San Francisco and Bay Area | California

San Francisco Museums

No Visit to a California destination would be complete without visiting one of the many museums. California has a reputation as a haven for people with creative minds, and you can see this in its multifaceted cultural offerings. Arts abound here in four main formats: large-scale, world-class organizations; smaller, quirkier museums, often showcasing the Golden State’s history and its abundant idiosyncratic subcultures (think surfers, Silicon Valley techno-wizards, and Peanuts aficionados).

When the weather hinders traditional camping activities (or not) stretch your mind with a visit to one of California’s museums. Need more encouragement? Check out The 10 Reasons to Visit a Museum!

Walt Disney Family Museum is located off Highway 101 near the entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge. Situated in the Presidio, a former Army base, the museum showcases photos, drawings and artifacts that trace the history of Walt Disney from his cartooning to the completion of his amusement park. A state-of-the-art theater displays classic Disney films that rotate monthly. Visit

Cable Car Museum – What could be more iconic than visiting the Cable Car Museum located near Chinatown. The museum exhibits include photographs, displays and historic cable cars. Their gift shop sells cable car related merchandise. Afterwards, hop on one of San Francisco's modern-day cable cars just outside the museum for the full cable car experience. Visit

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco consist of both the de Young in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln park, comprising one of this nation's largest art museums. The museum exhibits include paintings, statuary, photographs, textiles and more. A climb to the top of the de Young building awards panoramic views of Golden Gate Park. Visit

The Asian Art Museum, housed in the city’s former public library, is an intriguing repository. The architects retained the facade, grand staircase, and ornate card-catalog room, but the rest of the building is strictly modern. The Avery Brundage Collection assembles some 10,000 items, one of the world’s major accumulations of Far East and Near East art. Visit

Designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, the building for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, at Yerba Buena Gardens, might be seen as the largest art object in its collection. The clean, boxy, geometric structure, with its skylight and elevated walkway, provides a fitting home for the strong collection and for traveling shows. Every explorer coming to San Francisco should put the museum on his or her must-see list. Two paintings not to miss, for example, are Henri Matisse’s Femme au chapeau, (Woman with the Hat, 1905), which started the Fauvism movement, and contemporary German Anselm Kiefer’s Osiris and Isis, 1987, which transforms the ancient myth into a metaphor for modern power. Visit

San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation. The technology magic of the Silicon Valley, south of San Francisco, comes alive in this museum, which celebrates scientific curiosity. This showcase of technological breakthroughs is largely a hands-on affair, where you can watch a robot perform household tasks, such as cooking food. Guided by volunteer interpreters, you learn about modern developments transforming our lives in robotics, microelectronics, biotechnology, materials science, and space exploration. For example, the difficult ethical decisions in biotechnology are presented as a viewer becomes aware of how gene modification can create new plants and animals. Visit

Oakland Museum of California separates, on individual floors, the worlds of nature, art, and history in California. The Oakland Museum has been a leader in museum presentation, creating “environments” rather than static exhibits. Typically, you might find here a display of “tidepool life,” about the complex web of life in the ocean-shore environment, rather than a static “seashells of the world” exhibit. Innovators such as the Oakland Museum have changed the concept of what a museum can be. Visit

California Academy of Sciences is a compilation of educational facilities including the Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium, Kimball Natural History Museum and a 4-story rainforest. Walk over a shark tank, view images from space, come face-to-face with a Tyrannosaurus Rex and peer into an actual bat cave all in one day. This combination of history museum, science museum and natural history museum is situated in Golden Gate Park. Visit

Editorial information provided in part by, a collection of native Californians and travelers who spend their time exploring California and sharing their discoveries.

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