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San Francisco's Best Museums

From Modern Art to Music Videos, SF Museums Have Something for Everyone

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Take part in a Japanese Tea ceremony or shake hands with Rodin's Thinker at these top museums.

1. California Academy of Sciences

Courtesy Academy of Sciences
With its living roof – seven undulating hillocks—housing a tapestry of native plant species, this stunning modern structure designed by Renzo Piano blends seamlessly into the landscape. This state-of-the-art museum, built with sustainability in mind, features an aquarium, a self-contained four-story rainforest, a planetarium, and two outstanding restaurants.

Address: 55 Music Concourse Dr. in Golden Gate Park
Website: Academy of Sciences

2. de Young Museum

Courtesy de Young Museum
There’s no mistaking the new de Young Museum: this stunning modern building designed by Herzog and de Mueron is sheathed in copper and features a stunning 144-foot tower twisting up from the base. The broad collection includes works of American, African and Oceanic art. The collection of California artists, including Wayne Thiebaud and Richard Diebenkorn, is especially impressive.

Address: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr. in Golden Gate Park
Website: de Young Museum

3. Exploratorium

Courtesy Exploratorium
Housed next to the majestic Palace of Fine Arts, the Exploratorium is a fascinating “museum of science, art and human perception.” There are more than 650 exhibits that focus on everything from sea life to the weather to electricity. Themed areas like the shadow room, the distortion room, and the tactile dome are perennial favorites among kids and adults of all ages. Note that mornings are often crowded with school groups while afternoons are less so.

Address: 3601 Lyon St.
Website: Exploratorium

4. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Courtesy SFMOMA
Designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art houses an important collection of 20th-century paintings, photographs, and installation totaling 17,000 pieces. Works by Picasso, Matisse, Josef Albers and Alexander Calder are on view, as are pieces by distinguished California artists. There’s also a stylish café and museum store selling art and design books, modern furnishings, and artful gadgets.

Address: 151 Third St.
Website: SFMOMA

5. The Legion of Honor

The legion of Honor boasts impressive city and bay views from its hilltop perch in bucolic Lincoln Park. Based on the Palais de la Legion d’Honneur in Paris, it was built in the Beaux-Arts style by George Applegarth to commemorate Californian Soldiers who died in WWI. The museum features paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts from the medieval era to the beginning of the 20th century.

Address: 34th Avenue and Clement Street in Lincoln Park
Website: Legion of Honor

6. Asian Art Museum

Courtesy Asian Art Museum
Designed by Gae Aulenti of the Musee D’Orsay in Paris fame, this 1917 Beaux Arts buildings was once the city’s main library. Spanning 6,000 years and a hundred countries, the museum has one of the most comprehensive collections of Asian Art in the world, with approximately 17,000 objects ranging from tiny jades to monumental statues. Its breadth provides an introduction to all the major traditions of Asian Art and culture.

Address: 200 Larkin St.
Website: Asian Art Museum

7. Maritime Park and the Historic Ships at Hyde Pier

The gloriously restored historic ships at Hyde Pier are the main attraction of the San Francisco Maritime National Park. There are three vessels open to the public: the 1895 C.A. Thayer, the last Pacific Coast’s last commercial sailing ship; the 1890 Eureka, the last diesel powered ferry to operate in the US; and the 1883 Balclutha, a classic three-masted sailing ship built in Scotland.

Address: Hyde and Jefferson Streets at Fisherman’s Wharf
Website: Maritime Park

8. Zeum

Courtesy Zeum
A hands-on multimedia arts and technology experience for kids, Zeum has six distinct areas focusing on animation, sound and video production, performance, and visual arts. The play lab for toddlers lets little ones run shoeless on soft mats using colorful soft blocks. There is also a dress up area and Puppet Theater.

Address: 221 Fourth St.
Website: Zeum
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