San Francisco Art Museums: List of the Six Best & Most Popular

Jill on a windy day at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

Updated: January 17, 2023

San Francisco art museums are some of the best in the country. Explore the most popular ones during your visit, including the Museum of Modern Art, the de Young Fine Arts Museum, and the Legion of Honor.

Many of these museums feature highly acclaimed permanent collections. In addition, they draw in some of the best traveling exhibits in the US. Many also offer free days once a month.

This is a picture of the Asian Art Museum in SF's Civic Center District.

Cartoon Museums in San Francisco's SOMA district

Below you will find an overview of the best San Francisco art museums, including a little on their permanent collections and other visiting tips.

Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.

1. Museum of Modern Art

SF Moma

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is one of the most popular San Francisco art museums. It’s located right in the heart of the city in the SOMA District.

It was founded in 1935, and just underwent a huge renovation in 2016, which more than doubled its capacity. The building itself is a work of art, and all its contents are focused on modern and contemporary art.

Some top artists with pieces at this amazing museum include Picasso, Matisse, Clyfford Still, and Diego Rivera.

Quick Facts: Their permanent collection has more than 33,000 pieces of modern art. The exhibits include works of art, photographs, free standing art, and more. They also have a number of amazing traveling exhibits.

Location: 151 Third Street, between Mission and Howard

Cost: $25 for adults, $22 for seniors (age 65+), $19 for ages 19 - 24 with ID, Free for kids 18 and under

Hours: Friday - Tuesday: 10am - 5pm; Thursday: 1pm - 8pm; Closed Wednesdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day

Discount Passes: Go City San Francisco and San Francisco CityPass

Tickets: Pick up tickets in advance

Transit: This is one of the San Francisco art museums that is an easy walk from Union Square, as well as the BART and bus stops along Market Street.

Insider Tips: Take some time to look around the building to admire its beautiful, modern features. You can also sip some artisanal coffee with a view at the Sightglass Cafe next to the photography gallery or enjoy a fuller menu at Cafe 5 next to the sculpture garden. Check their schedule of free daily tours to participate in a guided conversation about a particular exhibit or artist.

2. de Young Fine Arts Museum

de Young

The de Young Fine Arts Museum is another one of the popular San Francisco art museums.

Founded in 1895, the museum houses a number of pieces of American art from the 17th through 20th centuries. It also features art about Native Americans, Africa, and the Pacific.

Quick Facts: The de Young is located right across the way from the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. It's a large space that occupies over 293,000 square feet and has an observation tower with 360-degree views.

Location: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in the Golden Gate Park

Cost: $15 for adults, $12 for seniors (age 65+), $6 for college students with ID, Free for youth 17 and under; $8 for the audio tour; Additional charge for some special exhibits

Hours: Tuesday - Sunday: 9:30am - 5:15pm; Closed on Mondays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day; Closes at 4 pm on December 24

Free Days: First Tuesday of every month; Additional cost for some special exhibits.

Discount Passes: Admission included with the Go City San Francisco

Transit: Your best option is to take the Hop On/Hop Off tour to the museum. Exit the bus at the stop by the California Academy of Sciences. The de Young is right across the street. Other options include taking the bus or a taxi. Take the 5 Fulton bus (to 8th Avenue & Fulton) or the N Judah muni train (to 9th and Irving) from Union Square, both drop you about six or seven blocks away. If you take a taxi, it will cost around $25 or so from Union Square.

Insider Tips: This is just one of several San Francisco art museums that offers guided tours. These tours are great because you can learn more and ask questions about the pieces on display. These tours are free, you do not need to make a reservation and you are welcome to join them already in progress.

3. Asian Art Museum

Asian Art

The Asian Art Museum is another one of my favorite San Francisco art museums. The entire museum is dedicated to art and artifacts from all over Asia. It’s one of the largest museums that is completely dedicated to art from this area of the world.

Quick Facts: This museum has over 17,000 items in its permanent collection, some of which are extremely rare and others that are several thousand years old.

Location: 200 Larkin Street, between Fulton and McAllister, in the Civic Center area near City Hall

Cost: $20 for adults; $17 for seniors (age 65+); $14 for college students with ID, and youths (13-17); Free for children 12 and under; Most special exhibits are an additional fee

Hours: Friday - Monday: 10 am - 5 pm; Thursday 1 pm - 8pm; Closed on Tuesdays & Wednesdays, New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day

Free Days: First Sunday of the month on a first come, first served basis (so you will want to arrive early to ensure you get a ticket); Additional cost for some special exhibits

Discount Passes: Admission is included with the Go City San Francisco

Transit: The Asian Art Museum is stop #10 on the Hop On/Hop Off tour. You can also take any BART or the Muni light rail trains from Union Square to Civic Center. Head north after exiting the train and it is about four blocks away.

Insider Tips: Since it is so large, I recommend that you leave at least two to three hours for your visit. They have some videos along the way too, so you can learn more about each culture. Keep this in mind as you are planning your day and the amount of time you are going to spend here. This one also has free guided tours throughout the day. Ask for the schedule when you arrive.

