22 Best Museums in San Francisco | 2023 (with Photos)
San Francisco is home to an impressive array of museums, ranging from art and science to history and culture.
With so many options to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the top 22 museums in San Francisco, highlighting their unique collections, exhibitions, and events.
Join us on this journey through some of the city's most remarkable cultural institutions, and discover all that San Francisco's museums have to offer.
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San Francisco, a vibrant city nestled in the heart of California, offers an array of attractions to explore and immerse yourself in. Take a stroll along the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, the majestic symbol of the city, with breathtaking views of the sparkling Pacific Ocean and the city skyline, creating unforgettable memories. Indulge in the diverse culinary scene of San Francisco, from savoring the freshest seafood at Fisherman's Wharf to discovering local delicacies at trendy food markets, satisfying your taste buds with every bite.
San Francisco's rich cultural heritage awaits you at every turn, with its eclectic neighborhoods telling stories of diversity and history. Discover the bohemian charm of Haight-Ashbury, where the counterculture movement of the 1960s was born, as you explore vibrant cafes, vintage boutiques, and colorful murals. Uncover the historical significance of Alcatraz Island, once a notorious federal penitentiary, and embark on an immersive audio tour that reveals tales of infamous inmates and daring escape attempts. With its unique blend of natural beauty and cultural vibrancy, San Francisco promises an unforgettable adventure for every wanderer.
What You'll Need to Bring
- Comfortable walking shoes
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- An open mind and adventurous spirit to fully experience the city's diverse culture.
Table of Contents
1. Children's Creativity Museum
The Children's Creativity Museum in San Francisco features a variety of exhibits and activities that encourage children to explore their own creativity and learn about art, technology, and innovation.
This is one of the most kid-friendly museums in town, making it one of the best museums in San Francisco for families with smaller children.
At the "Animation Studio", children can create their own stop-motion animations using a variety of materials and techniques. At the "Innovation Lab," they can explore the latest in technology and design.
The museum also offers educational programs and workshops designed to help children develop their creativity and critical thinking skills, and they cover a wide range of topics, from art and design to coding and engineering.
2. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is one of the largest modern and contemporary art museums in the country. Its permanent collection includes more than 33,000 works of art, including paintings, sculptures, photographs, and media arts.
SFMOMA's collection is renowned for its focus on modern and contemporary art from around the world. Visitors can explore works by famous artists such as Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol, as well as discover emerging artists on the cutting edge of contemporary art.
In addition to its amazing collection, SFMOMA also hosts a variety of temporary exhibitions throughout the year.
3. The Exploratorium
The Exploratorium in San Francisco is a hands-on science museum that has been inspiring curiosity and creativity in visitors for over 50 years.
The museum's mission is to create a world where people of all ages can explore the world around them through experimentation, play, and discovery.
One of the things that make the Exploratorium so special is its interactive exhibits. This is one of the best places in San Francisco for kids and adults alike.
Visitors can explore everything from the science of sound to the properties of light and can experiment with everything from robots to DNA. With over 650 exhibits to explore, there's something for everyone at the Exploratorium.
4. The Beat Museum
The Beat Museum in San Francisco is a small but fascinating museum dedicated to the Beat Generation, a group of writers, poets, and artists who emerged in the 1950s and 1960s and whose work had a profound impact on American culture.
The museum's collection includes rare books, manuscripts, and other memorabilia from the Beat Generation, as well as exhibits that explore the movement's history, philosophy, and legacy.
Visitors can see handwritten letters from Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, browse vintage copies of Beat publications, and explore the impact of Beat culture on art, music, and politics.
5. Cartoon Art Museum
The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco is dedicated to the art of comics, cartoons, and animation. The fun museum is located in the heart of San Francisco's vibrant SoMa neighborhood, surrounded by galleries, restaurants, and other cultural institutions.
Visitors can explore comic art, including comic strips, comic books, anime, political cartoons, graphic novels, zines, and underground comics. The Cartoon Art Museum features a range of artists, from classic cartoonists like Charles M. Schulz and Walt Disney to contemporary creators like Alison Bechdel and Raina Telgemeier.
6. Asian Art Museum
The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco is one of the largest museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian art. Visitors can see ancient Chinese bronzes and contemporary Chinese art, as well as Japanese samurai armor at this museum.
The museum's collection is organized thematically, with exhibits that explore topics such as religion, trade, and cultural exchange. One of the things that makes the Asian Art Museum so special is its commitment to providing context and interpretation for its exhibits.
The museum offers guided tours, lectures, and hands-on workshops, that help visitors deepen their understanding of the art and cultures represented in the collection.
7. Walt Disney Family Museum
The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco is dedicated to the life and work of Walt Disney and has a special focus on Disney's personal life. The museum is located in the historic Presidio of San Francisco, where Disney's daughter, Diane, lived for many years.
The Walt Disney Family Museum hosts a range of artifacts, including photographs, documents, and personal items from the Disney family, as well as exhibits that explore Disney's life and career. The museum houses special exhibits about some of the classic Disney films as well.
