arts & culture · attractions & tours ·
Published August 7, 2023
The Top 10 Must-Visit Museums in San Francisco
A day spent exploring a museum is a day well spent. 🎨🔬
by San Francisco Bucket List
If you ask us, San Francisco is one of the prettiest cities in the world. Filled with Victorian-style houses, Mission murals, the Golden Gate Bridge, natural wonders like Land’s End, and so much more, there's no shortage of inspiring spots in this city. But some of our favorite places to get inspired are at SF's museums.
From world-renowned collections at SFMOMA, immersive and interactive science centers, and fine art palaces like the Legion of Honor and de Young, there's no shortage of exciting exhibits and inspiring galleries to wander through. We compiled a list of the essential San Francisco museums everyone needs to check out at least once—and even included info on when you can visit the museums for free!
The Best Museums to Visit in San Francisco Right Now
SF Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
In the heart of the Financial District, the 17,000 sqft. SFMOMA houses over 33,000 works of contemporary art, making the museum one of the largest in the world of its kind. The extremely creative exhibit themes range widely, from Subway Art to Rene Magritte masterpieces and soundtracks of film. For the most immersive experience, download the SFMOMA’S mobile app, which guides you through the art in a way that's imaginative and state-of-the-art.
Free museum days: Free every first Thursday for Bay Area residents; Free admission for families on September 10, 2023
Where: Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) at 151 3rd St, San Francisco, CA
The de Young Museum
Commonly referred to as “The de Young,” this gorgeous fine arts museum is located in Golden Gate Park. It contains an impressive collection of American art from the 17th to 21st centuries, international textile arts and costumes, and art from the Americas, the Pacific, and Africa. Plus, visitors can enjoy a stunning 360° view of downtown SF, Golden Gate Park, and the Marin Headlands from the famed, glass-walled Hamon Observation Tower.
Free museum days: Free every Saturday for Bay Area Residents; Free the first Tuesdays of each month for all; Free at 4:30 pm daily for all.
Where: De Young Museum at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr, San Francisco, CA
Legion of Honor
Inside Lincoln Park lies the iconic Legion of Honor (even the name gives us chills). Its collection spans 4,000 years of human history, including European paintings and sculptures, ancient art from the Mediterranean basin, and one of the largest repositories of works of art on paper in the U.S. Together, the de Young and Legion of Honor comprise the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, meaning a ticket here also allows you free same-day entry to the de Young.
Free museum days: Free every Saturday for Bay Area Residents; Free the first Tuesday of each month for all; Free at 4:30 pm daily for all.
Where: Legion of Honor at 100 34th Ave, San Francisco, CA
Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD)
This Smithsonian affiliate tells the story of the African Diaspora through art. The MoAD highlights the universal connection of all humankind through their origin with Africa and expands to include artists from various diasporas, whether they be Afro-Cuban, Afro-Asian, Afro-Caribbean, or African-American. It all creates a collaborative celebration of life atmosphere you don’t want to miss.
Free museum days: Every second Saturday of each month.
Where: Museum of the African Diaspora: 685 Mission St, San Francisco, CA
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 (“living”) roof. They also offer a popular Thursday evening 21+ ticket option, complete with DJs and cocktails matching each exhibit. We recommend going these nights and grabbing a drink, a Planetarium ticket, and walking the ascending staircase in the Rainforest Biome to reinvigorate your belief in the beauty of life.
Free museum days: SF residents receive free admission on select weekends every year. Find your zip code to plan your visit. (This program is currently on hold. Check back for more info.)
Where: California Academy of Science at 55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA
Asian Art Museum of San Francisco
This museum contains one of the most comprehensive Asian art collections in the world, with over 18,000 pieces—some as much as 6,000 years old—from all major Asian countries and traditions. It even includes a full Japanese Tea Garden displayed on the second exhibition floor of the museum. This tea house was built in Kyoto, disassembled, and shipped to SF to be reconstructed in the museum.
Free museum days: First Sunday of each month; half-off after 5 pm on Thursdays
Where: Asian Art Museum at 200 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA
Located on the waterfront of Pier 15, the fanciful Exploratorium uses science, technology, and art to create interactive experiences and multi-sensory installations for its guests. It includes over 650 one-of-a-kind activities to try out and a lower ticket price for their Thursday night “After Dark” 18+ evenings.
Free museum days: Free admission for California Public School teachers.
Where: Exploratorium at Pier 15 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA
Walt Disney Family Museum
Open Thursday–Sunday; Open on Mondays from Memorial Day–Labor Day
Southern California might hold the crown jewel of the Disney parks, but there’s another charming pillar of the Disney properties right inside the Presidio of SF. The 19,000-sqft. Walt Disney Family Museum features the life and legacy of Walt Disney and shows how he created the empire we know today. Stroll through the colorful halls to find touching stories, films, and photos from his past—including original character sketches and miniature replicas of Disney parks.
Free museum days offered: Free admission for active and retired military families year-round.
Where: Walt Disney Family Museum at 104 Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA
Museum of Craft and Design
Right at home in the lively Dogpatch, the MCD showcases designers, makers, and artists through an exciting series of contemporary craft and design-focused exhibitions. Engaging exhibitions, with designers utilizing traditional tools as well as cutting-edge innovation, are the focus. The space is small but deeply intriguing.
Free museum days: Every Wednesday is pay-what-you-wish admission.
Where: Museum of Craft and Design: 2569 3rd St, San Francisco, CA
Museum of 3D Illusions
Step into a world of wonder at the Museum of 3D Illusions. With over 40 mind-bending interactive illusions, this immersive experience might be the most fun you can have in a museum. Guests can look forward to flying on the magic carpet next to the Golden Gate Bridge, walking on the edge of the mountain, or even surviving the top of the skyscraper. Make sure you come with a full phone battery, you'll want to document yourself interacting with the mind-blogging exhibits.
Free museum days: None currently.
Where: 55-61 Jefferson St, San Francisco, CA
Aquarium of the Bay
Located at Pier 39, the Aquarium of the Bay offers a mesmerizing journey through the diverse marine ecosystems of the San Francisco Bay and the nearby Pacific Ocean. Immerse yourself in stunning exhibits showcasing a vibrant array of marine life, including otters, stingrays, jellyfish, and more, while learning about the importance of conservation and environmental stewardship.
Free museum days: None, but Bay Area residents can get discounted tickets with verification.
Where: PIER 39 Embarcadero & Beach St. San Francisco, CA
LIKE WHAT YOU'VE READ?
Never miss out on a new experience!
Create a Bucket Listers account to access exclusive offers and the latest news in your city