Free Museums in San Francisco

This post lists San Francisco museums that are either always free, have free, or name-your-own-price days, as well as those included for free on tourist discount passes. You might also be interested in our list of 51 free things to do in San Francisco.

 

The Cable Car Museum is always free! (see below)

 


BAY AREA MUSEUMS THAT ARE ALWAYS OR REGULARLY FREE 

Below, we list the museums that are either completely free or offer daily free entry.

 

 

If you are on a budget or just don’t want to waste money needlessly, you might also be interested in our list of 51 free things to do in San Francisco.


Cable Car Museum

Learn all about San Francisco’s famous Cable Cars. The museum is housed in the historic Washington/Mason cable car barn and powerhouse. The museum has three antique cable cars from the 1870s on display.

See how the cable cars work, check out the motors driving the cars throughout the city, and even ring one of the famous cable car bells that you hear all throughout San Francisco. 


Chinese Historical Society of America

This museum focuses on the Chinese immigrants who made this country (especially San Francisco) what it is today. Exhibits include original posters, objects, and artifacts from different eras. 

One permanent exhibit is the Living in Chinatown miniatures – seven extraordinarily detailed miniature models of everyday life in 1940s Chinatown.

If you are planning to be in the neighborhood, then take a look at our self-guided tour of Chinatown.  


The Streetcar Museum

The Streetcar Museum showcases historic artifacts, illustrative displays, rare photographs, and audio-visuals.

Through the exhibits, the museum shows how municipal railways spread throughout San Francisco and how the city obtained the old-fashioned streetcars from around the world that run through the city every day.

Read our post on how to ride San Francisco’s streetcars.


San Francisco Maritime Park

This museum, located on Hyde Street Pier, right between Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf, is a fun place to visit for anybody interested in old sailing ships.

Half a dozen old ships are docked at the pier, allowing you to get an up-close view of how the San Francisco waterfront operated in the 1800s.

 

 

Admission to the pier (and the adjacent museum) are free, but there is a $7 charge to board the ships.

TIP: If you’re flying into or out of San Francisco International Airport, don’t forget to stop and visit the SFO Museum. It has great historical exhibits that are fun to look at on the way to or from your plane.


The Japanese Tea Garden

The Japanese Tea Garden is also located in Golden Gate Park, is an incredibly well-kept garden with trimmed lawns, sculpted trees, plants and flowers shaped into a dragon, and more.

Add a traditional Japanese tea ceremony here for just a few extra dollars, but admission into the garden is free from 9:00 – 10:00 AM every Monday, Wednesday, Friday.


The Autodesk Gallery

This gallery has incredible examples of computer artwork, engineering feats, and innovative design. One ‘must-see’ exhibit is their 8.5 foot LEGO dinosaur made with 62,500 individual pieces!

See pieces of art made with new technologies, learn about the architectural work behind the Shanghai Towers, and see the one of a kind Mercedes-Benz Biome car as well as the Ferrari of the Future.


SF Fire Department Historical Society 

Did you know that the San Francisco Fire Department has long been considered one of the best fire departments in the world? The work of the men and women of the SFFD have saved the city from destruction multiple times.

This museum, free all year long, shows some of the incredible events and people that forged the city that we have today.


Musée Mécanique

This museum, located on Fisherman’s Wharf, has old-fashioned game machines, pinball machines, and other mechanical games dating back over 100 years.

See the rare animated wonder, the “Bimbo Box”, a jukebox made in 1958 that mimics the famous Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass except that mechanical monkeys are the band members

Go here with a couple of dollars in quarters, and this is the cheapest that you can have an afternoon of fun in San Francisco!


The Wells Fargo History Museum

The Wells Fargo History Museum is located in the center of San Francisco’s financial district, and it has a fun museum all about the Wild West days of San Francisco. 

Learn about Gold Rush Outlaws, see some gold nuggets and old money, and ride in a stagecoach! This museum is free all year long. 


Good Vibrations Antique Vibrator Museum

The Good Vibrations Museum is a popular museum with a collection of antiques from the 1800s through mid-1970. You can see mail-order catalogs and advertisements for personal massagers and vibrators up through the time when they became taboo.

The museum is easy to get to in the middle of San Francisco and is free to enter. 


Honorable Mention Museums

There are even more free museums available in the San Francisco area that feature strange collections, cultural education, and art. 

 


Back to top


 

FREE MONTHLY ENTRY

With a little advance planning, there are a lot of paid museums in San Francisco that you can get into for free. The museums listed below have free entry at least once a month.

 

 


Asian Art Museum 

The Asian Art Museum hosts great art exhibits from Asian artists, and it is based directly across from City Hall (another spot to visit for free!). This museum has free admission the first Sunday of every month, and $5 admission after 5:00 PM on every Thursdays.


California Academy of Sciences 

Free on third Wednesday and on 4 Sundays throughout the year. Check the calendar on their website for the currently scheduled days.

The California Academy of Sciences is a crowd-pleaser. This fantastic museum has exhibits about science and nature that people of all ages can love. 


Cartoon Art Museum

Check out the exhibits of famous cartoon characters and comic strips throughout history.

We love the Cartoon Art Museum because they have the same pricing model as Free Tours by Foot! They offer “name your own price” entry on the first Tuesday of every month.


Children’s Creativity Museum

This is a wonderful place to take the kids on your trip. The Children’s Creativity Museum has many free days during the year. Check their website for this year’s scheduled dates.

