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San Francisco Museums

by Beverly Dubrin

San Francisco is a museum-rich city, with its museums, particularly its small museums, scattered about in the city's colorful neighborhoods.

Of San Francisco's major museums, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is the "hottest" spot in town. SFMOMA opened with much fanfare in January 1995. The combination of SFMOMA's stunning building, designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, and its extensive collection of twentieth-century art is almost too much for one's senses to handle. On the first floor, with its large atrium lobby, are a 299-seat theater, an interactive Education Center, the museum shop, and Caffe Museo. Art galleries occupy the top four floors. Selections from the permanent collection of art, sculpture, furniture, and photographs are displayed on an on-going basis along with changing special exhibits. Across Third Street from SFMOMA is the Center for the Arts whose mission is to provide performance and exhibition space for contemporary artists and to reflect San Francisco's cultural diversity.

Other major art museums include the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park and Asian Art Museum on Larkin Street in San Francisco. The collection at the De Young includes a little bit of just about everything. In its permanent collection is an extensive American Art collection that is enhanced by its John D. Rockefeller III donation, seventeenth and eighteenth century Italian works, decorative arts, and traditional arts of the Americas, Oceania and Africa. The Asian Art Museum is housed in the west wing of the de Young. It consists of nearly 10,000 works from the Asian Art collection of Avery Brundage, millionaire and champion of the international Olympic movement -- jade, textiles, paintings, bronzes, sculptures, ceramics, and decorative objects. The central part of the de Young was built in 1894 for the California Midwinter International Exposition in Golden Gate Park. In 1917, newspaper publisher and civic leader Michael de Young expanded both the building and its collection. Now is the time to visit the de Young as it opened in 2005 after a 5 year renovation. The cost for the seismic upgrading necessary to make the de Young more earthquake safe was so great that the powers that be decided it was more cost-efficient to tear it down and build a new building.

For those with an interest in science, there is the California Academy of Sciences on Howard Street, and the Exploratorium in the Palace of Fine Arts in the City's Marina District. The Academy of Sciences is many science museums under one roof, including the Steinhart Aquarium and the Morrison Planetarium. Its Natural History exhibits run the gamut from dinosaurs to gem stones. The penguin exhibit and the Fish Roundabout are favorite attractions in the Aquarium. Planetarium shows reveal the mysteries of the universe, while the multi-media Laserium Shows send colorful lasers dancing to music. The Exploratorium is a hands-on science museum where visitors learn by doing experiments in such fields as chemistry, physics, and genetics. Even the youngest children will be fascinated by the Exploratorium.

If you only have an hour or two for museum-going, consider a visit to one of San Francisco's many smaller museums. At Fort Mason, a former Army base in the Marina District, your choices include the Mexican Museum, the Museo Italo Americano, the San Francisco African American Historical/Cultural Society, and the San Francisco Craft & Folk Art Museum. The Mexican, Italo Americano, and African American museums pay tribute to their respective cultures, both in their native lands and in California. The Craft & Folk Art Museum is the only museum in Northern California devoted to contemporary crafts and traditional folk art.

At the Cable Car Barn Museum you'll see the three oversized pulleys that control all cable car operations. In the exhibit area you can ring a cable car bell and hop aboard a cable car that dates back to 1876. The Powell-Mason cable car line stops right in front of the Museum.

The Chinese Culture Center in Chinatown presents the Chinese cultural heritage to the English-speaking community. At the San Francisco Jewish Museum in the Financial District there are exhibits of culture, history and art as it is influenced by the Jewish experience. For those who love photographs of old San Francisco, the North Beach Museum in San Francisco's Italian district is a delight with its panoramic photos of North Beach, views of past political figures, and historic artifacts. Take a walk along the beach and take a walk through the past at the Mus�e M�canique, a collection of antique mechanical amusement machines. The coin-operated musical instruments and other arcade machines are there for your pleasure.

The San Francisco Fire Department Museum, appropriately located in a fire station, displays, through fire apparatus and memorabilia, the story of fire fighting in San Francisco from 1849 to the present. The San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum pays tribute to famous performers in its small exhibit area. On an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay is the Treasure Island Museum in one of the Art Deco buildings remaining from the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition. The museum has multiple purposes: to portray the history of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard in the Pacific; to provide insight into the China Clipper Flying Boats, the building of Treasure Island, and the Exposition; and to offer general naval history and information.

