Chapter One Tattoo

Photo of iconic San Diego locations as a Tattoo

An Ode to San Diego Tattoos

Mural by Azul on alley side of Kilowatt in Ocean Beach

While walking the streets of San Diego, one will undoubtedly come across many beautiful works of art. There are the numerous murals in Ocean Beach done by Azul (@AzulNomadArt)or in North Park by Jorge Gutierrez (@JorgeGutierrez226); Chapter One Tattoo has a cool mural on the back wall as well. The gardens and architecture in Balboa Park are a sight to see and attract thousands a year. These are all wonderful, and there are countless other forms of art in America’s Finest City, but there is an often overlooked aspect of art in San Diego: tattoos. It is nearly impossible to step outside in San Diego and not see arms emblazoned with bright designs and intricate patterns. Tattoos in San Diego have essentially become an iconic piece of the city. In the 1930’s, Life magazine published that approximately 6% of people had tattoos, as compared with today where roughly 30% of Americans have a tattoo. Head to the beach in San Diego and one might argue that number to be even higher.

Mural on the side of Wayfarer bakery in La Jolla by Yvonne Byers

San Diego is well known in the history of tattooing. Thanks in large part to the Naval presence and the history of sailors getting tattoos, San Diego tattoo artists have become world renowned. It wasn’t always this way though, and it took many years, and quite possibly some luck, before San Diego tattoos became so legendary.

Speaking of legendary, it is impossible to talk about San Diego tattoos without mentioning Ed Hardy. After turning down an opportunity to attend Yale for graduate studies, Don Ed Hardy took on an apprenticeship under Norman Collins who is more widely known as Sailor Jerry. After working with Sailor Jerry and spending time in Japan studying under Horihide, Ed Hardy eventually began to work in San Diego. Though now most only know him by the fashion line he started, Ed Hardy was a heavy hitting name in tattooing and him moving to San Diego only further helped cement the relationship between San Diego and tattooing.

Drone shot looking south over Ocean Beach
Drone shot looking south over Ocean Beach

San Diego and tattoos go so hand in hand that there is even a tattoo museum downtown at Tahiti Felix’s Master Tattoo. Felix Lynch opened the shop in the late 1940’s in a time where tattoos, though gaining in popularity, were still a sort of sub-culture phenomenon. The shop has changed locations a few times over the years as the city grew and changed, but never moved more than a couple blocks from its original location. The shop is still in operation in San Diego and as well as continuing to tattoo out of the shop, it also serves as the San Diego Tattoo Museum. They have old acetate flash, tattoo machines, pictures, and many other old memorabilia of tattoo culture preserved in their windows for anyone visiting San Diego to browse.

Today, there are well over a hundred tattoo shops in San Diego (and even more if you expand to San Diego County). Years before opening Chapter One Tattoo, when Cash first started tattooing back in 2001, there were only six (6) tattoo shops in San Diego. In modern day, San Diego tattoo shops have truly blossomed, and a big part of that is attributed to the changes the different branches of the military have made with stances on allowable tattoos. The higher demand for tattoos in San Diego has permitted many more shops to be able to open and remain busy.

Whether you are a local, or just visiting for a little while, getting a San Diego tattoo is always a fun time. Whether big or small, Chapter One is always ready to discuss your next idea!