Golden Gate Park’s Conservatory of Flowers has incredibly beautiful examples of flowers from around the world. In the heart of Golden Gate Park (which itself is full of free activities), the conservatory is free to visit on the first Tuesday of every month.


de Young Museum

Here is another great stop in the middle of Golden Gate Park. The de Young Museum has great art exhibits from around the world, and it is free on the first Tuesday of every month.

 

 

You’ll see artwork from Africa, Oceania, and artists like Monet.


The Exploratorium

Along with the Academy of Sciences, this is our other favorite museum in San Francisco. It’s an extremely hands-on science museum. You can play with many of the exhibits to see and feel how science works.

The Exploratorium is free on five Sundays each year. Check out the dates on their calendar for this year’s free times.


GLBT Historical Society 

San Francisco is known as one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, and the GLBT Historical Society highlights the community’s history here. This city helped lead the fight for gay rights through the last 100 years, and the Castro District is a must-see during your visit to San Francisco.

This museum is free to visit on the first Wednesday of every month.


San Francisco Zoo

The San Francisco Zoo is free on the first Wednesday of every month and has an amazing collection of animals from around the world. 

 

 

One of the highlights of the zoo is a three-acre African Savannah exhibit that houses multiple animals you’d see on the plains of Africa, including kudu, giraffes, cranes, and other peaceful species.


Museum of Craft and Design 

The Museum of Craft and Design is free on the first Tuesday of every month, and they have fantastic exhibits of various arts and crafts in the Bay Area.


San Francisco Botanical Garden 

This botanical garden is a great place to visit if you love exotic plants, flowers, and trees. This place is a hit for nature lovers of all stripes.

Free on the second Tuesday of every month, along with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. And as a bonus for the locals, the gardens are always free for SF residents!


San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

This museum has beautiful artwork from modern times. The museum is always free for kids under the age of 18.


Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 

The Yerba has rotating exhibitions on visual art, film, and performance art. They focus on how creative ideas and contemporary art can change culture. Free on first Tuesday.


Honorable Mention Museums

There are still more museums in San Francisco that offer free entry on specific days of the month.

 


Back to top


 

ALWAYS FREE FOR KIDS (12 and under unless otherwise noted)

Below is our list of museums that are always free for younger children. Be sure to also check out our guide to family-friendly attractions and activities in San Francisco. 

 

 


Asian Art Museum

The Asian Art Museum hosts great art exhibits from Asian artists, and it is based directly across from City Hall (another spot to visit for free!). This museum has free admission the first Sunday of every month, and $5 admission after 5:00 PM on every Thursdays.


The Contemporary Jewish Museum

This museum has exhibits about modern Jewish history and identity as well as art from contemporary Jewish artists. It is free on the first Tuesday of every month.


Legion of Honor

The Legion of Honor is a fantastic art museum on a world-class estate. Situated on a location that has featured in more than one Hollywood film, you can’t go wrong visiting this place.


Museum of the African Diaspora

This museum highlights the history of Africans who came to the United States (voluntarily or involuntarily) and the fascinating culture that the community brought about.


Museum of Craft and Design

The Museum of Craft and Design is always free for children, and they have fantastic exhibits of various arts and crafts in the Bay Area.


San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is always free for kids under the age of 18. You can find paintings, photographs, sculptures, and other pieces of art using alternative mediums.

 


Back to top


 

FREE ENTRY INCLUDED WITH TOURIST PASSES

Below, we list the tourist passes that include popular San Francisco museums. There are several types of tourist passes and only the all-inclusive types offer free entry with the purchase of the pass. The other types offer discounts.

 

 


CityPASS

  • California Academy of Sciences
  • Adventure Exploratorium OR de Young Museum
  • Aquarium of the Bay OR Monterey Bay Aquarium
  • Learn more.

All Smart Destinations Passes (Go San Francisco All-Inclusive, Explorer Pass and Build Your Own)

  • California Academy of Sciences
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
  • de Young Museum
  • Exploratorium
  • Legion of Honor
  • Asian Art Museum
  • Learn more.

Freestyle San Francisco Pass

  • Aquarium of the Bay
  • Walt Disney Family Museum
  • California Academy of Science
  • De Young Museum
  • Exploratorium
  • Legion of Honor
  • Learn more.

San FrancisGO Pass

  • Walt Disney Family Museum
  • Aquarium of the Bay
  • Learn more.

 


Back to top


 

NATIONWIDE FREE MUSEUM 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.  

  • 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
  • San Jose’s Museum of Art
  • Tech Museum of Innovation.

Blue Star Museums 

This program provides free admission to the nation’s active-duty military personnel and their families, including National Guard and Reserve, from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Participating museums are:

  • the Bay Area Discovery Museum
  • Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
  • Cantor Arts Center
  • Children’s Creativity Museum
  • CuriOdyssey
  • 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
  • Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Discover & Go

All San Francisco Public Library cardholders have access to the Discover & Go online platform that allows them to see museums, zoos, and cultural attractions for free or cheap. Here is a list of museums included in the program:

  • Bay Area Discovery Museum
  • Haas-Lilienthal House
  • Ruth Bancroft Garden
  • Pacific Pinball Museum
  • UC Botanical Garden
  • Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum
  • Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
  • Richmond Museum of History

 


Back to top


 

Related Posts: