San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Visiting the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Gallery Exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
©2016 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is a museum reborn. It opened in 1935, showing works by Henri Matisse. In 1995, it moved to its current location on Third Street near Yerba Buena Gardens, designed by architect Mario Botta.

All of what went before is dwarfed by the 2016 SFMOMA, which is now the largest museum of modern art in the United States. When it opened, writer Robert Taylor from the San Jose Mercury News said: "with five new floors of galleries and new outdoor terraces for sculpture, there's no limit to what the museum can do in the future."  

What You Can See at SFMOMA

SFMOMA has about 150,000 square feet of galleries. Here're some of the things you can see:

  • SFMOMA's Permanent Collection: Creations such as Henri Matisse’s Femme au chapeau  (1905), Frida Kahlo’s Frieda and Diego Rivera (1931), Jackson Pollock’s Guardians of the Secret  (1943) and Mark Rothko’s No. 14 (1960).
  • The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection: Hundreds of works by a wide range of postwar and contemporary artists
  • Pritzker Center for Photography: The United States' largest gallery, research and interpretive space devoted solely to photography.
  • Phyllis Wattis Theater: An ongoing film program called Modern Cinema, presented in partnership with the San Francisco Film Society
  • If you're taking children to the museum, check out the programs in the Koret Education Center.

Their restaurant, In Situ, was created by Corey Lee, chef-owner of the Michelin three-star restaurant, Benu.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Tips

MY #1 TIP: Bring headphones for your phone and be sure it's fully charged. Download the SFMOMA app and use it. WiFi is free in the museum, and it's a quick download - or you can do it before you arrive.

Wired magazine calls the app "crazy smart" and for once, they're not exaggerating. It's rigged with location technology that knows where you are in the museum, and it's packed with talks and information about specific artworks as well as excellent guided tours. If it weren't for the app, I'd still be wondering why those metallic tiles were on the floor and whether I could walk on them or not. If you're visiting with other people, you can go into group mode and be sure that everyone will hear the same thing at the same time.

  • The museum is as mind-bogglingly rich with things to see as the Louvre or NYC's Met. Trying to see it all in one visit would be exhausting - and you probably walk more than 8 miles doing it. Spend a little time with their online map and choose a few things you want to see the most.
  • Everyone wants to see the museum. If you're coming from out of town or planning for a particular date, buy tickets as far ahead of time as you can.
  • SFMOMA is also popular on Instagram for selfies and Outfit of the Day shots. Don't hesitate to join in, but try not to get so caught up in it that you don't notice the artwork except as a background.
  • If you'd like to visit but can't afford the entrance fee, access to the ground floor galleries is free. And anyone aged 18 or under always gets in free.
  • You'll have to check your umbrellas, backpacks, and large bags.

The SFMOMA Building

A 10-story, 235,000-square-foot addition designed by the internationally acclaimed architecture firm Snøhetta integrates with the original building, by Swiss architect Mario Botta. Botta's signature-styled structure looks a little like a squarish, sienna-colored brick wedding cake. The new addition features a facade inspired in part by the waters of the San Francisco Bay.

Unexpectedly, the seemingly different styles work well together.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Review

On my first visit, I found SFMOMA captivating. I explored the photography collection with a friend and then took one of the app's guided tours on my own. There's so much more to see, and I expect to be making several visits before I get through it all the first time. 

If you like modern art, you'll like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, but if Old Masters, Impressionists and Rodin sculptures are your cup of tea, you'll be better off at the de Young Museum or the Legion of Honor.

Details for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, CA
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Website

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