8 Museums in San Francisco That You Shouldn’t Miss

8 Museums in San Francisco That You Shouldn’t Miss

Learn, discover, and satisfy your curiosity as you museum-hop throughout beautiful San Francisco.

Travelers and locals alike will marvel at what fantastic San Francisco can offer them in culture, technology, art, visual performances, and natural history. All the museums have both permanent and special collections, as well as fun events, activities, and workshops to choose from. Even better, most of the museums have free admission days! Learn, discover, and satisfy your curiosity as you museum-hop throughout beautiful San Francisco.

The Exploratorium

An all-time San Francisco favorite, discover how the world works through science and technology. The idea for the Exploratorium was conceived by Frank Oppenheimer while teaching as a university professor. Dismayed by the general public’s lack of understanding about how the world works, he created a “library of experiments”, which ultimately was developed to become the Exploratorium in 1969.

Once located at the Palace of Fine Arts, the Exploratorium made a historic move to Pier 15 along San Francisco’s famous waterfront district in April 2013. The new location is now three times bigger, creating more room for the Exploratorium’s exhibits of wonder, experimentation, and fun. On site are more than 600 exhibits, a 200-seat theater, a life sciences laboratory, workshops, classrooms, and a restaurant and café that attract 1.1 million visitors a year. At this museum, you can learn about the inner workings of cells, how opera singers can carry long notes, the mythological significance of frogs across the world, play memory games, and understand the role of green houses in climate change.

Two exhibits that shouldn’t be missed are the Bay Observatory and the Tactile Dome. At the Bay Observatory you can learn how both natural and human forces have shaped the geography and ecology of the San Francisco Bay Area region. Meanwhile, at the Tactile Dome, have fun crawling and sliding your way through chambers and mazes using only your sense of touch. An absolute favorite, the dome was originally designed and built by August Coppola, father of Nicole Cage and brother to director Francis Ford Coppola.

Check out The Exploratorium's admission prices, exhibits, and events at http://www.exploratorium.edu/

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“Wait, what? #flyingbaby at exploratorium. #sanfrancisco #flyinglana #babylevitation. Photo by @shanluphoto”

California Academy of Sciences

Engage with natural history at the San Francisco’s beloved California Academy of Sciences, located in Golden Gate Park. Begin in the basement with the museum’s huge aquarium, where you’ll discover a variety of underwater ecosystems. Then work your way up to the Rainforest exhibit which is full of geckos, spiders, and butterflies. Finally, look up at the stars in the museum’s planetarium. Also, be sure not to miss the baby ostriches, Claude, the albino alligator, playful penguins, the rooftop garden, and the earthquake exhibit.

Be sure not to miss these two super fun events at the Academy of Sciences, one just for adults and the other just for children. On Thursday nights, adults can experience Nightlife at the Museum, for those 21 and over. Sip on cocktails, enjoy live music, eat food, and attend workshops. There’s nothing more fun than getting buzzed and walking beneath a tank full of sharks and stingrays! For children, there are Penguin and Pajama sleepovers with live-animal demonstrations and food. It's sure to be both a fun and educational time!

Check out California Academy of Sciences' admission prices, exhibits, and events at http://www.calacademy.org/

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“Submerged in our Amazon flooded forest, via @rebellioussteve. 📷 by @_mimichann”
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“Green skies are just as good as blue ones. Dream a little rainforest-canopy, especially when temps get chilly. (Photo by @hannahlinlinlin.) 🌴🌺🌱🌳”

Asian Art Museum

The Asian Art Museum's mission is to introduce the world to the diversity of Asian cultures and does so with more than 2,000 pieces of artwork as a part of its main collection. It was first opened in 1959 in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, when Avery Brundage donated his huge collection of Asian art to the city. Eventually, as the museum's collection gained popularity, it became necessary to find a better location, so the museum was moved to the Civic Center, just opposite San Francisco's historic City Hall. Through art, music, dance, and traditions, you'll discover the great achievements of Asian art and culture. Past exhibitions have featured the emperors’ treasures from Taiwan, woven tapestries from India and Persia, contemporary Japanese ceramics, yoga, and calligraphy.

The first Sunday of the month is a free day! You won't want to miss out on that deal!

