Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
- The 18 Best Museums in San Francisco
- 1. Academy of Art University Automobile Museum
- 2. Asian Art Museum
- 3. California Academy of Sciences
- 4. Cartoon Art Museum
- 5. Children’s Creativity Museum
- 6. de Young Museum
- 7. Exploratorium
- 8. International Art Museum of America
- 9. Legion of Honor
- 10. Museo Italo Americano
- 11. Museum of 3D Illusions
- 12. Museum of Performance & Design
- 13. Museum of the African Diaspora
- 14. Museum of Russian Culture
- 15. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
- 16. Treasure Island Museum
- 17. Truhlsen-Marmor Museum of the Eye
- 18. The Walt Disney Family Museum
- How To Get Free or Reduced Admission to San Francisco Museums
- Final Thoughts
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San Francisco is known for being one of California’s most significant cultural hubs, so it’s not surprising that it is also home to some of the most important museums on the West Coast and even in the world.
From fine art to the sciences, there are museums in San Francisco for virtually any visitor, young or old. There are bound to be a few places that deserve a spot on your itinerary, no matter what trip you plan.
The 18 Best Museums in San Francisco
1. Academy of Art University Automobile Museum
The Academy of Art University Automobile Museum in San Francisco serves a dual purpose. On one hand, it is an important educational tool for students at the Academy of Art University. On the other hand, it also recounts a comprehensive history of the automotive industry and how it’s changed.
The museum is home to over 150 vintage cars and trucks dating back nearly 100 years. These cars are organized in 42 separate exhibits. This collection is ever-changing, as the facility routinely buys and sells cars, ensuring each visit offers a new experience.
Among the museum’s most famous models are one of the original ’51 Tucker 48 vehicles and one of the 5 Pierce Silver Arrows built in 1933. The museum is self-guided, but more in-depth tours can be arranged in advance. While reservations aren’t required, they’re recommended.
Admission is free for children under 12, $10 for seniors and military personnel, and $15 for adults. The museum is open Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. The nearest cable car station is Powell Street/Bush Street.
- Address: 1849 Washington St., San Francisco, CA 94109
2. Asian Art Museum
The Asian Art Museum isn’t just one of the most comprehensive museums of Asian art in the country but in the entire world. Home to over 18,000 pieces, the facility has art representing all of Asia’s major cultures in the present day and throughout history.
Some of the oldest pieces are over 6,000 years old, but many are also from more contemporary artists. The museum is arranged on multiple floors, with the second and third floors dedicated primarily to paintings and photographs. These galleries are the most popular spaces as the art displayed is routinely rotated.
Some of the museum’s highlights are “Vishnu,” a hand-sculpted statue, an ornate jewel-encrusted figure of Buddha on a throne, and a centuries-old Korean moon jar. The museum also frequently hosts temporary exhibits which showcase historic and modern pieces from Asian artists.
General admission is free for children under 12, members, SFUSD students, and military personnel, $14 for children aged 13 to 17 and college students, $17 for seniors 65+, and $20 for adults. Tickets are half-price on Thursday evenings. The museum is open Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday to Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The nearest BART stop is Civic Center/UN Plaza.
- Address: 200 Larkin St., San Francisco, CA 94102
3. California Academy of Sciences
With a collection of over 46 million pieces, San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. The facility first opened in the 1850s as a research center. Though the museum still conducts studies and scientific studies, it’s also open to the public to educate visitors about the sciences.
The main museum houses 6 different exhibits covering topics from gemstones to megafauna. However, there are also specialty exhibits, including a planetarium, an aquarium, and even a human-made rainforest to house tropical plants and animals.
The museum is self-guided, but tours are also offered to give visitors a deeper look at the exhibits and even behind-the-scenes areas. There are also events regularly hosted at the facility. Student groups can even make arrangements to have a sleepover at the museum.
Admission is free for kids under 3. Tickets start at $30.50 for children aged 3 to 17, $34 for college students and seniors 65+, and $39 for adults. Exact prices vary depending on when you visit and purchase your ticket. Same-day admission tickets are usually more expensive. The museum is open Monday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The nearest train stop is 9th Avenue and Irving.
