12 Best Museums in San Francisco (with Photos & Map)

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One of the United States’ most iconic cities, San Francisco is a joy to visit; the Bay Area and Golden Gate Bridge certainly make it beautiful to behold. Dripping in culture, the city is home to some delightful museums that are well worth checking out. With extensive art collections hosted in the SFMOMA, Asian Art and de Young museums, you can revel in some stunning artworks that include paintings, sculptures, textiles and more.

History also abounds in this wonderful city and there are some lovely institutions scattered about that offer visitors the chance to explore San Francisco’s rich cultural heritage. With one of the largest natural history museums in the world, San Francisco will delight and astound visitors with its range of amazing museums.

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12. Wells Fargo Museum

Founded in 1852, Wells and Fargo set up a banking and express company that morphed into the massive, multinational, financial service provider that we know today. The original location was in San Francisco and the museum is actually located where their old headquarters was. Dedicated to telling the story of the company and its rapid expansion, the museum is littered with historic items, artefacts, and memorabilia from the company’s history. With one of its old stagecoaches on display, as well as letters, photos, and gold dust on show, the Wells Fargo History Museum offers an interesting look at one of the world’s most influential companies.

11. San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Parkdreamstime/© Terrance Emerson

Set in the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood of San Francisco, this huge Maritime National Historical Park includes a delightful fleet of historic ships, a museum, research center and more – there is loads to see and do. A fascinating place, the park enables you to learn more about the culture and history of maritime life on the Pacific Ocean while having a fun time doing so. Wandering around the historic ships is a fascinating affair, as they creak and move with the waves of the ocean; most of them date back to the late 1800’s. With numerous exhibits and displays scattered between the various parts of the historical park, you are sure to come away having learned a lot about San Francisco’s intimate connection to the waters surrounding it and its rich maritime history and cultural heritage.

10. de Young Museum

de Young Museumdreamstime/© Maislam

Located in the Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum’s distinctive design and huge observation tower certainly make it stand out amidst the greenery. Just as stunning as the outside is the interior, which is home to over 27,000 art pieces; the collection is just as varied as it is extensive. With artifacts, paintings, sculptures and more, lovely art pieces from around the world are exhibited in de Young’s galleries. You can be gazing at African textiles one moment and delighting in Pacific Islander masks the next. On top of its amazing artworks, the museum building itself is beautiful; it seamlessly mixes art, architecture, and functionality. A living, breathing institution, the de Young Museum regularly hosts temporary exhibitions, concerts, and events over the course of the year.

9. USS Pampanito

USS Pampanitodreamstime/© Tehnik83

Moored at Pier 45, the USS Pampanito serves as both a memorial and a museum. It was used during the Second World War to patrol enemy waters, and in the 60’s and 70’s, it was also a Naval Reserve Training ship. Providing an interesting look at what life aboard a submarine is like, it is a captivating experience exploring the narrow passages and seeing the small spaces in which the crew used to live. Torpedos line the walls and all the levers and controls are perfectly preserved, so visitors can observe first-hand what conditions naval officers lived and fought in.

8. Exploratorium

Exploratoriumdreamstime/© Dimasid10

A perfect day out for both children and adults, the Exploratorium allows visitors to play, experiment and embrace learning through its interactive installations that enable you to learn about scientific principles. Lying alongside the Embarcadero waterfront, this fun museum has over six-hundred exhibits for you to have a go on. It is entertaining, interesting, and educational, and you’ll certainly come away having learned a lot about how the world works. Offering a hands-on approach to learning, you can delve into human behavior, light and sound, or look into living systems in its many galleries.

7. Legion of Honor Museum

Legion of Honor Museumdreamstime/© Blackghost600

Set in a beautiful neo-classical building, the Legion of Honor museum is located in Lincoln Park and offers breathtaking views over the Golden Gate Bridge. Covering over 4,000 years of art history, its fine collection of European paintings, decorative art and sculptures is simply marvelous, and visitors will adore exploring its lovely galleries. With masterpieces by such renowned artists as Rodin, Rembrandt, Monet, and Cezanne featured amongst its many other works, the Legion of Honor is definitely worth checking out if you’re in San Francisco.

6. Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museumdreamstime/© Coralimages2020

Showcasing a fantastic collection of Asian art that ranges from Indonesian shadow puppets and archaeological finds to statues of Ganesha and ancient Hindu sculptures, the Asian Art Museum is captivating. Spanning over 6,000 years of history, the breadth and range of pieces on show is astounding; it is the most extensive collection of Asian art in the United States. On top of its permanent exhibitions, the museum regularly hosts temporary exhibits and lots of interactive events and concerts take place here over the year.

5. SFMOMA

SFMOMAdreamstime/© Chon Kit Leong

Housing an incredible collection of artworks, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a fantastic place to visit; visitors will simply adore all of the amazing pieces on display. Dedicated to contemporary and modern art, there is a huge range of paintings and sculptures on show, as well as brilliant exhibits on cinema, photography and interactive media. With over 30,000 pieces exhibited in the SFMOMA, there is certainly something for everyone to enjoy in its extensive galleries. On top of all this, the building is beautiful to behold and a work of art in itself.

4. Musee Mecanique

With over 300 coin-operated games for you to play on, it’s fair to that the Musee Mecanique is more entertaining than educational. Devoted to old arcade and carnival games, there is a huge range of fun games for you to try out and it’s definitely a great day out for the whole family. With some of them dating all the way back to the 1880’s, you can test your strength, play antique slot machines, pay to have your fortune told, and watch gigantic moving dioramas. It’s free to visit, just bring as many quarters as you can and spend the day having a whale of a time.

3. Walt Disney Family Museum

Walt Disney Family Museumdreamstime/© Michele Kemper

Dedicated to the life and works of the renowned Walt Disney, this delightful museum explores his achievements and how Disney came to be one of the most popular and successful companies on the face of the Earth. It is an enchanting place to visit; wandering around the exhibits, you really get an idea of how ground-breaking and genre-defining his animation was. Pushing back the boundaries of what was possible, you see how he developed Mickey Mouse, as well as how his innovations in sound changed film and animation for good. Most days of the week, visitors can enjoy watching a Disney classic in the fantastic Fantasia-inspired theater that is part of the museum.

2. Cable Car Museum

Cable Car Museumdreamstime/© Cory Quigley

Located in the Nob Hill neighborhood, the Cable Car Museum offers an interesting look at the history and technology behind San Francisco’s famous cable cars that give such a distinctive look and feel to the city. With some lovely old models and cable cars to wander around, as well as numerous photos and displays explaining how they came to be so popular, the museum also looks at ongoing efforts to protect and preserve them in the city. Worth checking out, you can also oversee how the machinery that propels the cable cars around San Francisco works.

1. California Academy of Sciences

#1 of Best Museums In San Franciscodreamstime/© Stanescu

A breathtaking museum that is definitely worth checking out, the California Academy of Sciences is certainly a fun and educational place to visit; with an aquarium and planetarium being part of it, what more could you want? One of the largest natural history museums in the world is also included under the same roof, which houses an incredible 26 million specimens. With a plethora of things to see and do, you can be exploring a rainforest one minute, ogling at Claude the albino alligator the next, and later, be exploring the delights of the Morrison Planetarium. Located in Golden Gate Park, the academy is the perfect place to visit for children and adults alike. The building in which it is housed is just as spectacular as its huge range of exhibitions; a ‘living roof’ coats and covers the place in nearly two million different plant species. Simply a must-see when you’re visiting San Francisco!

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