Best Museums in San Francisco

The best museums in San Francisco include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California Academy of Sciences, de Young Museum and Exploratorium.

California Academy of Sciences in San FranciscoCalifornia Academy of Sciences
(The Best Museum in San Francisco?)

If you're planning a trip to San Francisco you should check out our list of the city's best museums. It's far from comprehensive as San Francisco has dozens of museums to choose from, but in our view these are the top choices.

Best Museums in San Francisco

This is our pick of the best museums in San Francisco, listed purely alphabetically. If time is limited then our absolute must-see choices for you to fit in on a visit would be the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young Museum and, if you've got kids, Exploratorium.

The Asian Art Museum

Decorated fan on display in the Asian Art Museum in San FranciscoAsian Art Museum

The Asian Art Museum opened in 1966 as a wing of the de Young Museum though it now has its own impressive building on Larkin Street, across from the San Francisco Public Library. It has a collection of over 18,000 items, ranging from about 4,000BC to the present day. These include 2,000 art works from every Asian nation, which are on display across two floors.

Guide showing visitors round the Asian Art Museum in San FranciscoAsian Art Museum

There are also imposing statues, delicate ceramics, even a collection of art objects that have been rescued from shipwrecks. With several visiting exhibitions always on show too, you could easily spend half a day or longer here and still not see it all.
200 Larkin Street
(415) 581-3500

Our Pick of the Guides

Lonely-Planet-San-Francisco-2023.png

The Beat Museum

Souvenir t-shirts on sale in the shop of the Beat Museum in San FranciscoNeat Beat Souvenirs

This museum is just around the corner from the famous City Lights Bookstore, which was co-founded by beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Ferlinghetti naturally features prominently in the Beat Museum, alongside other Beat Generation writers like Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and Allen Ginsberg.

There are regular live events and some great souvenirs in the museum shop!
540 Broadway
(800) 537-6822

The Cable Car Museum

The Cable Car Museum in San FranciscoThe Cable Car Museum in San Francisco

If you're visiting Chinatown allow time to also look in on this museum, dedicated to San Francisco's distinctive cable cars. It's technically in neighboring Nob Hill, but right on the edge of Chinatown.

Old black and white photo of a cable car in San Francisco

The museum has several old cable cars, and the usual photos and bits of equipment, but what's neat is that it's in the same place as the cable car power house, which actually drives the cable cars, and you can look right into it. You can also see (but not visit) the car depot, where the working cable cars come and go.
1201 Mason Street
(415) 474-1887

California Academy of Sciences

The Living Roof of the California Academy of Sciences in San FranciscoThe Living Roof of the California Academy of Sciences

The Academy is one of the absolute best museums in San Francisco, without a doubt. You'll find it in Golden Gate Park, near to some other excellent museums. This one contains a planetarium, an aquarium, a rain forest area, and a natural history museum, all housed together under the Academy's 'living roof'. This was planted with native California plant species and, amongst other things, helps control the building's temperature.

The Living Roof of the California Academy of Sciences in San FranciscoThe Living Roof of the California Academy of Sciences

It's one of the biggest natural history museums in the world, with over 46 million items. You can find out more on our Ten Best Things to Do in San Francisco page.
55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park
(415) 379-8000

The Contemporary Jewish Museum

Guide showing visitors a display in the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San FranciscoGuide showing visitors a display in the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco

This is close to the Museum of the African Diaspora and The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, so you could easily plan a full day or more of museum visits without having to go more than a few hundred yards. There's a choice of hotels right by here, too, including the Hyatt Regency, the Palace, and the W San Francisco, so if you're a real museum buff you could stay here too.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum moved into this present building in 2008 but was originally founded in 1984. It doesn't have its own collection but hosts visiting exhibitions, acts as a research centre, and hosts many events including live music, lectures, and movies.
736 Mission Street
(415) 655-7800

Exploratorium

Children laughing and playing at Exploratorium in San FranciscoExploratorium

Exploratorium is located on Pier 15 and is another of the very best museums in San Francisco, especially if you've got children. It's not specifically a children's museum but is a mix of science, technology, and the arts.

However, it's ideal for families as it takes a fun approach to learning about things and there are lots of interactive experiences that everyone can enjoy together. In fact, in their After Dark Thursday Night events, from 6-10pm, no kids are allowed.

The museum is so unusual that it's hard to describe as you'll probably have seen nothing like it. One gallery explores human thoughts and feelings in very imaginative ways, while the Tinkering Gallery allows you to make and study what they call 'curious contraptions'.

There are also outdoor exhibits, and another gallery devoted to exploring the Bay Area in original ways. You'll definitely go home educated as well as entertained.
Pier 15 Embarcadero at Green Street
(415) 528-4444

Legion of Honor

Legion of Honor Museum in San FranciscoLegion of Honor

Read more about this on our page of the Ten Best Things to Do in San Francisco.
100 34th Avenue, Golden Gate Park
(415) 750-3600

Musée Mécanique

In the Musee Mecanique in San FranciscoMusee Mecanique

This museum is like no other and is devoted to arcade games, video games, mechanical instruments, pinball machines, and similar fun items... even mechanical peep shows! It dates back to the 1920s but has been constantly expanding since then and now has over 300 machines in its collection. About 200 are on display at any one time, as the machines need constant maintenance and have to be rotated.

In the Musee Mecanique in San FranciscoMusee Mecanique

And yes, you can play them! You do have to put in coins, but admission to the museum is free. We can guarantee that a visit to this unique museum will have you coming out from it feeling happier than when you went in.
Pier 45
(415) 346-2000

Museum of the African Diaspora

Photo from an exhibition at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San FranciscoPhoto from an Exhibition at the Museum of the African Diaspora

Located in the Yerba Buena Arts District, this museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute. Like the Contemporary Jewish Museum, it doesn't have its own collection but hosts visiting exhibitions and live events, including live music, book signings, poetry readings, talks, kids events, and open mic nights.
685 Mission Street
(415) 358-7200

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Mother and daughter looking at paintings in the San Francisco Museum of Modern ArtSan Francisco Museum of Modern Art

This is definitely one of the best museums in San Francisco, which is why it made our page of the Ten Best Things to Do in San Francisco. Read more about it there.
151 3rd Street
(415) 357-4000

Walt Disney Family Museum

The Walt Disney Family Museum building in San FranciscoThe Walt Disney Family Museum

When you enter the main building you see the 248 awards that Walt Disney won during his lifetime, which is immediately impressive. It reminded me of visiting Graceland and seeing the room where Elvis's platinum, gold, and silver discs are displayed. What's nice about this place is that it is a family-run place, not run by the Disney company to promote their products.

The museum shows the human side of Walt Disney, with early sketches and little movie clips, but it also shows the incredible modern technology that these early simple sketches led to. There are also visiting exhibitions and adjacent buildings, one of which is the Diane Disney Miller Exhibition Hall, named for Walt Disney's daughter who founded this museum.
104 Montgomery Street
(415) 345-6800

The de Young Museum

The de Young Museum building in San Francisco's Golden Gate ParkThe de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park

Read more about this on our page of the Ten Best Things to Do in San Francisco.
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park
(415) 750-3600

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