- Address: 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118
4. Cartoon Art Museum
Since opening in 1984, the Cartoon Art Museum has aimed to preserve and showcase cartoon art in various styles. Comic lovers opened the museum with their fellow fans of the medium in mind.
With a permanent collection of over 7,000 items and frequent temporary exhibits, it showcases how the style has changed throughout time. Not only does the museum showcase art with well-known characters like Batman and Thor, but it also displays more unique and creative comics.
Perhaps one of the most beloved collections in the museum is its series of Charles Schulz illustrations featuring the characters of the “Peanuts” series. To help foster an appreciation for the arts, the museum also hosts classes each year for people of all ages. In addition, the facility is available for private events.
Admission is free for children 5 and under and members, $4 for kids 6 to 12, $6 for students, teachers, military personnel, and seniors, $7 for locals, and $10 for adults. The museum is open Thursday to Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The nearest cable car stop is Fisherman’s Wharf.
- Address: 781 Beach St., San Francisco, CA 94109
5. Children’s Creativity Museum
The Children’s Creativity Museum uses interactive and hands-on displays to interest visitors in art and science. The facility was designed to be appropriate for a wide range of visitor ages, particularly those between 2 and 12.
Spread across 2 separate floors, the museum hosts exhibits on music, gardening, storytelling, and more. It also regularly hosts events and special exhibits throughout the year. To make the museum even more compelling, all exhibits have professional artists, engineers, and musicians to help kids make the most of their experience.
The museum also houses the Looff Carousel, a historic ride that was first built around the turn of the 20th century. The carousel is still open for rides, though it goes through annual refurbishments to keep it in pristine condition. It’s also possible to rent the space for private events.
Admission is free for children under 1 and EBT or Medi-Cal members and $20 for everyone else. The museum is open Thursday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The facility closes in September for refurbishments.
The nearest BART station is Powell Street.
- Address: 221 4th St., San Francisco, CA 94103
6. de Young Museum
The de Young Museum‘s roots can be traced back to 1895. Originally part of the Midwinter International Exposition the year before, it contained a collection of art from American artists.
Over the years, the museum’s collection has steadily grown to include over 17,000 pieces ranging from decorative artifacts to oil paintings. The oldest examples of art housed by the facility were created in 1670, but there are numerous examples of more contemporary artwork.
The museum has also broadened its horizons regarding the cultures represented in the exhibits, with sections now dedicated to artists from Europe, Africa, and the Pacific. The textile collection is one of the most expansive in the world. It contains costumes, fabrics, and beaded decorations. It even displays fashion from some of the most respected designers in history, like Chanel and Dior.
Admission is free for members and children under 18, $11 for students, $17 for seniors 65+, and $20 for adults. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. The nearest bus station is Tea Garden Drive/de Young Museum.
- Address: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118
Since 1969, the Exploratorium in San Francisco has been one of the city’s premier centers for learning about science and technology. The museum has over 1,000 displays and hundreds of exhibits showcasing art and science. From the giant pendulum clock to animation, the Exploratorium utilizes hands-on learning to teach its visitors.
The Fisher Bay Observatory is one of the museum’s main highlights, which aims to help guests better understand the Bay Area’s geography and landscape. In addition to the stationary exhibits, the museum hosts events and activities for people of all ages, especially children.
Since education is one of the facility’s main pillars, many displays were designed to appeal to people of all ages. You can expect to see explanations for scientific concepts portrayed at different levels of difficulty.
Daytime tickets are free for children under 4, $29.95 for children 4 to 17, seniors 65+, students, and teachers, and $39.95 for adults. Nighttime tickets are $19.95 but are only available for adults 18+. The museum is open Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum also opens Thursday evenings from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The closest bus stop is The Embarcadero and Broadway.
- Address: Pier 15 Embarcadero at Green Street, San Francisco, CA 94111
8. International Art Museum of America
The International Art Museum of America has dramatically changed since its opening in 2011. Initially, it only featured the work of its founder. However, its collection grew to incorporate other international artists and cultures.
