Art, Bikes and Hikes: Muralist Zio Ziegler's Guide to SF

San Francisco artist Zio Ziegler on why he loves his hometown, and how to explore the city by foot and by bike

In San Francisco, you can find dozens of Zio Ziegler’s murals splashed all over the city. Recently, the prolific Mill Valley-based artist collaborated with Vans to create a line of sneakers and T-shirts stamped with his signature tribal- and graffiti-influenced designs. The 27-year-old's highly original works also adorn the walls of elite Silicon Valley tech companies, from Facebook to Google, and a growing number of far-flung mural commissions take him around the world.

Mural by Zio Ziegler

What is it like to be an artist in San Francisco?

People are moving here from all over. It’s an intellectual gold rush of sorts. You get to expose your work to a varied audience on a daily basis, especially if working in a public format. There’s a lot of opportunity to leverage art into new industry and to use an artistic mind to partner with that international crowd or with innovators and thinkers to make a larger impact on the world. It’s sort of the nexus of everything.

How would you describe the local art scene?

It’s incredibly eclectic and innovative, but inspired by the land, coming from the state of nature, and also from a very diverse heritage. Because it’s made away from LA and New York, it has a sense of freedom that isn’t necessarily always present in those places because there isn’t so much of a scene here. It’s still very formative, so the work being made is in many ways incredibly authentic because of how much innovation is going on around here. 

Where do you go to find inspiration in San Francisco?

It’s such a beautiful city. One of my favorite moments is when you go past the Golden Gate Bridge toward Seacliff, with the sun setting through the trees. That’s an extraordinary place to be. A lot of my inspiration comes from nature, from outdoor venues. I ride bikes in Marin quite a bit, up Mt. Tamalpais and back into Fairfax and Point Reyes.

Marin Headlands

I love the Bay Area because of its accessibility to Tahoe and Yosemite. I love it because you can be in the city and then you can be in the Marin Headlands in 10 minutes. We have the most stunning coastline and forests and woods and trails.

How does the city influence your work?

The best way I’ve ever heard San Francisco described was by a philosopher named Alan Watts. He lived in Sausalito on a houseboat, and he said it was almost as though someone tried to lay a Euclidian grid over an organic mass. Because a grid doesn’t really make sense in San Francisco. You have these hills; it just doesn’t fit. The streets should be zigzagging up the hills, but rather they’re going at 45 degrees. I like those interesting points of tension and interest in the city, where you see the normalcy of western culture not quite being able to fit into that urban environment. It doesn’t work with the topography.

I think it’s far easier to get around on a bike than in a car. You can go from one world to the next in 10 minutes, taking little shortcuts and getting exercise and experiencing the city from the ground level up. That’s very inspirational.

And then you have these incredible artisanal movements taking place as well, in food, in culture, in clothing, in writing, in tech. Because San Francisco is such an oddity in terms of cities, it inspires creatives to come up with new solutions that are more forward thinking than other cities are devising. It’s impossible to park, and maybe that was the catalyst for inventing ride sharing. 

If visitors could only visit one of your murals in the city, where would you send them?

The mural I’m most excited about right now—I try to step it up in terms of every wall that I do—is the one in downtown Oakland, on Harrison and 16th. My first one is at 24th and Bartlett. But they’ll come and go.

Bikers at Rodeo Beach

Is there any public or street art that you’d recommend seeking out in the city?

The Diego Rivera murals at City College; those are extraordinary. Downtown Oakland is filled with surprises around every corner.

As an outdoor enthusiast, how would you recommend visitors enjoy the outdoors while they’re in town?

You don't have to go to Muir Woods. You can see trees anywhere on the mountains. Cut out a day and head up Mt. Tam, starting at the base in Mill Valley. Pack what you need for a day and go adventure. You’ll see so many different microclimates. 

What are your favorite local galleries?

A really cool gallery is just opening in Oakland, Athen B. Then there’s Jules Maeght Gallery in Hayes Valley. There’s Ratio 3 in the Mission.

Green Apple Books

What are your favorite local haunts?

I’m a huge fan of Mexican food. El Farolito gets a ton of press. It’s incredible for a burrito. I’d say the best burrito in Bay Area goes to a place called Puentez Taqueria in San Rafael. I’ve done my due diligence, and it’s hands down the one. Burritos are controversial in the Bay Area. It’s a thing you don’t want to meddle in. [Laughs.]

In the city, Burma Superstar in the Inner Richmond is epic. You should definitely go to Green Apple Books after. Molina restaurant in Mill Valley is really nice as well. In Oakland, Noodle Theory.

Ian Ross Gallery has a lot of cool events at night, and he’s a friend of mine and a really nice dude. Mollusk Surf Shop in Sunset is really cool. They have cool fashion stuff and cool art exhibitions. And the Bolinas Museum is really rad. 

What do you miss most about San Francisco when you’re not here?

I also love the shadows that the buildings cast late in the afternoon—that light falling over the bay. It’s very nostalgic. And also just the accessibility to the outdoors. I feel really trapped in other cities, like New York. San Francisco is an outdoor city.

My Perfect Bay Area Day

Morning

Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands

Wake up and ride my bike over the Golden Gate Bridge and get breakfast at a place calls Fred’s in Sausalito. Or you could take the ferry in. Order the Swedish pancakes, the short stack. Anything more than that is excessive.

Afternoon

Mt. Tam

Pedal my bike or hike up Mt. Tam and down into Stinson Beach. Take the shuttle back to Mill Valley and have lunch at Joe’s Taco Lounge. There’s like a million salsas on the wall. Get a mojado style burrito with salsa verde and salsa roja. Don’t forget the guacamole, that’s very important.

Evening

Art Murmer

Stop by Proof Lab on my way out. They have a pottery workshop, surf lessons in the summer, an awesome fashion sense that’s eclectic and outdoorsy and a community garden where you can design an all-native plant nursery. It’s the best sampling of local business and culture and design that your going to get in Marin. Then head back into the city. Wander around the Mission and Hayes Valley. Get a cup of coffee at Philz or Four Barrel. Scope some street art. Then head over to Oakland for a whole street art tour. Look at the galleries downtown. Go to Oakland Museum of California. It’s compelling and of our time and not antiquated. What’s cool about Oakland is that you’re going to get a sampling of street art and gallery work. It’s so alive and so happening right now, and the people are welcoming.

Night

Fox Theater

Head back to San Francisco. For Italian food, I'd go to Flour and Water and stand in line. It’s always worth it to catch a show at the Roxie or at the Independent or Fox Theater in Oakland. 

Rachel Ward
About the author

Rachel serves as the San Francisco editor fo...