A characteristic feature of sensory circuits is the existence of orderly connections that represent maps of sensory space. A major research focus in developmental neurobiology is to elucidate the relative contributions of neural activity and guidance molecules in sensory map formation. Two model systems for addressing map formation are the retinotopic map formed by retinal projections to the superior colliculus (SC) (or its non-mammalian homolog, the optic tectum (OT)), and the eye-specific map formed by retinal projections to the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus. In mammals, a substantial portion of retinotopic and eye-specific refinement of retinal axons occurs before vision is possible, but at a time when there is a robust, patterned spontaneous retinal activity called retinal waves. Though complete blockade of retinal activity disrupts normal map refinement, attempts at more refined perturbations, such as pharmacological and genetic manipulations that alter features of retinal waves critical for map refinement, remain controversial. Here we review: (1) the mechanisms that underlie the generation of retinal waves; (2) recent experiments that have investigated a role for guidance molecules and retinal activity in map refinement; and (3) experiments that have implicated various signaling cascades, both in retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) and their post-synaptic targets, in map refinement. It is likely that an understanding of retinal activity, guidance molecules, downstream signaling cascades, and the interactions between these biological systems will be critical to elucidating the mechanisms of sensory map formation.