Check out The Asian Art Museum's admission prices, exhibits, and events at http://www.asianart.org/


Push the boundaries of how you see the world through contemporary and modern at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), which was founded in 1935 and is a big favorite among both locals and travelers. Since its inception, the museum has had a history of championing innovative artists and art forms such as photography, architecture, design, and media arts before those mediums were established as a part of museum-collecting. The museum also presented Jackson Pollock’s first solo museum exhibition. And as a part of its permanent collection, there are several hundred pieces by famed Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, donated by Albert M. Bender. In addition, the museum is deeply supportive of San Francisco Bay artists.

The museum will re-open in May 2016. This expansion will offer new opportunities for visitors to better experience contemporary art. It will become the largest modern art museum in the country upon completion.

Check out SFMOMA's admission prices, exhibits, and events at https://www.sfmoma.org/

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“There’s one question we get asked all the time, and today we’ve got an answer for you... Follow us on Twitter @sfmoma for tweets about the ‪#NewSFMOMA. ‬”

De Young

Integrating fine art and architecture, the De Young Museum showcases beautiful collections of art from the US during the 17th through the 20th centuries, textiles and costumes, and traditional art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. The building itself is an architectural wonder, having been designed by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog and de Meuron, and using element such as sphinxes, palm trees, a panoramic tower, and the Pool of Enchantment. Outdoors, the De Young features the public sculpture garden and terrace and children’s garden.

On Friday nights, there are after-hours events with live music, dance, theater performances, film screenings, lectures, activities, and special tours. Artists may teach workshops, debut new collections, and take part in art discussions.

Free days are first Tuesdays of every month!

Check out the De Young's admission prices, exhibits, and events at http://deyoung.famsf.org/

Legion of Honor

The Legion of Honor was opened on Armistice Day, 1924, and commemorates the California soldiers who died in World War I. Located in San Francisco’s Lincoln Park, there is a stunning view of where the Pacific Ocean meets the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. Walking into the beautiful Beau-arts building, you come upon Rodin’s world-famous bronze sculpture, The Thinker, which sits in the museum’s Court of Honor, and is meant to represent all artists in deep thought. The museum is home to over 4,000 years of ancient and European Art, as well as a large collection of prints and drawings. Past exhibitions have included the art of watchmaking, tapestries and armor, Matisse and the Artist Book, the Poetry of Parmigianino’s “Schiava Turca”, and the Copper Age in the Holy Land. The Legion also hosts regular organ concerts, the Listening Series, and free Saturday classes for children ages 4 through 12. In addition, you can participate in specialized docent tours of featured exhibitions.

The first Tuesday of every month is a free day!

Check out the Legion of Honor's admission prices, exhibitions, and events at http://legionofhonor.famsf.org/

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“Light, shadows and columns go together like bridges, fog and beautiful vistas. #SanFrancisco #HappyFriday Regram from @a_year_in_sf.”

The Beat Museum

The Beatniks were a group of "beaten down" artists and writers who congregated in 1950s San Francisco. The most famous book to come out of this group was On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, a semi-autobiographical story about the adventures of a group of friends, such as Allen Ginsberg, as they criss-crossed the country from San Francisco to New York and back again. Their activity in San Francisco centered in the "Little Italy" neighborhood of North Beach, which is fittingly the location of The Beat Museum. Nearby, you’ll also find City Lights Bookstore, where poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti was given an obscenity charge for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s poem, Howl. Just around the corner, you’ll also find Vesuvio Café, where the beatniks would drink themselves silly.

The museum is home to an extensive collection of Beatnik memorabilia such as photos, records, books, souvenirs, and even a small period movie theatre that shows documentaries of the era. It is independently owned and strives to continue the Beat’s legacy by educating new audiences and encouraging journeys that are defined by the era’s themes of compassion and the courage to follow your own heart’s dream.

Check out the Beat Museum's admission prices, exhibits, and events at http://www.kerouac.com/

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Founded in 1993, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) is dedicated to contemporary visual art, performance, and film/video from around the world. It was developed in response to local community struggles of politics, displacement, and changing demographics. Located in the heart of downtown San Francisco, the Yerba Buena Gardens features a park, playground, ice rink, restaurants, the Moscone Convention Center, and YBCA. It was named after the Spanish name for San Francisco, Yerba Buena, which is an aromatic herb found throughout northwestern US, Canada, and Alaska.

Representing diverse cultural and artistic performances, over a quarter of a million people attend one of hundreds of YBCA’s exhibitions, performances, screenings, and programs each year.

Admission to YBCA is free every third Thursday of the month!

Check out YBCA's admission prices, exhibits, and events at http://www.ybca.org/

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