44 Museums in San Francisco

This post provides an extensive list of the most popular and notable San Francisco museums, including free entry, late hours, and kid-friendly options.

 

 


TOP 10 SAN FRANCISCO MUSEUMS

1) California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences has several exhibition halls, as well as an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum, a four-story rainforest habitat, a coral reef ecosystem and more.

 

 

This museum is sure to engage and excite people of all ages, and it is included for free with multiple San Francisco tourist attraction discount passes.

Admission is free on the third Wednesday of each month and on 4 Sundays throughout the year. 


2) de Young Museum

The de Young is housed in an architecturally-significant building in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

The museum features thousands of works of art by some of America’s best artists from many eras. Some pieces date as far back as the colonial era.

 

 

The de Young also features rotating exhibits of the masters. Two of the special shows were of the work of Monet and Gaugin. This museum is a modern art lovers paradise.

This museum is included for free with some San Francisco tourist attraction discount passes.

Admission is free on the first Tuesday of every month. 


3) Exploratorium

The Exploratorium, located along the famous waterfront at Pier 15, is known as the museum of science, art and human perception. It is very kid-friendly!

 

 

Its more-than-just-another museum focus makes it especially engaging.

It’s a public learning laboratory where you or your group can explore the world through brain-bending exhibits, optical illusions, and hands-on experiences. 

You can save money on tickets and get them for free by using a San Francisco tourist attraction discount pass!

Admission is free on five Sundays each year. 


4) Aquarium of the Bay

Located on the famous Pier 39 on the Embarcadero waterfront, this Aqua-museum focuses on the local aquatic creature within and around San Francisco Bay.

 

 

Get ready to enjoy breathtaking sights of over 20,000 marine creatures, including otters, colorful jellyfish, sharks, and many other creatures!

This attraction is included for free with more than one San Francisco tourist attraction discount pass.

Read more about the museum and how to get discounts from our post Aquarium of the Bay


5) San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

This prestigious modern art museum has an impressive photography collection including works by Alfred Stieglitz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Ansel Adams. 

Among SFMOMA’s holdings are paintings from masters Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, and Paul Klee. 

Save money on tickets and get them for free by using a San Francisco tourist attraction discount pass!


6) Legion of Honor

From the entrance, all the way into galleries, the museum highlights captivating sights and collection of 4,000+ ancient artifacts and European art such as ceramics, sculptures, and paintings.

Tickets to this museum are included for free with admission to the de Young Museum when purchased with some San Francisco tourist attraction discount passes.


7) Asian Museum of Art

This museum has an impressive 18,000 items and is one of the most comprehensive displays of Asian art collections around the world. 

These exhibits take you through 6,000 years of Asian culture and art to show you the world through the eyes of various people. 

This museum has free admission on the first Sunday of every month and $5 admission after 5:00 PM every Thursday.

If you’re looking to save money on admission, keep in mind that tickets are included for free with more than one San Francisco tourist attraction discount pass.


8) Musee Mecanique

Located on Fisherman’s Wharf, this museum 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

It’s always free to enter, though bring change to play pinball and more. Kid-friendly


9) Walt Disney Family Museum

Situated in the picturesque San Francisco Presidio, this institution chronicles fascinating sights of the life and creations of Walt Disney: his inspirations, innovations, and animations. 

 

 

You can see the creation of his remarkable Disneyland models, films, early drawings, music, cartoons and more! 

Get discounted admission to this wonderful museum for free by using a San Francisco tourist attraction discount pass.


10) San Francisco Zoo

With over 100 acres of land and more than 2,000 animals, this is one of the largest zoos on the West coast.

 

 

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.

Aside from the wildlife, there is also a historic steam train, carousel and a play area for the kids.

Admission to the zoo is included for free with some San Francisco tourist attraction discount passes.

 


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FREE SAN FRANCISCO MUSEUMS

The following section will cover all of the San Francisco museums you can visit admission free or on certain days. We will include details about what to see and do at each location.

And remember, many of San Francisco’s most popular museums are free every day for tourist pass holders.


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. 

Kid-Friendly


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) is 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.


Musee Mecanique

It won’t cost you a dime to get into this museum full of old game machines, pinball tables, and other fun arcade history – but you might want to bring some change for the games!

Believe it or not, you can actually play a lot of the historic games at Musee Mecanique and they’re still coin-operated.

Whether or not you choose to spend some money here, this is an affordable museum that even the kids will want to visit!


San Francisco 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 has saved the city from destruction multiple times.

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


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.


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 the mid-1970s.

 

 

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. 

 


SOMETIMES FREE MUSEUMS

This section covers each of the museums that you can visit for free during certain times of the week/month.

These locations aren’t always free, but we’ll provide details about how you can visit without paying a dime.

But first, here are some museums with free days detailed elsewhere in the post.


The Japanese Tea Garden 

Located in Golden Gate Park, this 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.


Conservatory of Flowers 

Located in Golden Gate Park, this conservatory has incredibly beautiful examples of flowers from around the world.

Depending on when you visit, there will be different flowers in bloom throughout the year. This conservatory also holds special events such as night openings!

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.


San Francisco Zoo

The San Francisco Zoo is free on the first Wednesday of most months (though not always in the summer) and has an amazing collection of animals from around the world. 

