San Francisco's Must-See Museums
World-class aquariums, interactive science exhibits and some of the country’s most diverse art collections make San Francisco’s museums a must for any visitor. But it’s not just the collections that are magnificent; there’s also critically acclaimed architecture and some of the most breathtaking vistas in the city that make San Francisco’s museums worth the visit. Be sure to see some of the following extraordinary museums.
Aquarium of the Bay*
Perfectly convenient on PIER 39, the Aquarium of the Bay provides unforgettable encounters with marine life. Stroll through 300 feet of clear acrylic tunnels holding 700,000 gallons of Bay water, touch tidepool animals, and delight in viewing playful river otters up close. Available with San Francisco CityPASS.
Asian Art Museum
Located in the Civic Center neighborhood, this stately museum is home to one of the world’s most diverse collections of art and objects from across the Asian continent. Spanning 6,000 years of human history, visitors can enjoy beautiful paintings, sculptures, furniture, textiles and armor, among other objects, originating from Turkey, China, India, Japan, the Philippines and other Asian cultures.
California Academy of Sciences*
Home to an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, and world-class research and educational programs, the California Academy of Sciences is one of San Francisco's must-see destinations. From the splashing penguins in the African Hall to the wildflowers on the roof, the building is bursting with life. A four-story rainforest and awe-inspiring coral reef ecosystem delights visitors of all ages, while immersive planetarium shows transports you through space and time for a new perspective on our planet. The Academy is also topped by a 2.5-acre living-roof, which is a crucial part of its eco-friendly design and operations in Golden Gate Park. Available with San Francisco CityPASS.
California Historical Society
The California Historical Society has been preserving the rich and fascinating history of California for more than 140 years. Enjoy informative exhibits in their downtown location near the Contemporary Jewish Museum and MoAD, or catch one of their citywide exhibits at one of San Francisco’s many museums and libraries.
Children's Creativity Museum
For families traveling with kids to San Francisco, the Children’s Creativity Museum is a fun way to spend a day. In Yerba Buena Gardens, the Children’s Creativity Museum is filled with interactive exhibits that teach kids about animation, music, digital media and other creative pursuits. Don’t miss a ride on the historic, hand-carved Leroy King carousel that makes a perfect companion to a day at the museum.
Contemporary Jewish Museum
Located in downtown San Francisco near the Museum of African Diaspora and the California Historical Society, the Contemporary Jewish Museum presents dynamic exhibitions and educational programs, exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history and ideas.
de Young Museum
Located in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, the de Young’s collection exceeds 27,000 works and is renowned for its American art from the 17th through 21st centuries, modern and contemporary art, photography, international textiles and costumes, and art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. Be sure to visit the ninth-floor Observation Level of the de Young's Hamon Tower and enjoy breathtaking 360-degree views of San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean.
Located in a pristine new facility on Pier 15 on the Embarcadero, the Exploratorium is an interactive museum igniting curiosity and inspiring creativity in people of all ages. Explore more than 600 hands-on exhibits, including 150 new experiences and enjoy breathtaking views of the city and bay in the spectacular glass-and-steel Bay Observatory. Available with San Francisco CityPASS.
Legion of Honor
Built to commemorate Californian soldiers who died in World War I, the Legion of Honor is a beautiful neoclassic building overlooking Lincoln Park and the Golden Gate Bridge. The museum’s collection features more than 4,000 years of ancient and European art and also houses the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, one of the largest collections of works on paper in the country. Don’t miss a performance on the Skinner pipe organ and enjoy the impressive sound of 4,500 pipes playing everything from Bach and Gershwin to great film scores. Public concerts are presented each weekend on Saturday and Sunday at 4 p.m.
Museum of African Diaspora
MoAD showcases the history, art and the cultural richness that resulted from the dispersal of Africans throughout the Africa Diaspora. MoAD connects all people through shared African heritage and detailed, immersive exhibits.
Museum of Craft & Design
A non-collecting institution, the Museum of Craft and Design is one of North America’s few institutions dedicated to contemporary practices in craft and design. The museum’s mission is to explore the active roles craft and design play in everyday life through original and traveling exhibitions, collaborations with museums from around the world, and hands-on opportunities to learn how to make your own crafts.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)*
Founded in 1935 as the first West Coast museum devoted to modern and contemporary art, a transformed San Francisco Museum of Modern Art re-opened on May 14, 2016. The Snohetta-designed expansion includes 170,000 square feet of new and renovated galleries, enabling SFMOMA to display more of its 33,000 modern and contemporary artworks and an entire floor dedicated solely to photography. Free access to 45,000 square feet of ground floor galleries and visitors 18 and younger make SFMOMA more welcoming and connected to the city than ever before. Available with San Francisco CityPASS.
The Walt Disney Family Museum
Dedicated to the life and work of Walt Disney, creator of some of America’s most beloved animation including Mickey Mouse, this museum is housed in a historic building on the Presidio. Contemporary interactive galleries and state-of-the-art exhibits are narrated in Walt's own voice, and feature early drawings, cartoons, movies, music, listening stations, more than 200 video screens and a spectacular model of Disneyland. While you're there, enjoy daily screenings of Disney movie classics.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Located in the heart of Yerba Buena Gardens, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts presents cutting-edge, contemporary visual art, performances, film/video and community engagement programs that celebrate innovation and experimentation by local, national and international artists working today. Distinguished by its support for contemporary artists from around the world, YBCA is also recognized for the important role the organization plays in the San Francisco Bay Area arts ecology and in the community at large. Artistically, YBCA is decidedly “cutting edge,” presenting and exhibiting work by artists who are pushing the boundaries of their art in form and/or content.
Save on admission to San Francisco's Top Museums
Save 45% on three days' unlimited cable car rides and admission to San Francisco's four top attractions with San Francisco CityPASS. Includes 3-Day, Unlimited-Use Cable Car & Muni Transportation Passport, Aquarium of the Bay, California Academy of Sciences, Blue & Gold Fleet and Bay Cruise Adventure, and a choice of Exploratorium OR San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).
* Denotes part of San Francisco CityPASS.