A to Z Guide to San Francisco Bay Area Museums

The San Francisco Bay Area has a lot of museums, so here's an alphabetical directory of museums to help you find the ones that pique your interest.

  • 01 of 22
    Exterior of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco with banners advertising current exhibitions
     Emily Allen / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Location: Civic Center

    200 Larkin Street (at Civic Center Plaza)
    San Francisco, CA 94102
    Telephone: (415) 581-3500

    Housed in the city's former main library building, the San Francisco Asian Art Museum is devoted exclusively to Asian art and has more than 16,000 works covering a time span of 6,000 years. It also offers classes and hosts special events, such as tea ceremonies and artist talks. For much of the year, the museum features an adults-only late-night series on Thursdays, which includes cocktails, musical performances, and lectures from visiting artists until 9 p.m.

    FREE on the first Sunday of the month.

  • 02 of 22
    Street view of the Beat Museum in San Francisco
    Dianne Patrizzi / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 

    Location: North Beach

    540 Broadway (at Columbus)
    San Francisco, CA 94133
    Telephone: (800) KER-OUAC

    This small, one-room museum features artifacts from San Francisco's illustrious Beat era. There are photos, letters, and even a signed copy of Ginsberg's Howl, an iconic poem that was later tried for obscenity and which Ginsberg first read at SF's former Six Gallery on Fillmore Street. The building in which the museum is housed will be undergoing a mandatory seismic retrofit sometime in 2019, so the museum will be closed temporary. Call ahead! 

  • 03 of 22
    Exterior and entrance of the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
    Garin Fons / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 

    Location: Berkeley, CA

    2155 Center Street
    Berkeley, CA 
    Telephone: (510) 642-0808

    Not only is this combined art museum, archive, and repertory movie theater just mere blocks from a BART transit station (meaning easy access to and from the city), it also has enough room to showcase nearly 19,000 works. The Pacific Film Archive is home to one of the largest collections of Japanese cinema outside Japan, and boasts a beautiful theater with Meyer Sound System to showcase its wares. Check out BAMFA's calendar for rotating exhibitions as well as film series and festivals. 

    FREE first Thursday of the month

  • 04 of 22
    Visitors viewing the cable car motors inside the San Francisco Cable Car Museum
    Sabrina Dalbesio / Getty Images

    Location: Nob Hill

    1201 Mason Street (at Washington)
    San Francisco, CA 94108
    Telephone: (415) 474-1887

    See the actual working cables and sheaves of San Francisco's iconic cable car system, and learn the history of the city's cable car heritage, including details on the system's reconstruction and the eight original companies that ran along its lines. The museum also features historic displays, an informational video, and a gift shop. Exhibits are free.

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  • 05 of 22
    The California Academy of Sciences Building with the living roof in the backgound
    ART on FILE, Inc. / Getty Images

    Location: Golden Gate Park

    55 Music Concourse Drive
    San Francisco, CA 94118
    Telephone: (415) 379-8000

    With its own penguin colony, 90-foot-tall rainforest dome, albino alligator, and one of the country's most advanced planetariums—what's not to love about this oasis of science and learning? Don't miss their Thursday night Nightlife program, where the age is 21+, a DJ spins beats, and you can sip a cocktail while communing with the fish in the Steinhart Aquarium. For the younger crowd, there are sleepovers where the kiddos can roll out their overnight bags next to Claude, the albino alligator. But don't worry too much: he has his own tank!

     

  • 06 of 22

    Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University

    The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
    Marisa Benjamin

    Location: Palo Alto, CA

    328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way
    Stanford, CA 94305
    Tel: (650) 723-4177

    Collections at this free museum include 4,000 years of art history and span a variety of cultures, but that's merely the beginning. The Cantor Arts Center has the largest collection of Rodin bronzes outside of Paris, with its stunning Rodin Sculpture Garden poised just outside on the Stanford campus. 

    The Center hosts special exhibitions year-round as well as free docent-guided tours. An on-site cafe provides outdoor views of the sculpture garden.

  • 07 of 22
    The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco
     Allan Ferguson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Location: South of Market (SoMa)

    736 Mission Street
    San Francisco, CA 94103
    Telephone: (415) 665-7800

    Located across the street from San Francisco's spectacular Yerba Buena Gardens, the Contemporary Jewish Museum has hosted an array of retrospectives on prominent Jewish figures--from Amy Winehouse and Allen Ginsberg to California Jewish artists Bella Feldman and Ned Kahn—as well as exhibits on everything from textiles to Jewish folktales—since opening in 2008. Unusual for a museum, it has no permanent collection, but collaborates with other institutions on exhibits.