 

 

There are more than 2,000 animals in total, including Black Rhinos, Giraffes, Apes, Monkeys, Lions and more. Visitors can also enjoy their historic steam train and carousel, as well as a play zone for kids!


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.

This museum has a lot of limited exhibits that are only available for a few months at a time, so you can expect to see something new every time!

Past exhibits have covered a vast range of topics including interior/exterior design, Bauhaus photography, architecture for survival, custom motorcycles and more.


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!


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 over 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.


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 a culture.

This location also offers a lot of community activities throughout the year, including film screenings, theatrical performances and more.

Free on the first Tuesday of each month.


International Art Museum of America 

While this museum started with just 100 pieces from H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III, it has since expanded to include art from all over the world.

 

Their collection now houses both traditional and contemporary Chinese art, western art, sculptures and much more.

Best of all, they offer free admission every last Sunday of the month!


The Contemporary Jewish Museum 

Unlike other museums, this is a non-collecting institution, which means that their exhibits are only available for a short time and everything they have to offer changes throughout the year.

Past exhibitions included the work of Rube Goldberg, Stanley Kubrick and more.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum is free on the first Tuesday of every month.


Museum of the African Diaspora 

If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about the lives and experiences of African Americans, this museum is full of exhibits covering the subject.

Many of the exhibitions at MoAD are only available for a short time, ensuring there will always be something new to see.

Admission is free for active military personnel and those ages 12 and under.


Honorable Mention Museums

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


ALWAYS FREE MUSEUMS FOR KIDS

Below is our list of museums that are always free for younger children (12 and under unless otherwise noted).

Be sure to also check out our guide to family-friendly attractions and activities in San Francisco.


NATIONWIDE FREE MUSEUM PROGRAMS

This section will detail each of the museums you can visit in San Francisco for free by using a national free museum program.

 

 


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

 


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KID-FRIENDLY MUSEUMS

This section includes additional museums geared specifically towards younger audiences.

Be sure to also check out our guide to family-friendly attractions and activities in San Francisco. 

But first, here’s a list of kid-friendly museums already mentioned in this post.


Walt Disney Family Museum

It’s not difficult to understand why families and children would probably love a trip to this museum.

In addition to learning about how Walt Disney built his studio, there are also a lot of fun things to see and do.

 

 

Visitors will have an opportunity to see exhibitions based on popular characters like Mickey Mouse and Pinocchio, just to name a couple.

The Walt Disney Family Museum also has a theater where they screen some of their most famous and beloved films!


Children’s Creativity Museum 

This is a wonderful place to take the kids on your trip. Like most children’s museums, this location is full of hands-on, interactive exhibits that kids will love.

No matter which subjects your child enjoys, there are plenty of fun labs for them to explore including an Animation studio, a Tech lab, an imagination lab (building, sculpting) and more.

The Children’s Creativity Museum has many free days during the year. Check their website for this year’s scheduled dates.


Cartoon Art Museum

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

This museum houses a lot of traveling exhibitions, which means there will probably be something new to see each time you visit.

Past exhibits covered subjects such as Popeye, Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and artwork from creators like Chuck Jones, Will Eisner, Mike Mignola and more.

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.


Museum of Ice Cream

As you might have guessed from the name alone, this is not your average museum. Each of the installations here is hands-on and meant to be fun.

 

 

One of the most popular attractions is their Sprinkle Pool – a swimming pool filled with ice cream sprinkles!

In addition to all the interactive exhibits, there is also a lot of ice cream to eat and they hold special events throughout the year.


Randall Museum  

If your kids love trains, chances are they’ll want to see one of the biggest and most impressive model train layouts in the world.

This layout took 50 years of effort to create, and it’s accurately designed to mimic actual tracks in California.

The best part about the Randall Museum is that it’s free to visit and they’re open from Tuesday to Saturday at 10 am – 5 pm.


Bay Area Discovery Museum 

Located in Sausalito, this museum is all about hands-on experiences allowing children to discover more about the world around them.

Exhibits include outdoor painting, a maker space with 3D printers, an imagination playground and more.

If you’re planning to visit Sausalito via ferry, please read our post about what to do in Sausalito for more activity ideas.


Pez Museum

There have been a lot of Pez dispensers sold since the famous toy was developed – and you can see literally all of them at this museum!

 

 

In addition to all things Pez, this location also houses two additional museums: the Classic Toys Museum and the Banned Toys Museum.

This is a great opportunity to show your kids some of the toys that came before their time.

 


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OPEN LATE

  • Presidio Picnic
    • Every Thursday, May 23-Sept 19 ​(except Jul 4)​, 5-9 pm 
  • California Historical Society
    • Every third Thursday of the month until 8 pm.
  • Contemporary Jewish Museum
    • Thursday 11 am–8pm
  • Oakland Museum of California
    • Friday 11 am–9 pm

Detailed above

Mention TTD Night post, 

 


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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


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 Francisco GO Pass

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

 


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About the author

Manager | San Francisco

Britt is a San Francisco Bay Area native, and has spent 25 years in this magical city. He has traveled to over 30 countries, and has never found a place he loves as much as this one! If you come to San Francisco, you might join one of Britt's tours of the city.

A graduate of the University of Maryland and University of Southern California, he has been leading tours for Free Tours by Foot since 2015.