September 5, 2018 at 9:00 AM
You've seen the new Ben's Chili Bowl mural covered with the faces of Prince, Barack and Michelle Obama and rapper Wale. You might've even seen the Hokusai-inspired wave in Georgetown.
There are many striking murals in the nation's capital, but some neighborhoods punch above their weight when it comes to Instagrammable murals per block. Here are three walking tours to see the art that brings color to our city — and provides endless selfie material for an #ootd (Outfit of the Day).
There's artwork around practically every corner in NoMa, thanks to the annual multiday Pow! Wow! festival, which invites dozens of artists to transform blank walls into masterpieces. Start your mini-tour by contemplating the transitive nature of murals themselves through Ricardo Gonzalez's piece, “Here today, gone tomorrow” (55 M St. NE), with lettering that looks kind of like those airbrushed souvenir T-shirts.
Hoof it over to Third and M streets NE, and you'll find that a somewhat neglected parking lot is now a thicket of murals. A trippy scene with cute little creatures by artist LAP sits on top of the Oasis Market liquor store, and across the street, you can pose in front of Italian artist Joys' interlocking jewel-toned geometric shapes or admire Taj Francis's serene portraits.
Next stop: Travel up Fourth Street to Union Market (1309 Fifth St. NE), where two murals grabbed worldwide attention. Yoko Ono envisioned the words “Relax. Your Heart Is Stronger Than What You Think” on the side of the building in 2017, and those feelings of encouragement continue around the corner, where graffiti artist Mr. Brainwash spray-painted the words “Never Give Up” above a mass of colorful hearts. The next building features Superwaxx's color-blocked “HUMAN!TY” mural. (Pro tip here: Take a pic in front of the mural's bright-red exclamation point.)
Pass the “We're Getting Louder” mural at Fourth Street NE and Neal Place by artist Annica Lydenberg of Dirty Bandits, with art direction from The Lily’s Amy Cavenaile, on your way back to the NoMa-Gallaudet metro. Walk along First Street NE (follow the pink bubbles at 41 New York Ave. NE to see Drew Merritt + INSA's dreamy portrait), and don't miss Hoxxoh's rainbow spirograph of a vortex painted on top of the old Ibiza nightclub at 1222 First St.
Venturing into Blagden Alley already feels like you're discovering something even before you start stumbling across murals painted on metal gates. You might not be the only one taking a photo in front of Lisa Marie Thalhammer's rainbow “Love,” at 926 N St. Rear. This photogenic mural has been posted on social media by Chelsea Clinton, Lady Gaga and more.
Around the corner from “Love” is Billy Colbert's towering black-and-white portrait, “Respect: John Thompson,” painted on a brick wall. Another portrait, Aniekan Udofia's “Space is the Place" shows a heroic Erykah Badu armed with a pencil next to musician Sun Ra.
Meanwhile, the echinacea and arnica blooms in Rose Jaffe's “Let.Go” mural make Blagden Alley feel like an urban garden.
Look down at the Crystal City Metro stop to find your first mural on this tour, where nondescript office buildings are awash with a Behr-sample-fan's worth of paint these days. Exit the Crystal City Metro stop and walk to 2001 Jefferson Davis Highway: You're looking for NoVa's most beautiful parking lot. No Kings Collective's 10,000-square-foot mural is covered in abstract shapes and primary colors — and it seems a shame for anyone to park in it.
Make your way down Jefferson Davis Highway for a block or two to 2217 S. Eads St., where Jason Woodside's rainbow-striped and polka-dot mural stretches across a building shaded by trees. Another one awaits on 23rd Street as you walk toward Crystal City's row of restaurants. A 400-foot piece called “Mural23" features the work of multiple artists, including Criomatic, Mas Paz, Miss Chelove and Jeff Huntington for a jolt of riotous color.
Double back toward the Metro for what could be Crystal City's pièce de résistance. At 1851 S. Bell St., No Kings Collective painted a mural called “VA is for Lovers” that covers part of the ceiling and ground of a porte cochere with Pepto pink for a truly immersive mural experience. Take a selfie near the “Lovers” sign, in boldface type, or the paint-covered purple-and-green basketball half-court around the corner.
Bonus: That's where you'll find farmers market stands on Tuesday selling empanadas near permanent ping-pong tables, paddles included.