4. Cartoon Art Museum

The Cartoon Art Museum is another one of the fun San Francisco art museums to visit. It is fully dedicated to cartoon and animation art.

This museum was founded in 1984, when a group of cartoon art enthusiasts decided to begin showcasing their own works of art. In 1987, it turned into an official museum with a permanent home.

Quick Facts: This is another one of the San Francisco art museums that is very large. It has over thousands of pieces in its permanent collection and offers a great variety of traveling exhibits in its spaces.

Location: Located at 781 Beach Street in the Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood, just one block from Aquatic Park and Ghirardelli Square

Cost: $10 for adults, $6 for seniors/students/military/educator and students (with valid ID), $4 for kids 6-12, free for kids under 6; The first Tuesday of every month is the Pay What You Wish Day.

Hours: 11 am to 5 pm, Thursday - Tuesday, closed on Wednesdays, New Year's Day, Easter Sunday, Independence Day (July 4th), Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day

Transit: The museum is just one block from the Hyde Street cable car turnaround. You can walk here from anywhere in Fisherman's Wharf.

Insider Tips: Plan on spending at least an hour or more walking through and reading all of the comics.

Top Hotels for Your Visit

5. Legion of Honor

Legion of Honor

The Legion of Honor is another one of the renowned San Francisco art museums. It dedicates its space to fine arts from sculptures to paintings.

This amazing museum includes a Rodin-issued cast of the famous "The Thinker" statue. You will also find famous European paintings, ancient works of art, and photography on display at the Legion of Honor.

Quick Facts: Collection showcases 4,000 years of ancient and European art; over 800 European paintings; several pieces of ancient art from Egypt, the Near East, Greece, the Aegean Islands, Etruria and Rome; largest repository of works of art on paper in the western United States and photography that concentrates on early California and SF history.

Location: In Lincoln Park at 100 34th Avenue on the northwestern side of the city

Cost: $15 for adults, $12 for seniors (age 65+), $6 for college students with ID, Free for youth 17 and under; $8 for audio tour; Additional cost for some special exhibits

Hours: Tuesday - Sunday: 9:30 am - 5:15 pm; closed on Mondays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day

Free Days: First Tuesday of the month; Additional cost for some special exhibits

Discount Passes: Admission included with the Go City San Francisco pass.

Transit: Parking is available at the Legion of Honor. You can also take the bus. From Union Square, you can take the 1-California (to the 33rd Avenue and Clement Street stop) or the 38-Geary (to the 33rd Avenue and Geary Street stop). You can then either transfer to the 18, which drops right in front of it, or walk about a half mile north to the museum.

Insider Tips: Head down to the lower level cafe for some of the best views of the Pacific Ocean. Free guided tours available with no reservations. Ask for a schedule when you arrive.

6. Yerba Buena Arts Museum

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is one of the more interesting San Francisco art museums. The museum has no permanent art collection, but rather showcases special exhibits and performances.

Location: 701 Mission Street at 3rd Street in the SOMA District

Hours: Thursday - Sunday: 12 pm- 6 pm; Closed Monday - Wednesday and major holidays

Transit to the Museum: This is another one of the centrally located San Francisco art museums. It is just a few blocks from Union Square in the heart of the SOMA District.

Insider Tips: The Yerba Buena Center for Performing Arts has a range of events, films, and other shows. Before visiting, check out their calendar for even more events during your stay: Yerba Buena website

Go City San Francisco

Admission to many of the San Francisco art museums is included with the Go City pass. This is a multi-day, multi-attraction pass that saves you both time and money. It includes admission to more than 25 attractions in San Francisco and the surrounding areas.

Other popular attractions included with Go City are the California Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium, and Aquarium of the Bay. Just a few of the free tours included with the pass are the Golden Gate Bay Cruise, the Oracle Park Tour, and a Wine Country Tour.

With this pass, you also receive discounts and value-added offers at many retailers and restaurants throughout the city. To keep track of all the offers included, you will receive a free full color guidebook when you buy the pass.

It is available for one, two, three, or five days, so you can purchase it just for the days you are visiting. Overall, you will only pay a fraction of the full price tickets for all of these attractions.

>> Find more details on this Go City pass

Hop On/Hop Off Tour

The Hop On/Hop Off tour is a great way to get around San Francisco. This tour is specifically designed for those wanting to easily get from one attraction to the next without having to drive or take public transportation.

The San Francisco Hop On/Hop Off tour includes 19 stops throughout the city. You can hop on and off at any stop to visit some of these San Francisco art museums or other attractions.

You can buy either a one-day or two-day pass. This is a great way of getting to some of the museums that are a little further out such as the California Academy of Sciences or de Young Museum.

Add this with your purchase of the Go San Francisco card and you will be ready for your adventure in the city by the bay. Learn more about the Hop On/Hop Off Tour and reserve your ticket today!

Top SF Art Museums

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