The Ultimate Guide to San Francisco’s Most Impressive Art Museums

|September 19, 2017

San Francisco has long been an international hub for art, history and culture. As an immigration destination and a famous political center, the city’s own culture has been built and evolved by generations of artists, builders, creators and learners. Inside SF’s world-renowned art museums, you can get a sampling of that history and keep up with the creative tides inside our communities today.

When you’re not encountering street art, public art, music and artists simply while walking around the neighborhoods, we suggest venturing into one of our famed art museums. To help you narrow down the choices, we put together a guide to the top six — covering why you should go and what you’ll see when you get there. Enjoy!

de Young Museum

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de Young Museum San Francisco

“Number 197” by Leonardo Drew Installation | Image Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Why you should go: Located in the heart of Golden Gate Park, de Young isn’t just a destination for painting, sculpture and textile art-lovers. From the top-floor observation deck, you can take in an iconic 360-degree view of the entire city — a piece of art in itself. On the lower levels, collections encompass American art, art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, as well as textile arts. Serving to create active conversation among cultures, perspectives and time periods, you’re encouraged to encounter new ideas while fully immersed in what has become a must-see San Francisco landmark.

What you’ll see inside: Online, you can see current exhibitions, upcoming exhibitions and archived exhibitions to get an idea of what you’ll find inside. From the front door to the observation deck and back again, you’ll encounter local styles inspired by Bay Area history as well as global creations that transport you to another setting entirely. Tickets to the de Young include same-day general admission to the Legion of Honor, another stand out art destination from Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco!

SF Museum of Modern Art

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Why you should go: First things first, everyone under 18 gets in for free at SFMOMA, so students and families should definitely put this museum on their to-do lists. Originally opened in 1935 as San Francisco Museum of Art, this SF institution has been bringing art to life in the city for decades. It was one of the first museums to recognize photography as a fine art; they presented Jackson Pollock’s first solo museum exhibition; The Artists Gallery was the first program of its kind in the country — and this was all before Modern was even added to the name in 1975!

What you’ll see inside: Today, you’ll find architecture and design, media arts, paintings and sculptures, and photography showcased in the newly expanded SoMA space. Everyone needs a ticket for entry, even members and those 18 and under. Be sure to book in advance for weekend visits. In addition to world-renowned historical and modern exhibits, you can visit the rooftop garden, grab a cup of coffee at Sightglass, enjoy a casual plate of food from Cafe 5 or a fine dish from In Situ — all housed inside!

Asian Art Museum

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Asian Art Museum San Francisco

Why you should go: San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum serves to build a bridge of understanding between Asia and the United States, and between the various cultures that make up Asia. Based on the diverse communities of the region and the historical significance of those cultures in our city, their collections pre-date written history and inspire guests to encounter new thoughts, styles and ideas upon every visit.

What you’ll see inside: Representing one of the most historically significant art cultures in the world, you’ll see pieces you could never have imagined and masterpieces you’ll remember forever. Check out the museum’s current exhibits on the website and get ready to be wowed by contemporary and historical textiles, sculptures, paintings and even digital media.

Contemporary Jewish Museum

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Why you should go: The Contemporary Jewish Museum explores the culture, history, art and ideas of the diverse Jewish experience. And trust us, you’ll be inspired before you even step inside. The architecture fuses a historic power station, originally built in 1881, to a soaring blue steel geometric superstructure and has become one of the city’s most prominent landmarks.

What you’ll see inside: Serving to educate, challenge and inspire visitors every day, the museum hosts exhibits as well as educational events and workshops for all ages. Upon entering, you’ll find a massive globe and lamp sculpture by Sacramento-based artist Dave Lane. The 90-foot-long, six-ton work is suspended high over the heads of visitors — and that’s just the beginning!

Museum of Craft and Design

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Museum of Craft and Design San Francisco

Wendy Maruyama: The wildLIFE Project (2017), Museum of Craft and Design; image courtesy of Henrik Kam

Why you should go: As San Francisco’s only museum dedicated to modern and contemporary craft and design, this institution is one of the most inspiring and creative in the city. As a non-collecting institution, the museum collaborates with artists, designers, museums and universities to craft experiences for visitors of all ages.

What you’ll see inside: From architecture and sculpture to paper crafts and even wool exhibitions, you can experience it all at The Museum of Craft and Design. Preview the current, future and past exhibits online which cover architecture, furniture design, sound, the creative process and much more.

The Walt Disney Family Museum

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Why you should go: Located in the Presidio, this nonprofit organization and museum celebrates the life of Walt Disney and his transformational entertainment, animations and stories. It’s the perfect destination for families and anyone who loves Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and the gang!

What you’ll see inside: Inside, the museum features contemporary, interactive galleries with state-of-the-art exhibits narrated in Walt’s own voice, as well as early drawings, cartoons, films, music, an early model of Disneyland and more. Preview the galleries and the exhibits online as they cover Walt’s life, business and art alongside the stories and characters we’ve come to love.

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San Francisco’s art museums make learning about cultures and exploring the world of art an exciting endeavor. Which SF museum is your favorite?

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