Visiting a museum is always a unique experience, as each one has its own distinct characteristics, style, and of course, content. Museum subjects vary greatly from city to city, and can range from firefighter's museums to fine art, to sports. If you need help making a selection, our 10Best list highlights the top spots to visit in San Francisco.
10 San Francisco Museum of Craft+Design
Fronted by a charming courtyard, this museum occupies the elegant building that once housed Elizabeth Arden's Red Door Salon. Today, beautiful objects rather than bodies are the focus, showcasing both the creative process and the products of design. Past exhibits have been dedicated to industrial design, textile design, furniture, toys created by well-known artists, and the accumulated works of specific designers. The museum shop allows you to take home a wealth of sensual goods in a variety of media. Free docent tours can be arranged. (415-773-0303)
9 Cartoon Art Museum
First envisioned in 1984, this museum gained prominence following support from Charles M. Schulz, creator of the "Peanuts" comic strip. In 1987, the museum established a home in Yerba Buena Gardens, the city's art center. The facility now offers nearly 6,000 original items, including comic books, comic strips, and computer animation. It's also the only museum of its kind west of the Mississippi. Several major exhibitions are held each year, and a bookstore is available to visitors. (415-227-8666)
8 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
This exciting museum offers five floors of gallery space that house more than 15,000 pieces of artwork, some of which are part of the permanent collection. A free, 45-minute tour is recommended to help visitors get their bearings. Exhibits change often, ensuring something new and challenging throughout the year. A great collection of modern and contemporary art. (415-357-4000)
7 Asian Art Museum
The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is one of the largest museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian art. Its holdings began with the generous donations of collector Avery Brundage, and now, the facility houses nearly 15,000 treasures that span 6000 years of history. More than 2500 extraordinary works are displayed at any one time. Together they constitute a comprehensive introduction to Asia's major cultures, including those of India, Tibet, China, Japan and Korea. The museum is located in the city's former Main Library. (415-581-3500)
6 de Young Museum
First opened in 1895, the de Young is San Francisco's oldest, most diversified art museum. In late 2005, after many months of renovation, the facility reopened with a new, copper-clad exterior and updated, newly fashioned exhibits. The museum's collections feature primarily American art from the colonial period to the mid 20th century, but you'll also find textiles, crafts and decorative arts, not to mention extensive collections of African, Oceanic and pan-American art. If you visit, be sure to take the elevator to the top of the Hamon Observation Tower. Since the tower is located in the center of San Francisco, it offers a fantastic, 360-degree view of the entire city and surrounding landscape. (415-750-3600)
5 Legion of Honor
The structure that houses this museum is as beautiful as the artwork within. The extensive collection features works from the 13th to the 20th centuries, including those by Monet, Manet, Rubens, Van Gogh, Picasso, Seurat, and other European artists. Earlier works date from approximately 2500 B.C. An original cast of Rodin's "The Thinker" dominates the museum entrance. (415-750-3600)
Founded by physicist Dr. Frank Oppenheimer in 1969, Exploratorium makes learning fun through hands-on participation. More than 650 exhibits keep visitors attentive, and for an additional $3 (and a lot of fun), folks can brave the Tactile Dome. This attraction lets you crawl, climb, and slide through a pitch-dark, soundproofed labyrinth navigated only by touch. NOT for claustrophobes! Advanced reservations are suggested for the Tactile Dome. Special hours Wednesday until 9pm. No admission fee the first Wednesday of the month. Located within San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts. (415-397-5673, 415-563-7337)
3 Mexican Museum
[Galleries at the Fort Mason Center are currently closed during construction of a new building. Check the website for a list of interim programs in the community.] You'll discover a small but pleasing display of Mexican cultural items at this museum. Pieces represent Mexico's entire history, from pre-conquest to the contemporary era. The permanent collection also adds art of the Americas to the variety of Mexican art. The excellent gift shop promises terrific gifts and mementos, and the museum sponsors a tour of murals around San Francisco. (415-202-9700)
2 Museum of Craft and Folk Art
Seeking to elucidate the relationships between experience and craft and between culture and folk art, this fascinating museum explores relevant connections in a variety of exhibits. Traditional and contemporary items are displayed, representing domestic and international populations. Past exhibits have focused on African-American quilts, Scandinavian modernists as inspiration for contemporary California design, puppets from around the world, woven silks of Laos, water spirits in folk art and legend, and items created by detainees in America's Japanese internment camps. Admission is free to everyone on the first Tuesday of each month. (415-227-4888)
1 Cable Car Museum
This museum has been called "one of the top 10 free attractions in the world" by travel guru Arthur Frommer. Watch the machinery that makes San Francisco's most famous form of transportation possible. Also go upstairs for photographs, memorabilia, and other displays related to the history of cable cars. Located at the intersection of Mason and Washington Streets. (415-474-1887)
About Tom Molanphy
The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom!
Tom has lived in the San Francisco Bay area since 2000. He teaches writing, journalism and literature at the Academy of Art University in downtown San Francisco. His latest book, Loud Memories Of A Quiet Life, is available through Outpost19.
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