Today, the facility houses over 100 pieces from primarily Chinese and European creators of historical and contemporary periods. While some of the mediums featured in the exhibit are only partially on view, like its collection of abstract art and oil paintings, others are fully visible to guests. Of particular note are its impressive exhibits of coral structures and Chinese calligraphy.
The museum is also known for its exhibitions, often featuring traveling collections during the year. Notably, artists are also invited to submit examples of their work to be featured in a temporary or permanent gallery.
Admission is free for all visitors. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The nearest bus station is Market Street and Taylor Street.
- Address: 1023 Market St., San Francisco, CA 94103
9. Legion of Honor
First founded in 1924, the Legion of Honor is one of San Francisco’s most important fine arts museums. The collection housed in the museum tops 124,000 pieces, virtually all of which come from the European continent.
Through the paintings, sculptures, and other decorative artifacts in the exhibits, the museum tells over 6,000 years of European history and cultural evolution. Of particular note is the Hall of Antiquities, which houses the facility’s oldest pieces from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.
Over the years, the museum has also acquired portions of other collections to curate one of the most comprehensive archives on the West Coast. Even the museum’s structure is notable. It was built to be a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris. That’s even where the facility’s name comes from.
Admission is free for members and children under 18, $11 for students, $17 for seniors 65+, and $20 for adults. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. The nearest bus stop is Legion of Honor.
- Address: 100 34th Ave., San Francisco, CA 94121
10. Museo Italo Americano
The Museo Italo Americano in San Francisco opened in 1978 as an educational center to teach visitors about Italian-American culture. At the time, it was the only museum of its kind in the country. The museum uses artwork and other artifacts to help showcase how Italian culture adapted to the U.S.
The museum’s archive collects photos and other records of Italian immigrants who moved to the country. The museum also hosts permanent and temporary gallery exhibitions featuring Italian and Italian-American artists from the past and present.
The museum serves as a cultural center as well. It frequently hosts Italian language classes for all skill levels and other teaching events to help educate the public about different elements of Italian culture through cooking, music, and more.
Admission is free for members and children under 18 and $10 for everyone else. Everyone can visit for free on Thursday. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. The nearest bus stop is Marina Boulevard and Laguna Street.
- Address: 2 Marina Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94123
11. Museum of 3D Illusions
The Museum of 3D Illusions offers visitors a chance to experience tricks of perception in an interactive and immersive way. Created for visitors of all ages, the exhibit is meant to encourage imagination using a variety of exhibits. From creating the illusion of being as small as a doll to looking like a professional surfer, the museum uses color, linework, and forced perspective in over 40 sets.
Since the museum allows visitors to become part of the art, photos are encouraged, and there are no visit time limits. Most people need about an hour to go through the entire gallery, but you can take as long or as little as you need. The museum also offers a VIP experience, providing a photographer, so you don’t have to worry about setting up the perfect shot.
Admission is free for children under 4, $10 for kids 5 to 11, and $25 for adults. Specialty tours and combination tickets are also available. The museum is open Monday to Friday from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The nearest bus stop is Powell Street and Beach Street.
- Address: 55-61 Jefferson St., San Francisco, CA 94133
12. Museum of Performance & Design
The Museum of Performance & Design in San Francisco has its roots in 1947 when the San Francisco Dance Archives was founded.
Though the structure has grown to encompass all performance elements, the facility’s mission has remained unchanged. The intent behind the museum is to preserve the history of the city’s performance arts scene. The museum houses costumes, documents, set pieces, and more from the San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Opera, and more.
Since its collection grows with each performance season, the museum often rotates its featured exhibitions. These galleries usually focus on a specific show, like “Madame Butterfly,” or a figure in the performance world, like George Balanchine. While not required, reservations are recommended to ensure your spot, as daily visits are limited. The museum is also open for research purposes by appointment.
Admission is free, but museum tours start at $7.50 a person. Donations are also welcome. The museum is open Tuesday to Friday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. The nearest transit stop is Evans Street and Napoleon Street.
- Address: 2200 Jerrold Ave., Suite T, San Francisco, CA 94124
13. Museum of the African Diaspora
The Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) is one of the only facilities in the country dedicated to spotlighting artists who, directly or indirectly through family, are part of the African Diaspora.
Initially, the museum primarily focused on evolution and cultural heritage. However, the focus has shifted over the past decade to center on contemporary artwork. To help ensure artists are given the opportunity to showcase their talent, the museum even sponsors an Emerging Artists Program to help up-and-coming creators showcase their work.
The museum mainly houses temporary exhibitions, which routinely rotate throughout the year. These exhibits vary in style from sculptures to photography and help ensure that each visit to the center will be different. The facility’s primary mission is to celebrate and educate the public on Black cultures and heritage. This is accomplished through its events and the gallery’s art.
Admission is free for members, children under 5, and active military personnel, $6 for children 5 to 12, students, seniors, and teachers, and $12 for adults. The museum is open Wednesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The nearest bus stop is 3rd Street and Mission Street.
- Address: 685 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94105
14. Museum of Russian Culture
The Museum of Russian Culture is San Francisco’s premier educational center on Russian heritage. Across 4 main wings, the museum uses documents and artifacts to preserve and educate visitors.
The library has one of the most comprehensive collections of pre-revolution literature. It also contains several texts written by emigrants as well as manuscripts. It’s worth noting that many of these texts are in Russian. The museum also uses its collection to portray the history of Russia, specifically the Russian Revolution and Russian Civil War.
The museum also acts as a living record showing how the country’s citizens emigrated over time. This record is also supported by the periodicals department, which collects magazines and articles written by Russian emigrants worldwide in various languages.
Admission is free for all visitors. The museum is open Wednesday and Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The nearest bus stop is Polk Street and Sutter Street.
- Address: 2450 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94115
15. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
With a collection of over 33,000 pieces, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is one of California’s most important modern art museums.
When it opened in 1935, it was the only West Coast facility that exclusively displayed art from the 20th century. As time has passed and the term “contemporary” has come to encompass different periods, the museum has expanded its collection to include 21st-century work.
The museum has had the honor of showcasing work from several renowned artists from the field. Jackson Pollock made his museum debut here, and other artists such as Andy Warhol and Henri Matisse are included in the collection. In addition to its impressive permanent exhibit, the museum frequently houses traveling collections and hosts events throughout the year.
Admission is free for children 18 and under and members, $19 for adults 19 to 24, $22 for seniors 65+, and $25 for everyone else. The museum waives fees on the first Sunday of the month. There are also free community and family days hosted. The museum is open Friday to Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. The nearest BART stop is Powell Street.
- Address: 151 3rd St., San Francisco, CA 94103
16. Treasure Island Museum
Located on the artificial island of the same name, Treasure Island Museum aims to preserve the island’s history and the heritage of Pacific cultures. The island has always been home to events and art installations, many of which are showcased in the museum’s exhibits through photos and artifacts.
The museum first opened in 1975 as a naval museum as the island was, at the time, home to a military base. However, the museum has grown to incorporate items from throughout the area’s interesting and diverse past.
Between in-person and online exhibits, the museum can provide a detailed history of the Bay Area and the island itself. Some of the most notable items in the facility are its collection of postcards from the Golden Gate International Expo and its assortment of sculptures from that same event.
Admission is free for all visitors. The museum is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday to Sunday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. The nearest bus station is right in front of the Treasure Island Museum.
- Address: 1 Avenue of the Palms #111, San Francisco, CA 94130
“Treasure Island Museum is proud to be a significant cultural, intellectual, and artistic hub on the revitalized island. As rapid development opens a new chapter in its history, our mission is to document the island’s relevance to today’s issues and tomorrow’s concerns. Our free public programs are designed to inspire a new generation with the Bay Area’s spirit of ingenuity and community embodied by Treasure Island.”John Hogan, Director, Treasure Island Museum
17. Truhlsen-Marmor Museum of the Eye
Founded in association with the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Truhlsen-Marmor Museum of the Eye is the only facility of its kind in the U.S. dedicated to sight.
The museum is divided into 4 distinct galleries that educate visitors about the field of ophthalmology in an easy-to-understand and compelling way. Using interactive features, people of all ages can learn about the anatomy of the eye and new discoveries that help scientists understand sight better, leading to innovations.
Since education is the museum’s main aim, all public events hosted during the year are free to everyone who wishes to attend. The museum also has an ongoing biography project to honor eye doctors who have made notable contributions to the field. The related legacies project similarly honors families with eye doctors in multiple generations through interviews and written histories.
Admission is free for all visitors. This includes public events. The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The nearest bus stop is Hyde/Beach.
- Address: 645 Beach St., San Francisco, CA 94109
18. The Walt Disney Family Museum
The Walt Disney Family Museum (WDFM) is a biographical museum that preserves the life and legacy of Walt Disney.
Located in a massive 40,000-square-foot space, the museum houses artifacts and records from Walt Disney’s personal and professional lives. These displays include interactive portions that incorporate audio-visual media and scaled-down models of the original Disneyland. The museum displays the “Lilly Belle” model train that was famously kept in Disney’s backyard.
The museum is family-friendly, and there are, of course, sketches and artwork depicting the Disney characters and films that Walt was personally involved in creating. There is even an on-site theater that plays Disney films and animations while the facility is open. The museum additionally hosts special exhibits and events that delve deeper into specific Disney topics, like the animal characters featured in beloved movies.
General admission is free for members, military personnel, and children under 6, $15 for children 6 to 17, $20 for students and seniors 65+, and $25 for adults. The museum is open Thursday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The nearest bus stop is Officer’s Club.
- Address: 104 Montgomery St., San Francisco, CA 94129
How To Get Free or Reduced Admission to San Francisco Museums
We’ve indicated with each museum whether or not children, students, or seniors receive free or reduced admission. Several other programs offer similar concessions.
The Museums for All program offers free or reduced admission to museums through the U.S. for those receiving food assistance (SNAP benefits). Participating attractions in the greater San Francisco area include the American Bookbinders Museum, Asian Art Museum, California Academy of Sciences, Children’s Creativity Museum, Conservatory of Flowers, Contemporary Jewish Museum, de Young Museum, Exploratorium, International Art Museum of America, Japanese Tea Garden, Letterform Archive, Museum of Craft and Design, Museum of the African Diaspora, and more.
Bank of America’s Museums on Us program offers cardholders free general admission on the first full weekend every month to the following San Francisco museums: Contemporary Jewish Museum, de Young Museum, and Legion of Honor.
Capital One cardholders can enroll in a complimentary 6-month membership with The Cultivist (through June 22, 2024) and receive access for themselves and a guest to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Participation is subject to change; please verify participating museums and entry conditions before your visit.
San Francisco has no shortage of museums that are worth visiting. Whether you’re an art lover or prefer to learn about different cultures, there’s a gallery or exhibit in the city for you. With any luck, this list has helped you see what world-class museums are waiting for you in San Francisco so you can visit the ones that interest you the most.
Featured Image Credit: Georg Eiermann via Unsplash
Frequently Asked Questions
Does San Francisco have good museums?
San Francisco has some of the best museums in the U.S. It’s home to various art, culture, and history museums, so there’s something for everyone. Many of the museums in the city are even interactive, which offers visitors a full-sensory experience.
What is the oldest museum in San Francisco?
The de Young Museum is the oldest in the city. It was first opened to the public in 1895. However, some other museums first began as private collections, some of which predate the de Young. Others house ancient artifacts, even if they opened recently.
What days are museums free in San Francisco?
There is no specific day when San Francisco’s museums offer free visitation. However, those that do waive their fees typically do so on the first Sunday, Tuesday, or Wednesday of the month. There are also usually reduced-rate ticket options available for certain visitors.
How many museums are in San Francisco?
There are at least 50 museums open in San Francisco currently. This number counts those owned by both private and public organizations. However, this number will change as new exhibits and galleries open. The list also doesn’t count touring museum experiences.
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