The San Fernando Valley is large, diverse and congested. With that in mind, we tried to make this guided tour of some of the area's coolest public art a bit more manageable by confining it to just the northern half of the Valley. Still, this journey could become a literal collision course that grows even more hellish as rush hour approaches. If you plan to visit the sites here, it's best to break it up into sections. You might want a full afternoon to see all the murals that Pacoima has to offer. There are enough of them to make it worth the excursion. Similarly, you might want to save the Sylmar sites for when you have enough time to pack a picnic and explore El Cariso Park.
Beyond what's mentioned here, you'll find the highest concentration of art in and immediately surrounding Pacoima. Art is more scattered as you head west through the Valley. In Northridge, you'll find more around CSUN. In Chatsworth, you'll also be able to find art inside the Orange Line stations. But always have your eyes peeled for something cool where the temps are a little hotter.
1. Levi Ponce's Danny Trejo mural.
If you're looking specifically for murals, head to Pacoima. The area surrounding the local City Hall is known as Mural Mile and there are lots of beautiful images to view here. Notable among them is the portrait of San Fernando Valley resident/big-screen badass Danny Trejo, created by artist Levi Ponce. The Pacoima-raised artist is the mind behind Mural Mile, and his richly detailed murals are among the highlights of any excursion to the northeast Valley. 13403 Van Nuys Blvd., Pacoima, 91331.
2. Fruits of Our Dreams
Artist Susan Krieg took the lead on Fruits of Our Dreams. The piece dates back to 2002 and includes the efforts of student artists from UCLA and San Fernando High School. Like so much public art in the Los Angeles area, it exists to connect viewers to the history of the neighborhood. This mural accomplishes that with references to local agriculture, points of interest and a couple of locals who gained fame, including writer Mary Helen Ponce and rock & roller Ritchie Valens.
One thing to point out about Pacoima is that, in addition to lots of murals, you'll find many references to Valens, who was from Pacoima. Over on Mural Mile, not far from the Danny Trejo piece, is The Day the Music Died, which memorializes musicians Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, along with pilot Roger Peterson, who were killed in an Iowa plane crash in 1959.
3. Our Lady of the Valley
Levi Ponce's contributions to the mural scene of the east San Fernando Valley are plentiful; two entries on this list simply aren't enough to encompass the scope of the work he's done, but it's a start. Our Lady of the Valley is part of the Mural Mile and it stands near where Pacoima abuts Arleta. The lady, wearing a simple veil and surrounded by vivid red roses, draws upon the images of the Virgen de Guadalupe that are commonly found across Los Angeles. Her off-the-shoulder top, hoop earrings and crimson lips, however, lend the lady a modern sensibility. 14015 Van Nuys Blvd., Arleta, 91316.
4. Germs on the Pacoima Entrepreneurship Center
Jaime “Germs” Zacarias makes beautiful, brightly colored works of art that have shown at spaces such as the Vincent Price Museum and La Luz de Jesus. Earlier this year, he completed a large mural on the back of the Pacoima Entrepreneurship Center. At the center of the piece is a creature with multicolored tentacles and a head that resembles a lucha libre mask. The only problem with this mural is that it's not particularly easy to see. It's on the back of the building, away from the Van Nuys Boulevard street view, and if the parking lot gates are locked, you'll only be able to view this on tip-toes over the fence. 13420 Van Nuys Blvd., Pacoima, 91331.
5. Sustainable Dream by Kristy Sandoval
Across the street from San Fernando High School is Fox & Laurel Park. It's a tiny park, housing a small playground and community garden. Here, you'll find Sustainable Dream, a fairly large mural from Kristy Sandoval. A prolific muralist with multiple pieces in the area, Sandoval was profiled by L.A. Weekly back in 2014, shortly before Sustainable Dream was unveiled. Her work at the park draws upon local history and wonderfully complements the garden that grows in front of the wall. 14353 Fox St., San Fernando, 91340.
6. Orchard, Ball Nogues Studio
On the northern edge of the San Fernando Valley, inside Sylmar's El Cariso Park, you'll find a nice collection of works brought together by L.A. County's Civic Art Program. Among them is Orchard, from Ball Nogues Studio. The installation combines concrete and steel with lavender plants, fescue grass and an olive tree to celebrate the neighborhood's history. The artist statement notes that the area was formerly home to a massive olive grove and mill and that the sculpture here is made to recall the production of olive oil. El Cariso Park, 13100 Hubbard St., Sylmar, 91342.
7. Dos Picos, Stephen Glassman
At El Cariso Park, not far from Orchard, stands Dos Picos by sculptor Stephen Glassman. Where Orchard shows the influence of local history, “Dos Picos” is inspired by the geography of the area. The piece is made to recall the San Gabriel Mountains, with its pyramid formation of rocks kept in place with gabion baskets. A sign in front of the work warns people that climbing those mini-mountains can ruin the art. Don't try it. El Cariso Park, 13100 Hubbard St., Sylmar, 91342.
8. The CSUN sign
In the early 1970s, just a couple years after San Fernando Valley State College became California State University Northridge, the school held a contest to design a new sign. The winner, engineering graduate student John T. Banks, created a multidimensional piece that remains on the corner of Nordhoff and Zelzah. Its curvy letters take on new and unusual forms from different vantage points and, even for those of us who grew up looking at this sign, it can feel as though there's always a new way to view it. Banks has continued to create public art projects over the years, although the bulk of them seem to be in the Las Vegas area. Find this one on the corner of Nordhoff and Zelzah in Northridge.
9. Tree of Life
The Chatsworth Courthouse may be associated with unpleasantries like traffic tickets and jury duty. However, if you do have to visit, by choice or not, take a minute to check out Tree of Life by Michael Amescua. The artist, who has made a number of public art pieces in the L.A. County area, created this sculpture out of stainless steel, but it represents local plant life. It's an intricate piece with beautiful details that brings together the natural world and the industrial one harmoniously. 9425 Penfield Ave., Chatsworth, 91311.
10. Welcome to Chatsworth
The 300-foot mural Welcome to Chatsworth was originally painted in 1997. Back then, the L.A. Times reported that it was made by local students in an effort to keep graffiti artists from tagging the wall. The irony is that, over the years, the graffiti kept coming. Two years ago, community members worked to restore Chatsworth's welcome sign. Even that didn't keep the tags at bay, as graffiti turned up on the newly repainted sections of the mural before they were able to apply anti-graffiti coating. By September of 2015, though, the fresh mural was ready for its unveiling across from the Orange Line and Metrolink stations. Check it out while you're waiting for your train or bus.