Museums and exhibitions can challenge your assumptions about the world and leave you feeling more curious than when you arrived. They’re spaces to enjoy with the company of family and friends or to explore solo. More than just places that exhibit, San Francisco’s museums are multifaceted spaces. New openings happen on the first Thursday of the month, and many galleries stay open late with interesting events and performances. Museums or galleries can be a location to meet up for a coffee or eat in a stunning location – handy if you’re new in town, or looking for alternative places to try out if you’ve exhausted your regular haunts.
If you’re passionate about culture, a museum membership is not only beneficial for your gallery visits. Museums and galleries enrich and serve the community through exciting exhibits, educational programs, and events. By joining as a member you are supporting the preservation of your local creative institutions. Luckily, if you’re in San Francisco you can enjoy seeing some of the best traveling exhibitions in the US. As well as landmark contemporary art institutions and museums with highly acclaimed permanent collections to see with a museum membership.
Many of the museum memberships below offer free guest privileges meaning you can enjoy the experience with a partner, friend or family member. Some others also offer entry to sister institutions or other associated museums around the world. Similarly, if you’re moving to San Francisco and looking for a furnished apartment, looking into the flexible options through Blueground. Discover one neighborhood of the city at a time by moving from Nob Hill to SoMa, even as far as San Jose, all on the same lease.
Here is our selection of essential museum memberships to try in San Francisco.
The SFMOMA is located in San Francisco’s bustling SoMA district. It prides itself in pushing the boundaries of the art world, with over 30,000 internationally acclaimed paintings, sculptures and performance art pieces from contemporary and modern artists. Including Frida Kahlo, Gerhard Richter, Andy Warhol, and Julie Mehretu. Notably, visitors can also enjoy the outdoor sculpture garden with a ‘thirty-foot living wall’. Or try out one of the three eateries onsite with handcrafted coffee, California-fusion fare, and even a Michelin-starred restaurant, In Situ. Members benefit from wide-open access to amazing exhibitions and events. Like modern most museums, SFMOMA has an app to guide visitors through exhibitions.
A dual membership is $180. A great option for visiting with friends and family:
If you’re enamored by the SFMOMA and also have time and a passion for the arts, you can also consider becoming a volunteer. Best of all, the membership includes admission year-round.
This fun museum is dedicated to cartoon art and animation is one of a kind in the San Francisco Bay Area. Including editorial cartoons, Sunday funnies, graphic novels, and moving animation. The Cartoon Art Museum is the only museum in the Western United States dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of all forms of cartoon art. To round out a visit, members can view original cartoon art as well as produce their own comics and animations at classes and workshops. Plus, there’s the chance to meet and mingle with professional and aspiring cartoonists.
An individual membership costs $45 and includes:
A fine arts museum founded in 1895 and located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. It’s housed in a state-of-the-art building designed by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron and Fong & Chan Architects in San Francisco. A destination with many sides, it integrates art, architecture and the natural landscape, with free access to its gardens and observation tower.
Their permanent collections span American paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts. With modern and contemporary art and textiles from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.
An individual membership goes for $119 and includes:
Located next to the Yerba Buena Gardens, the YBCA is a multi-disciplinary contemporary arts center in San Francisco. It showcases visual art, performance, and video that celebrates local, national, and international artists. Reflective of the Bay Area’s diverse communities, it’s a place to see edgier exhibits and performances. From the city’s vibrant cultural district, the museums two modern buildings offer areas both indoors and outside to experience the visual arts.
A Discoverer membership goes for $165 which offers you:
With deep ties to the Pacific Rim, the museum exhibits distinctive materials, aesthetics and intellectual achievements of Asian art and cultures. The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco has a mission to connect diverse communities to historical and contemporary Asian art. They do this and through the world-class collection, exhibitions and programs. It’s welcoming for all ages, from stroller tours to tea and talk tours. The museum store is not to be missed, with handcrafted items sourced directly from across Asia for one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
A Get Connected membership will cost you $89 which includes:
Fasten your seatbelt – the California Academy of Sciences is an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and natural history museum. All in the heart of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. A renowned scientific and educational institution, its exhibits and tours are dedicated to exploring, explaining, and sustaining life on Earth. Events highlights include the Coral Reef Dive – a spectacle watching as a diver plunges into one of the world’s deepest living coral reef tanks. Plus the Swamp Talks, where you can learn about alligators and their other swamp-dwelling residents. You can even sleep over – if you’re brave enough.
An individual membership, at $109, includes:
From sculptures to murals – San Francisco has lots of public art spread across the city to discover that doesn’t require museum membership. Out with San Francisco’s museums and galleries, these free public artworks are an alternative way to experience art and different neighborhoods across the city. The perfect way to make a staycation in the city, when you’re not sipping through Napa.
San Francisco is home to three Diego Rivera murals. His largest piece, Pan American Unity, is 2 feet tall and is 75 feet wide. Over 10 panels it depicts stories from Pre-Columbian Mexico to scenes of WWII. His wife of many years, the artist Frida Kahlo can be spotted in the mural. To visit, it can be found on the campus of the City College of San Francisco.
The Wave Organ is a wave-activated acoustic sculpture on the shore of San Francisco Bay. Located at the end of a small jetty, the sound is created by waves hitting the ends of the pipes. The public sculpture has several listening stations that capture the sound of the sea.
The Philosopher’s Way in McLaren Park is a hiking trail created by artists Peter Richards and Susan Schwartzenberg. It features stones or “musing stations” with quotes photography and historic maps.