San Francisco Museums: Hours/Admission Fees

Asian Art Museum of San Francisco
200 Larkin Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 581-3500
Tuesday through Sunday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm with extended evening hours every Thursday until 9:00 pm.
Adults: $10
Seniors: $7
College Students: $6

Cable Car Barn Museum
1201 Mason St.; (415) 474-1887.
Daily except major holidays 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Admission: FREE.

California Academy of Sciences
875 Howard Street, between 4th and 5th Streets
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 321-8000
10 am to 5 pm daily
Adults - $7.00
Youth 12-17 - $4.50
Students w/ID - $4.50
Seniors 65+ - $4.50
Children 4-11 - $2.00
Children 3 and under - Free
Free Wednesdays - Free admission for all on the first Wednesday of each month.

Center for the Arts
701 Mission St.; (415) 978-ARTS.
Tues - Sun 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Admission: Adults $5, Seniors/students $2.50.
FREE first Thursday of each month from 6 to 8 p.m.

Chinese Culture Center
Holiday Inn, 750 Kearny St.; (415) 986-1822.
Tues - Sat 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Sunday Noon - 4 p.m.
Admission: FREE.

M. H. de Young Memorial Museum
de Young Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 863-3330
Admission Adults $10, Seniors $7, Youths 13-17 $6, College Students with ID $6, Children 12 and under FREE.
First Tuesday of each month FREE
Muni riders with Fast Pass or transfer receive a $2 discount.

Palace of Fine Arts, 3601 Lyon St. at Marina Blvd.; (415) 561-0360
The Exploratorium is open year-round Tuesday through Sunday and select holiday Mondays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Cost: Adults (18-64) $14;
Seniors (65+) or students with ID $11; Youth (13-17) $11; Children (4-12) $9; Children (3 and under) FREE
Tactile Dome $17 (includes museum admission) First Wednesday of every month FREE; Tactile Dome advance reservations: 415/561-0362.

Mexican Museum
Fort Mason, Building D; (415) 202.9700
The Mexican Museum's galleries at Fort Mason Center are currently closed (2006). Please check below for offsite exhibitions and events.

Musee Mechanique
Cliff House, 1090 Point Lobos Ave.; (415) 386-1170.
Mon - Fri 11 a.m. - 7 p.m., Weekends/holidays 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Admission: FREE; most coin-operated machines cost a quarter.

Museo Italo Americano
Fort Mason, Building C; (415) 673-2200.
Wed - Sun noon - 5 p.m.
Admission: Adults $2, Seniors/students $1.

North Beach Museum
Eureka Federal Savings & Loan Association, second floor 1435 Stockton St.; (415) 391-6210.
Mon - Thurs 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., Friday 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.

San Francisco African American Historical/Cultural Society
Fort Mason, Building C; (415) 441-0640.
Summer hours: Tues - Sat 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Admission: Adults $5, Seniors/students $2.50.

San Francisco Craft & Folk Art Museum
Fort Mason, Building A; (415) 775-0990.
Tues - Fri 11 a.m. - 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., first Wednesday of every month 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Admission: Adults $1, Seniors/youths 12 to 17 50�, under 12 FREE.
FREE first Wednesday of every month.

San Francisco Fire Department Museum
655 Presidio Ave.; (415) 558-3546.
Thurs - Sun 1 - 4 p.m.
Admission: FREE.

San Francisco Jewish Museum
282 2nd Street, SF 94105; (415) 344-8880.
Mon - Wed Noon - 6 p.m., Thursday Noon - 8 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Closed on Jewish holidays.

San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art
151 Third St. (between Mission and Howard)
(415) 357-4000
Admission: Adults $12.50, Seniors/students $8.00, Members and children under 13 with an adult FREE.
Half-price admission Thursdays 6 - 9 p.m.
FREE admission first Tuesday of every month.

San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum
399 Grove St.; (415) 255-4800.
Tues - Fri 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Saturday Noon - 4 p.m.

Treasure Island Museum
Treasure Island Building 1, San Francisco Bay (access off San Francisco/Bay Bridge); (415) 395-5067.
Weekdays 10 a.m. - 3:30 p.m., Weekends 10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Donation: $2.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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