San Francisco's Must-See Museums | San Francisco Travel

San Francisco's Must-See Museums

World-class aquariums, interactive science exhibits, and diverse art collections make San Francisco’s museums a must for any visitor.

It’s not just the collections that are magnificent; critically acclaimed architecture and some of the most breathtaking vistas in the city also make San Francisco’s museums worth the visit. Be sure to see some of the following extraordinary museums now that the arts are open in San Francisco.

Save on admission to San Francisco's Top Museums

Save 45% on admission to San Francisco's top attractions with San Francisco CityPASS®. Includes California Academy of Sciences and Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure, plus two other attractions of your choice: Aquarium of the Bay, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), The Walt Disney Family Museum, The Exploratorium, or San Francisco Zoo & Gardens.

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American Bookbinders Museum

355 Clementina St.

If you love the art of storytelling, you need to visit the American Bookbinders Museum, where the books are the story. The only museum of its kind in America showcases the history and technology behind bookbinding, which helped revolutionize the way ideas were packaged, shared, and consumed by the global population. Some items in their collection are nearly 400 years old! Open Tuesdays through Saturdays, the American Bookbinding Museum offers self-guided audio tours or docent-led tours for groups of 5 or more. Their special exhibits come at no extra cost!

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Aquarium of the Bay

Embarcadero & Beach St.

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®.

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Asian Art Museum

200 Larkin St.

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 to Asian Art Museum can enjoy beautiful paintings, sculptures, furniture, textiles, and armor originating from Turkey, China, India, Japan, the Philippines and other Asian cultures.

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California Academy of Sciences

55 Music Concourse Dr., Golden Gate Park

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 delight visitors of all ages, while immersive planetarium shows transport 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®.

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California Historical Society

678 Mission St.

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

221 4th St.

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

76 Mission St.

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. Drop-In Art Studios and Textile Lab Gatherings are offered year-round, free with museum admission, and are programs that are fun for the whole family!

de Young Museum

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr.

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.

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Pier 15

Located on Pier 15 of the Embarcadero, the Exploratorium is an interactive museum inspiring creativity in people of all ages. Explore more than 600 hands-on exhibits and enjoy breathtaking views of the city and bay in the spectacular glass-and-steel Bay Observatory. Available with San Francisco CityPASS®.

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Legion of Honor

100 34th Ave., Lincoln Park

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.

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Museum of African Diaspora

685 Mission St.

MoAD showcases the history, art, and 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. Throughout the year, they offer special programs that bring together people of all ages through dance, music, art talks, and more.

Museum of Craft & Design

2569 3rd St.

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)

151 Third St.

Founded in 1935 as the first West Coast museum devoted to modern and contemporary art, the transformed San Francisco Museum of Modern Art re-opened in 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, with an entire floor dedicated solely to photography. Free access to 45,000 square feet of ground-floor galleries for visitors 18 and younger makes SFMOMA more welcoming and connected to the city than ever before. Available with San Francisco CityPASS®.

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The Walt Disney Family Museum

104 Montgomery St.

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 in 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.

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Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission St.

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.

Author Brenda Tucker
Brenda Tucker

Brenda Tucker is the Director of Arts Marketing at San Francisco Travel. She has lived in San Francisco since 1998, after driving cross-country to a home she secured sight unseen. Brenda enjoys swimming out-of-doors year-round, being inspired by the incredible art scene in the City, and living in the best place on earth.