     

    FREE on the first Tuesday of every month. 

  • 08 of 22
    Leah Telescope Dome at Chabot Space Center
    Don DeBold / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 

    Location: Oakland, CA

    10000 Skyline Boulevard
    Oakland, CA
    Telephone: (510) 336-7300

    For anyone interested in looking into galaxies above and beyond, pay a visit to Oakland's Chabot Space and Science Center. Spend an afternoon viewing its digital planetarium and getting hands-on with interactive exhibits, then stay once the sun goes down to check out the observatory. Their three main telescopes are some of the largest on the West Coast, and are available to the public on a weekly basis. 

    Continue to 9 of 22 below.
  • 09 of 22
    The de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park
    Betsy Malloy Photography

    Location: Golden Gate Park 

    50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
    San Francisco, CA 94118
    Telehone: (415) 750-6300

    Home to an extensive American art collection, as well as permanent installations from British artist Andy Goldsworthy and light and space guru James Turrell, the de Young is a San Francisco favorite. Make sure to check the roster for visiting exhibitions (past ones have included a Keith Haring retrospective and a showcase of the work of couture fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier), and don't forget to stop by the observation deck for 360-degree views of Golden Gate Park and its surroundings. 

    FREE on the first Tuesday of the month.

  • 10 of 22
    The Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco
    Betsy Malloy Photography

    Location: Embarcadero

    Pier 15
    San Francisco, CA 94111
    Telephone: (415) 528-4444

    The Exploratorium is a hands-on, interactive museum of science and arts that easily appeals to all ages. Its diverse installations consist of more than 650 permanent and rotating exhibits (both indoor and outdoor), and a series of intriguing lectures, films, and other special events are the norm. An Exploratorium experience "must" is its Tactile Dome, on which willing participants embark on an interactive tour through the darkness, using nothing but touch as a sensory guide.

    The Exploratorium hosts various free Community Days throughout the year. 

  • 11 of 22
    Aerial view of the Castro neighborhood in San Francisco
    DavidSweetPhotography / Getty Images

    Location: Castro 

    4127 18th Street
    San Francisco, CA 
    Telephone: (415) 621-1107

    The words "historical society" may sound boring, but this museum is as lively as they come. With rotating exhibits that showcase their archive collection, the GLBT Historical Society Museum has highlighted everything from bathhouse murals to costumes of '80s drags queens over the years.  

  • 12 of 22
    Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
    Betsy Malloy Photography

    Location: Outer Richmond

    34th Avenue & Clement Street
    San Francisco, CA 94121
    Telephone: (415) 750-3600

    The Legion of Honor is a fine arts museum adjacent to the Presidio's spectacular Lands End. Renovated in the 1990s with skylights and added square footage, it houses an amazing art collection that spans everything from Near East antiquities to Auguste Rodin sculptures (including a prominent cast of Rodin's Thinker in the Legion's courtyard). The museum boasts a well-curated selection of rotating exhibits, public tours, and a series of special events. There's also a café.

    FREE on the first Tuesday of the month.

    Continue to 13 of 22 below.
  • 13 of 22
    A child plays at the Musée Mécanique
    Kim Kulish / Corbis / Getty Images

    Location: Pier 45/Fisherman's Wharf

    Pier 45 at the end of Taylor Street
    San Francisco, CA 94133
    Telephone: (415) 346-2000

    The always-free-to-enter Musée Mécanique is a unique arcade filled with antique musical instruments, unusual games of chance, and stories covering some of the city's most enlightening history. 

  • 14 of 22
    Street view of the entrance of the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco
    Erik (HASH) Hersman / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 

    Location: SoMa

    685 Mission Street
    San Francisco, CA 94105
    Telephone: (415) 358-7200

    MoAD is a beautiful and modern museum with multi-media installations and traditional exhibit spaces, where visitors learn first-hand about the African Diaspora: "The scattering of people from Africa and the sowing of their cultures globally." Since its 2015 remodel, the museum has encouraged the works of more local artists. 

