San Francisco's Best Museums

san francisco science museum

No matter what your favorite type of museum, San Francisco has world class art, science, and fun for you and the whole family. Many of San Francisco's museums have been extensively renovated in the past few years and offer discount / free days during the month. The treasures of San Francisco are featured in museums with beautiful works of art, and science exhibits filled with wonder. Museums are a great way to spend the day and are often located in vibrant neighborhoods and parks.

San Francisco's Art Museums

de Young Museum

sf art museum
de Young Museum's Copper Facade

San Francisco’s fine arts museum features over 1,000 paintings by American artists; collections from South America, Africa, and Oceanic countries; 13,000 pieces of textile art; and American and European photography.

Following structural damage caused by the 1989 Loma Pietra earthquake, the de Young Museum had to be rebuilt, resulting in the modern and undulating copper ribbon building we see today. Instead of a typical "art filled box," the new architecture from Pierre de Meuron and Jacques Herzog is a work of art unto itself. The re-opened museum was built on the same site as its earthquake-damaged predecessor at the east end of Golden Gate Park near the music concourse. The de Young includes lower level galleries for special exhibitions; two floors of permanent exhibition galleries; and a 144 foot high tower with an observation deck. The observation tower twists as it rises -- at the top it parallels the North-South streets of San Francisco.

San Franciscans have had strong reactions to the museum's new design -- they either love or hate the new building. The architects focused on sensations, not forms, to create architecture that touches all your senses in an overall experience. This approach has made the de Young Museum memorable for both its architecture and the expansive art galleries within.

Visitors can design their own path through the galleries rather than follow a pre-set route. Many visitors note that the Oceanic galleries are particularly dramatic. The 9,500 square foot space will make you feel like you are inside a romantic, exotic treasure chest, with a ceiling that pulls up like a shallow tent and paving stones quarried in Italy with a syncopated pattern. The de Young is fresh, inventive, and contemporary -- a world class art museum for San Francisco visitors to marvel.

For a great bonus – if you purchase a ticket for the deYoung Museum, you can also visit the Legion of Honor museum (see below) on the same day at no additional cost. For budget travelers, the museum’s public spaces – the expansive de Young lobby, observation tower, de Young Café and Museum Store – are totally free. If you happen to be in San Francisco on the first Tuesday of the month, admission to the de Young’s permanent collection galleries is free.

SF Museum of Modern Art (SF-MOMA)

san francisco moma
SFMOMA by Kirklin Lee

SFMOMA is closed for expansion through early 2016. The collection includes over 27,000 pieces of contemporary and modern art which are temporarily housed at multiple sites around San Francisco. SFMOMA has been (and will be in 2016) one of San Francisco's newest and coolest art museums in a striking building. It will be a great museum to check out, and it’s right off Union Square.

Legion of Honor -- Amazing classic art located in scenic Lincoln Park near the The PresidioFree museum admission the first Tuesday of every month.

Asian Art Museum -- One of the largest museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian art. Opened in 1966, the museum's holdings include more than 12,000 art objects representing countries and cultures throughout Asia. Free museum ticket admission the first Sunday of every month, but the museum limits capacity so get there early!

Science Museums

The Exploratorium

An excellent science museum for kids. Lots of hands-on exhibits in an architecturally beautiful building in the Marina District. Many original human-perception displays including optical illusions and fog movements (so San Francisco!) Admission for children under 3 is free. Admission is free the first Wednesday of every month.

California Academy of Sciences

sf science center
Living & Hilly Roof - California Academy of Science

Built in 2008, this museum is an aquarium, science museum and planetarium all rolled up into one. Located in Golden Gate Park across from the de Young Museum, the science museum emphasizes natural history and features fish and dolphins, gemstones, and a special earthquake exhibit. Admission for children under 6 is free. The museum has free admission four days a year, and San Francisco residents can enjoy free days in the spring and fall, depending on your zip code.

sf aquarium

Gulf of the Farallones Visitor Center -- Small, free visitor center in The Presidio, with a lot of great exhibits as part of a walk through the area. Highly recommended.

And More

San Francisco Zoo – On the edge of Ocean Beach, this is an amazing city zoo with Chimpanzees, African Lions, Ostriches, Grizzly Bears, and many many more. Easy fun for your family outing.

Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park  -- Like a trip to the rainforest, this marvelous, historic greenhouse is filled with exotic flowers and orchids. Walk through stories-high rooms with climates ranging from warm, to cool, to aquatic and enjoy the incredible flowers and foliage. Don't miss this historic and incredible "flower museum" in Golden Gate Park. Free museum ticket admission the first Tuesday of every month.

Walt Disney Family Museum -- Yes, the Disney Museum is right in San Francisco's historic Presidio, and not Southern California. Mickey, Goofy, and the entire history of the art are at this great new attraction.

Grace Cathedral-- Historic chapel in Nob Hill, with famous mosaics, labyrinths, and  stained glass windows. It’s a popular attraction for worship.

Avoid driving! -- Check out five unique San Francisco museums within walking distance of downtown hotels.