9 of the Best Museums in San Francisco

Updated 07/19/19

The iconic northern California city of San Francisco has plenty of outdoor destinations to hit up, but it's also home to some amazing museums that are highly worthy of your attention. Whether you want to take in some culture during a rainy afternoon or you simply want to elevate your Instagram feed (no judgment, whatever gets you to a museum), here are the nine best museums to visit in San Francisco. 

de Young Museum

De Young Museum
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The de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park boasts more than 27,000 pieces of art, including contemporary, American, African, and oceanic collections. The state-of-the-art facility intersects architecture, natural landscape, and visual art for an unparalleled artistic experience. And this summer is the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love—the 1967 birth of hippie counterculture in San Francisco—and the museum is honoring the time with an exhibit called: "The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll," replete with interactive music and light shows, films, and iconic photographs and posters.

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco

California Academy of Sciences

California Academy of Sciences
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Part research institute, part natural history museum, the California Academy of Sciences is a must-visit for children and adults alike. It's in Golden Gate Park right near the de Young Museum, making it easy to hit up both spots in one afternoon. Designed by acclaimed architect Renzo Piano, it features an incredible green roof (photographed above) that shelters an indoor rainforest. There are also penguins, a coral reef exhibit, and much more. 

55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco

Musee Mecanique

Musee Mecanique
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This incredibly cool, independently owned museum houses more than 300 antique carnival games and arcades in their original working order. There are terrifying clown dolls, macabre execution games, antique slot machines, and a whole lot more. The best part? It offers free admission every day of the week; just bring a bag of quarters to play the games! We guarantee you won't want to leave for hours.

Pier 45 Fisherman's Wharf at the foot of Taylor Street, San Francisco

Maritime Museum

Maritime Museum
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The San Francisco Maritime Museum, erected in 1939, was designed to resemble an Art Deco ocean liner. The ship-shaped structure, located in the Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building, is a beautiful place to visit for some seafaring knowledge and eye candy—the interior walls are covered with colorful psychedelic murals depicting the underwater world. Bonus: It's open seven days a week and offers free admission. 

900 Beach Street, San Francisco

SF MoMA

SF MoMA
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Like its peers in New York City and Los Angeles, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art showcases stunning contemporary art collections, including interactive media arts, contemporary cinema, and cutting-edge photography from modern artists. The ongoing Pop Art Collection, featuring original Warhols and Lichtensteins, is a must-see in this lifetime.

151 Third Street, San Francisco

Exploratorium

Exploratorium
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Dubbed "a public learning laboratory" that blends science, art, and human perception, Exploratorium is as interactive as museum experiences get. You can step inside a tornado, turn upside down in a curved mirror, and walk on a fog bridge while exploring more than 650 hands-on exhibits.

Pier 15, Embarcadero at Green Street, San Francisco

The Interval at Long Now

The Interval at Long Now
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What's better than a great museum experience? A great museum experience with a craft cocktail program. The Interval at Long Now is equal parts bar, café, and museum. It features a handsome library full of the books you'd need if you were to start a new civilization, old mechanical prototypes and artifacts, and a custom cocktail menu featuring classic cocktails and unique regional beverages. In short, it's a weird, wonderful place full of curiosities best paired with alcohol.

Landmark Building A, 2 Marina Boulevard, San Francisco

Children's Creativity Museum

Children's Creativity Museum
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If you're traveling to San Francisco with kids, this is the place to take them. It's full of different "labs" from animation and imagination to music and tech. There's also a merry-go-round, patio exhibits, and theatrical performances, so it's basically impossible for your little ones to get bored.

221 Fourth Street, San Francisco

Legion of Honor

Legion of Honor
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The Legion of Honor is a fine arts museum that sits right on the edge of the cliffs overlooking the bay in an old Spreckels family landmark. Aside from the consistently incredible exhibits, just walking through the neoclassical space is a dazzling experience on its own. 

100 34th Avenue, San Francisco

Looking for more fun things to do while you're in San Francisco? Check out this neighborhood guide.

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