Free or Cheap Museum Nights in San Francisco

Urban Park
Marvin Manabat / Getty Images

Where in San Francisco can you enjoy an evening of sake tasting, fashion shows, avant-garde cabaret, cooking demos, Ayurvedic head massages, making your own jewelry or learning about sex in the animal kingdom? At a museum or three.

Some of the liveliest, most inexpensive nightlife in the San Francisco Bay Area is at museums. Several years ago, a couple of savvy museums extended their hours on Thursday, with reduced admission. They gradually unwound, adding music, special programs, drinks, DJs and dancing. Most SF museums have since jumped on the nightlife bandwagon. Here's a guide to spending your nights at the museums.

  • 01 of 08

    The Asian was one of the first in San Francisco to launch museum nights, more than five years ago. Their Takeover series has featured comedienne Kristina Wong and lets artists do whatever strikes their fancy for programming; artists talks let visitors get a better idea of how they create their works; and docent tours, art-making activities, DJ music and cash bars are also offered.

  • 02 of 08

    Cal Academy’s campaign to convince adults that science is, in fact, fun--or at least that fun can be had at the academy. Each week has cocktails, a live band or DJ and a theme more or less science-related. Any Nightlife involving sex—e.g, presentations about animal mating or the hormones of falling in love—tends to sell out fast. Other installments have had tie-ins to local art, mixology and the Outside Lands music festival. With the aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and rainforest to visit, too, NightLife makes for a busy night.

  • 03 of 08

    Usually over-run with kids, the Exploratorium bans them for After Dark. Live performances, films, cutting-edge technology, all of the Exploratorium's please-touch exhibits, plus cocktails to wash everything down.

  • 04 of 08

    Live music and dance, artist demonstrations, art-making projects, films and talks are presented free in the lobby, and the café offers a special late Friday menu. Each evening has a theme related to the de Young's special exhibits or permanent collections. 

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Summer Nights at OMCA

    Talks and demos by artists and Oakland Museum of California curators, book signings and drink specials. To coincide with The 1968 Exhibit, you can watch flicks from that seminal year, board the time-traveling Magic Bus, and groove to DJs playing '60s hits.

  • 06 of 08

    Lectures, films and art projects, often related to a current exhibit. For the 2012 Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought exhibition, about the tree in Jewish tradition, there have been talks about parklets and green city design and a workshop to make things out of recycled paper. Other evenings feature Bay Area Jewish personalities telling their life stories in six words, and a food/art session with scoops on making Jewish pastrami and the world’s first kosher-for-Passover gin.

  • 07 of 08

    SFMOMA Late Night

    Sometimes you need a post-work art fix. Well, at least you can get it on Thursday night when the new SFMOMA stays open until 9 pm. Plenty of time to get lost in the amazing works that now populate the building. 

  • 08 of 08

    While the newly opened BAMPFA doesn't have specific programming around its late hours, it does keep its doors open until 9PM on Friday and Saturday nights.