Visitors to the Walt Disney Family Museum can learn about Disney's early years in animation, the creation of iconic characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and the development of Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
8. Explore Ancient and European Art at the Legion of Honor
The Legion of Honor is a stunning fine art museum located in Lincoln Park. The museum was built in 1924 and is modeled after the Palace of the Legion of Honor in Paris, France. Its collection spans 4,000 years of human history
The museum is home to an impressive collection of ancient and European art. Visitors can admire works by artists such as Rembrandt, Monet, Degas, Rodin, and many others.
The museum also houses a collection of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artifacts. The courtyard features a replica of the famous "Thinker" sculpture by Auguste Rodin, which is located at the museum's entrance.
Nothing says SF vacation like exploring ancient art in Lincoln Park.
9. San Francisco Fire Department Museum
The San Francisco Fire Department Museum showcases the history and evolution of the San Francisco Fire Department. Located in the heart of San Francisco, this museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in firefighting history or the history of San Francisco.
Visitors can see vintage fire engines, hoses, helmets, and other firefighting equipment. The exhibits showcase the evolution of firefighting technology from the early 1900s to the present day.
One of the most remarkable features is the memorial wall paying tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives while serving the city of San Francisco.
10. San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park showcases the history of maritime trade and transportation in San Francisco. Located in the Fisherman's Wharf area, this park is a must-visit for anyone interested in maritime history or the history of San Francisco.
Visitors to the maritime museum can see historic sailing ships, steamboats, and other maritime artifacts that were used in San Francisco Bay.
One of the most remarkable features of the park is the Hyde Street Pier, which is home to a collection of historic vessels, including the Balclutha, a square-rigged sailing ship that was built in 1886.
11. Cable Car Museum
The Cable Car Museum is a unique museum located in San Francisco, California. The museum is dedicated to the history and operation of the iconic cable cars that have become synonymous with the city's culture and transportation system.
The museum is located in the historic Washington-Mason powerhouse and car barn, which was once used to generate the power needed to operate the cable cars.
Visitors can learn about the technology behind the cable cars and see the machinery used to power them. There is a viewing area, where visitors can see the massive underground winding wheels and cables that pull the cable cars up and down the city's steep hills.
12. The Treasure Island Museum
The Treasure Island Museum in San Francisco is a historic building located on Treasure Island, a man-made island in the San Francisco Bay that was built for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition.
The museum features a variety of exhibits and displays that showcase the history of the bay area. Visitors can explore the island's military history, including its use as a naval base during World War II, as well as its role as a center for the arts and culture during the Golden Gate International Exposition.
The museum's fascinating displays provide a unique perspective on the city's past, and its location on Treasure Island offers stunning views of the bay and the surrounding area.
13. The Museum of Craft and Design
The Museum of Craft and Design is dedicated to showcasing the work of contemporary artists and designers who specialize in the fields of craft, design, and architecture.
Visitors can enjoy a frequently rotating list of exhibits. From month to month, that might mean survival architecture, custom motorcycles, fashion, light fixtures, sound installations, or contemporary furniture.
One of the highlights of the museum is the "Designing With Sound" exhibit, which explores how sound and music can be integrated into the design process.
Another popular exhibit showcases the work of artist Wanxin Zhang, who creates ceramic sculptures that explore themes of identity, displacement, and cultural exchange, and his work has been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world.
14. Golden Gate Park Conservatory of Flowers
The Golden Gate Park Conservatory of Flowers is a beautiful and historic greenhouse located in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Its collection of tropical plants includes rare orchids, bromeliads, and other exotic plants.
Visitors can wander through the different ecosystems, from the humid jungles of South America to the arid deserts of Africa.
Another popular feature here is the collection of aquatic plants, including water lilies and lotuses. These plants are displayed in a large pond that is home to a variety of fish and other aquatic creatures, creating a serene and peaceful environment for visitors to enjoy.
15. California Historical Society
The California Historical Society is a non-profit museum and research center dedicated to showcasing the history of California and its people.
The museum is home to a vast collection of historic artifacts related to California's Native American heritage, the Gold Rush, the development of Hollywood, and the social and political movements that have shaped the state over time.
Another unique feature of the California Historical Society is its research center, which is open to the public and provides access to a wide range of historical materials, including archives, manuscripts, and oral histories.
This resource is invaluable for scholars, researchers, and anyone interested in exploring local history in greater depth.
16. The Museum of the African Diaspora
The Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) is a contemporary art museum in downtown San Francisco that is dedicated to the history and culture of people of African descent.
The Museum of the African Diaspora houses a range of exhibits, programs, and events that celebrate and examine African ancestry from a historic and contemporary angle.
The Museum of the African Diaspora hosts exhibits on a wide range of themes, including African American art, music, history, and culture, providing visitors with a rich and diverse perspective on the African American experience. The museum often hosts poetry readings, talks, and film screenings.
