Free Museums and Free Museum Days in San Francisco

Alexander Calder at SFMOMA

Shelly Prevost/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

San Francisco has a big and broad collection of top-notch museums, and nearly all of them can be visited for free--and here’s how (and when and for whom). Below are some general guidelines and free admission programs to know about; a list, in alphabetical order, of San Francisco Bay Area museums, their free-admission days; and lastly, a list of museums that are always free.

What to Know

  • Most major San Francisco Bay Area museums are free for everyone at least one day each month, and several are always free for children ages 12 and under.
  • Various local museums provide free admission under two nationwide programs: 
    • Bank of America’s Museums on Us - Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders get free general admission to certain museums during the first full weekend of every month. The museums in the Bay Area are San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora, de Young, Legion of Honor, Contemporary Jewish Museum and Zeum; Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland; and San Jose’s Museum of Art and Tech Museum of Innovation.
    • Blue Star Museums - Launched in the summer of 2010, this program provides free admission to designated museums for active duty military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Included are the Bay Area Discovery Museum, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, Children’s Creativity Museum, CuriOdyssey (formerly Coyote Point Museum) in San Mateo, de Young and Legion of Honor, Filoli, Lawrence Hall of Science, Museum of Craft and Design, Oakland Museum of California, San Jose Museum of Art, Walt Disney Family Museum, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  
  • Before you go on a free day: Be prepared for crowds. Because of capacity limitations, admission is not guaranteed, so it’s best to arrive early. If you’re planning a group visit, check with the museum first; some museums limit or prohibit group visits on their free days.
  • Reduced admission: Most museums give discounts to seniors, youths, children, and students. Check for other possible discounts, for instance, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts also gives price breaks to visitors who ride public transportation and to teachers. On certain nights, many major museums stay open late and host special programs, entertainment and cash bars, all at a discount.

    Free Admission Offers

    • Asian Art Museum - (200 Larkin Street, San Francisco) Free general admission on first Sunday of the month. Also free for ages 12 and under; San Francisco Unified School District students (with ID); U.S. military personnel plus one guest.
    • Bay Area Discovery Museum - (Fort Baker, 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito) Free on first Wednesday of the month.
    • Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive - (BAM at 2626 Bancroft Way; PFA at 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley) Free on the first Thursday of the month (PFA Theater programs excluded).
    • Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia - (214 California Drive, Burlingame) Free on first Thursday of the month.
    • California Academy of Sciences - (55 Music Concourse Drive Golden Gate Park, San Francisco Free on the third Wednesday of the month. Also free on specified dates for San Francisco residents of designated ZIP codes.
    • Cartoon Art Museum - (655 Mission Street, San Francisco) First Tuesday of the month is “Pay What You Wish Day.”
    • Chinese Historical Society of America - (965 Clay St. San Francisco) Free on the first Thursday of the month.
    • Contemporary Jewish Museum  - (736 Mission Street, San Francisco) Free for ages 18 and under.
    • de Young Museum - (50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., San Francisco) Free on first Tuesday of the month. Also free for ages 12 and under.
    • Exploratorium - (Pier 15, San Francisco) Free on Groundhog Day; Pi Day (March 14); Mother’s Day; Engineering Day; Founder’s Da.
    • Legion of Honor - (Lincoln Park, 100 34th Avenue, San Francisco) Free on first Tuesday of the month. Also free for ages 12 and under.
    • Museum of the African Diaspora - (685 Mission St. San Francisco) Free for ages 12 and under.
    • Museum of Craft and Design - (2569 Third Street, San Francisco) Free on first Tuesday of the month. Also free for ages 12 and under.
    • Oakland Museum of California - (1000 Oak Street, Oakland) Free on first Sunday of the month. Also free for ages 8 and under, and City of Oakland employees (with ID).
    • San Francisco Botanical Garden - (9th Ave. & Lincoln Way, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco) Free always for San Francisco residents (with proof of residency). Free for non-residents on the second Tuesday of the month, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Jan. 1.
    • San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park - (499 Jefferson St, San Francisco)
      • Hyde Street Pier (Hyde & Jefferson streets) - Boarding the ships: Free for ages 17 and under; small admission for ages 18 and up.
      • Maritime Museum (Polk & Beach streets): Free.
    • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art - (151 Third St., San Francisco) Free on first Tuesday of the month. Also free for ages 12 and under and for active U.S. military.
    • Yerba Buena Center for the Arts - (701 Mission Street, San Francisco) Free on first Tuesday of the month. Also, free admission to the gallery if check in on Foursquare.
    • San Francisco Zoo - (Sloat Blvd. & Great Highway, San Francisco) Free on first Wednesday of the month for San Francisco residents.
    • Cable Car Museum - (1201 Mason St., San Francisco)
    • Cantor Arts Center - (Lomita Drive at Museum Way, Stanford)
    • Hearst Museum of Anthropology - (103 Kroeber Hall, Berkeley, CA)
    • The Junior Museum & Zoo - (1451 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto) Free admission, but $3 donation per person is appreciated.
    • Marin History Museum - (1125 B Street, San Rafael)
    • Museo Italo Americano - (Fort Mason Center, Building C, San Francisco)
    • San Francisco Fire Department Museum - (655 Presidio Ave., San Francisco)
    • San Francisco Railway Museum - (77 Steuart St., San Francisco)
    • SFO Museum - (San Francisco International Airport, P.O. Box 8097, San Francisco)
    • Takara Sake Museum - (708 Addison St., Berkeley) Free admission. Sake tasting $5.
    • Wells Fargo History Museum - (20 Montgomery St., San Francisco)