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

Asian Art Museum

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

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

Housed in the city's former main library building in its Civic Center neighborhood, 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.

02 of 22

Beat Museum

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

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

This small, one-room North Beach 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

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMFA)

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

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. Berkeley's 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

San Francisco Cable Car Museum

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. This Nob Hill museum also features historic displays, an informational video, and a gift shop. Exhibits are free.

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05 of 22

California Academy of Sciences

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

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 in the heart of Golden Gate Park? 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

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

Contemporary Jewish Museum

The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco
 Allan Ferguson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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

Chabot Space and Science Center

Leah Telescope Dome at Chabot Space Center
Don DeBold / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 

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. 

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09 of 22

de Young Museum

The de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park
Betsy Malloy Photography

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

Exploratorium

The Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco
Betsy Malloy Photography

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

Located along SF's Embarcadero, 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

GLBT Historical Society Museum

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

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

The words "historical society" may sound boring, but this Castro 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

Legion of Honor

Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
Betsy Malloy Photography

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.

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13 of 22

Musée Mécanique

A child plays at the Musée Mécanique
Kim Kulish / Corbis / Getty Images

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. It's a must when visiting Fisherman's Wharf, and even worth its own neighborhood trip.

14 of 22

Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD)

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

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

Oakland Museum of California

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

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

The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) 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. Friday Nights at OMCA are one of the museum's biggest draws.

16 of 22

San Francisco Fire Department Museum

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

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 in Pacific Heights records, honors, and preserves the history of its namesake. Its free exhibits run the gamut from fire-fighting equipment to 1906 earthquake surviving artifacts. 

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17 of 22

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

Visitors tour the historical ships at the Hyde Street Pier, San Francisco
National Park Service

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

Get in touch with your inner sailor on a visit to the historical ships at Fisherman Wharf's 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

San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design

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

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

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Works by Alexander Calder at the SFMOMA
Shelly Prevost / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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

San Francisco Railway Museum

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

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.

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21 of 22

Wells Fargo History Museum

Street view of the Wells Fargo Museum in San Francisco
Elizabeth K. Joseph / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 

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

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

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

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

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