to are areas where communities gather, like schools, playgrounds, parks, areas where kids and neighbors come together. I think those areas are always the most exciting because you get to be a little part of the story.

“When we came to this one, there was a mural here that had been painted 20 years ago, this wall was already painted and that’s always a strange part of the process. You cover up an old one to start a new one, you’re erasing a little bit of history to make new history.”

Scott fell in love with Santa Monica when he was much younger and now, after living and working in five different countries, he has returned. He's written for the likes of the FT, NBC, the BBC and CNN.