17. The de Young Museum
The de Young Museum in San Francisco is one of the city's most iconic landmarks. Along with the Legion of Honor museum, it is considered one of the fine arts museums in the city.
Located in the heart of Golden Gate Park, the museum is renowned for its impressive permanent collection of American art from the 17th through the 21st centuries, as well as art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.
With over 27,000 works of art on display, visitors can explore everything from contemporary works of art to ancient artifacts and stunning European paintings.
The de Young Museum building was designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron and features a copper façade that has developed a beautiful patina over time. The museum also boasts a 144-foot tower that provides panoramic views of Golden Gate Park and the city beyond.
18. The California Academy of Sciences
The California Academy of Sciences is the only place in the world to contain a Planetarium, Rainforest, Aquarium, and Natural History Museum all under one roof. It is one of the world's largest natural history museums.
From the splashing penguins in the African Hall to the wildflowers on the roof, the building is bursting with life. This museum also hosts events, and special exhibits, and has frequent educational speakers.
Its Rainforest exhibit features a four-story rainforest dome that houses a variety of live animals, including butterflies, birds, and reptiles. The Steinhart Aquarium is home to more than 40,000 live animals, including fish, reptiles, and invertebrates.
The Planetarium offers visitors a chance to explore space and the wonders of the universe.
19. The Musée Mécanique
The Musée Mécanique is a fascinating museum located in San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf.
It is dedicated to preserving and showcasing a collection of antique mechanical instruments and games, ranging from player pianos and antique slot machines to player pianos, music boxes, and phonographs.
One of the highlights of the Musée Mécanique is its collection of vintage arcade games, which are all fully operational and free to play.
Visitors can try their hand at classic games like pinball, skeeball, and Pac-Man, as well as lesser-known games from the early days of arcade gaming.
20. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Located in Yerba Buena Gardens in the SoMa neighborhood, the Yerba Buena Center showcases the work of local, national, and international artists who are pushing the boundaries of contemporary art and culture.
YBCA has no permanent exhibition but rather focuses on rotating exhibitions and art shows that also cover film and performance.
One of the highlights of the YBCA is its diverse and thought-provoking exhibitions. The museum features a variety of exhibits that cover a wide range of topics, from social justice and activism to technology and innovation.
These exhibits often incorporate a mix of media, including painting, sculpture, video, and installation art, providing a rich and engaging experience for visitors.
Make sure to add the Yerba Buena Gardens and the Yerba Buena Center to your SF itinerary.
21. Contemporary Jewish Museum
The Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) in downtown San Francisco is dedicated to exploring and celebrating Jewish culture and identity through art, culture, and history.
This “non-collecting” museum aims to make “the diversity of the Jewish experience relevant for a 21st-century audience” through innovative exhibitions and programs, largely made up of temporary exhibits.
One of the highlights of the Contemporary Jewish Museum is its focus on contemporary art, which includes works by both emerging and established artists.
The museum's exhibits cover a wide range of themes related to Jewish culture and identity, from the Holocaust and Israel to Jewish traditions, customs, and beliefs.
22. The Randall Museum
The Randall Museum is a hidden gem located in the heart of San Francisco's Corona Heights neighborhood. This small museum is dedicated to fostering an appreciation of science, art, and nature through hands-on exhibits, classes, and workshops.
Randall Museum has exhibits dedicated to a wide range of topics, including geology, astronomy, and the natural history of the Bay Area. Visitors can also explore the museum's live animal exhibits, which include reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals.
FAQs Related to the Best Museums in San Francisco
Now, let's take a look at some frequently asked questions regarding museums in San Francisco.
Are museums free in SF?
Look out for free museum days in San Francisco, which vary by location. Apart from free admission, some museums also offer a free audio tour. Special exhibitions may require an additional fee. The de Young is free to Bay Area residents every Saturday. The museum is also free to the general public on the first Tuesday of every month.
Does San Francisco have good museums?
Yes, San Francisco is home to some of the best museums and art galleries in the US. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is one of the largest art museums in the country. The de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park is one of the largest fine arts museums in the West.
What is there to do in SF aside from museums?
If you have had your fill of San Francisco museums, you can also visit the San Francisco Zoo and walk over the Golden Gate Bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge is a symbol of San Francisco and one of the West Coast's most prominent landmarks.
What are the most famous San Francisco museums?
The most famous museums in San Francisco include the Asian Art Museum, the de Young Museum, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Summing Up: Museums in San Francisco
There you have it, the best museums in San Francisco. From art and science to history and culture, San Francisco has a museum for every interest.
Whether you're a local looking for something new to do or a visitor to the city, these museums in San Francisco offer a unique and enriching experience.
So, if you haven't already, plan a visit to one of the museums that we've highlighted in this article. You won't be disappointed, and who knows, you may just discover a new passion or interest that you never knew existed.
So go ahead, explore, learn, and enjoy all that San Francisco's museums have to offer.