  • 15 of 22
    Terraced garden with koi pond and sculpture at the Oakland Museum
    Mark Hogan / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Location: Downtown Oakland

    1000 Oak Street (at 10th)
    Oakland, CA 94607
    Telephone: (510) 238-2022

    The Oakland Museum of California is devoted to the history, art and natural landscape of the Golden State. Cowell Hall houses an extensive collection of materials relating to California history, and the Natural Sciences Gallery covers the diverse ecosystems that comprise Crescent City to Joshua Tree and everything in-between. The space itself is a combination of indoor exhibit space; outdoor gardens, terraces and ponds; and a lingering cafe. Films, lectures, and other special events take place on site. 

  • 16 of 22
    A horse-drawn fire engine among the ruins of San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake and fire
     Bettmann / Getty Images

    Location: Pacific Heights

    655 Presidio Avenue
    San Francisco, CA 94115
    Telephone: (415) 563-4630

    Through a collection of documents and other historic memorabilia, the San Francisco Fire Department Museum records, honors, and preserves the history of its namesake. Its free exhibits run the gamut from fire-fighting equipment to 1906 earthquake surviving artifacts. 

     

    Continue to 17 of 22 below.
  • 17 of 22
    Visitors tour the historical ships at the Hyde Street Pier, San Francisco
    National Park Service

    Location: Fisherman's Wharf

    Hyde Street Pier at Aquatic Park
    2905 Hyde Street (at the foot of Hyde)
    Telephone: (415) 447-5000

    Experience your inner sailor with a visit to the historical ships at Hyde Pier. The Maritime museum hosts guided tours and other various events throughout the year, while an onsite (and free) Visitors Center displays informative exhibits on local maritime history. 

    Free entrance to Hyde Pier, with fees for boarding various ships.

  • 18 of 22
    Felt items used in piano construction from an exhibit at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco
     PunkToad / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Location: Dogpatch

    2569 Third Street
    San Francisco, CA
    Telephone: (415) 773-0303

    In 2013, the Museum of Craft and Design moved out of its former Union Square digs and into a state-of-the-art Dogpatch building, in a neighborhood that's now flourishing with the arts. With a focus on crafts and design and the various ways they integrate into our lives, much of the work on display is highly technical (think of a home hobby on steroids). 

    FREE first Thursday of the month

  • 19 of 22
    Works by Alexander Calder at the SFMOMA
    Shelly Prevost / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Location: SoMa

    151 Third Street
    San Francisco, CA 94103
    Telephone: (415) 357-4000

    Seven stories tall and brimming with hundreds of works, SFMOMA focuses on all forms of modern art such as photography, painting, sculpture, design, media arts, and more. Don't miss the rooftop sculpture garden, as well as pieces by Pablo Picasso and Diane Arbus. 

    FREE first Tuesday of each month

  • 20 of 22
    Muni Placards at the San Francisco Railway Museum
     Tom Bridge / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

    Location: SoMa / Embarcadero

    77 Steuart Street (near Ferry Building)
    San Francisco, CA 94105
    Telephone: (415) 974-1948

    The Railway Museum features artifacts related to San Francisco's history of rail transit. This small space houses both a photographic collection and audio-visual displays, along with purchasable railway-related memorabilia and gifts, including books, DVDs and posters.

    Continue to 21 of 22 below.
  • 21 of 22
    Street view of the Wells Fargo Museum in San Francisco
    Elizabeth K. Joseph / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 

    Location: Financial District

    420 Montgomery Street
    San Francisco, CA 94163
    Tel: (415) 396-2619

    The San Francisco branch of the Wells Fargo History Museum is one of several free U.S. museums located devoted to the history of the Wells Fargo bank, which includes everything from Gold Rush finances to stage coach robbers. Inside you'll even find a historic 1860s Concord Coach (visible through the window from Montgomery Street).

    If you're interested in the early express companies and Gold Rush era correspondence, this is the museum for you. 

     

  • 22 of 22
    A woman walks up the ramp to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco
    FHKE / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Location: SoMa

    Yerba Buena Gardens
    Between 3rd & 4th/Mission & Howard
    San Francisco, CA 94103
    Telephone: (415) 978-2787

    The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is a multi-disciplinary venue hosting art exhibits, dance, film and video presentations, public programs, and more. There's always something unique happening in this eclectic space, which pays homage to the Bay Area's many diverse communities. 

    Galleries FREE on first Tuesday of the month