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6 Must-Visit Museums in San Francisco and How to Visit

From San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to Exploratorium, here are the top museums in the city.

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Hi, I'm Leah!

Leah Still Joll is a freelance writer based in San Francisco with a specialty in travel writing. Her favorite destinations include Maui, Sayulita, the Northern California coast, Paris, Morocco, Indonesia, and Western Australia.

A world-class city, San Francisco has no shortage of museums, particularly art, science, and family-friendly museums. Here are your cultural options, whether you’re a lover of fine art and contemporary art or you want to satisfy your inner child.

1. de Young Museum

A huge lion statue outside the de Young Museum in San Francisco.
Iconic lion statues outside the museum.Foto: Eustacio Humphrey / Viator

For aerial views of the city.

One half of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF), the de Young is known as much for its views outside—the contemporary copper building in Golden Gate Park boasts a lookout tower for aerial views—as for what’s within. The art collection features more than 27,000 pieces, including decorative art, African art, photography, and textiles. Most noteworthy are American paintings by Mary Cassatt, Diego Rivera, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning.

 

2. Legion of Honor

The grand, pillared exterior of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.
Outside the Legion of Honor.Foto: Andrew Zarivny / Shutterstock

For European paintings and Mediterranean art.

The other half of FAMSF, the Legion of Honor is dedicated to European paintings, decorative arts, and ancient art from the Mediterranean. Highlights include Georges Seurat’s “Eiffel Tower” and one of Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies.” Perched on a hill in Lincoln Park in northwest San Francisco, the French Neoclassical-style building offers sneaky views of the Pacific Ocean with a cast of Rodin’s “The Thinker” out front.

 

3. California Academy of Sciences

A dinosaur on display inside the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
A dinosaur in the foyer of California Academy of Sciences.Foto: Stephen Lam / Viator

For an immersive science experience.

One of San Francisco’s most popular museums, Cal Academy sits in Golden Gate Park, across the Music Concourse from the de Young, making it easy to visit both in one day. Dedicated to educating visitors about life on earth, the institution is known for its Living Roof, planetarium, aquarium, natural history museum, and four-story rainforest. Perhaps most famous is the resident albino alligator, Claude. If you’re in town on a Thursday night, head to the museum for NightLife, the academy’s weekly after-hours, adults-only event with music and cocktails.

 

4. Exploratorium

Kids explore the Exploratorium, a museum dedicated to science, art, and human perception, in San Francisco.
Exploratorium is always a fun visit.Foto: Stephen Lam / Viator

For an interactive adventure.

Perhaps the most fun museum in San Francisco, the Exploratorium, located on the Embarcadero at Pier 15, is an interactive, hands-on adventure that delights anyone who loves to learn. Dedicated to science, art, and human perception, the museum features exhibits, activities, and experiments about light, sound, creativity, human behavior, weather, and the planet.

5. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Foliage outside the huge San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is home to colorful artworks.Foto: Craig Melville / Shutterstock

For Instagram-worthy backdrops.

The SFMOMA is a museum for the modern age, with Instagram-friendly backdrops and 45,000 square feet (4,180 square meters) of public spaces where you can see art for free, plus ticketed access to collections of photography, paintings, architectural works, media arts, and more. Highlights include pieces by Andy Warhol and Richard Diebenkorn.

 

6. Walt Disney Family Museum

The red-bricked exterior of Walt Disney Family Museum.
Walt Disney Family Museum in Presidio.Foto: Sundry Photography / Shutterstock

For the legend himself, Walt Disney.

Learn about Walt Disney—the man—at the Walt Disney Family Museum, located in the Presidio. Depicting Disney’s story through his life, work, and entertainment phenomenon, the museum is geared toward adults who grew up watching Disney rather than current children. The artifacts and memorabilia include drawings of beloved characters, photographs, a model of Disneyland, and narration in Walt’s voice.

 

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