A day in the bay: Exploring San Francisco’s noteworthy museums

Sophia Buckholtz

San Francisco is famous for its restaurants, views and notorious fog, which have all attracted international travelers for decades. Its vibrant culture is partly characterized by the array of popular museums that have been icons of the city since its early days. With over 40 museums ranging from The Academy of Sciences to The Walt Disney Museum, the city is full of enriching experiences. However, the museum scene is not only for tourists. Marin residents can embrace a fulfilling day in all the art, history and science museums that San Francisco has to offer. 


A curated collection of exclusively 20th-century artwork, the SF Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) on Third Street has been a popular destination ever since it opened its doors in 1995. Admission is free for those under 18 and annual members of the museum, while adults pay $25. Unique exhibits are frequent at this location, currently featuring work by Joan Mitchell until January 2022, followed by Alexander Calder’s exhibition which will be on display in June of 2023. Conventional painted canvases offer a more traditional museum experience, specifically in Mitchell’s abstract-expressionism style. Although SFMOMA is known for its collection of abstract sculptures and interactive installations, more traditional styles are also presented in the works of Frida Khalo, Joan Mitchell and Henri Matisse.

SFMOMA’s galleries are thought-provoking and often dynamic. In a dark room with beeping devices and smoke-filled tubs, a set of small screens flash questions to the viewer. It randomizes words to generate an introspective piece of artwork. It displays words in several different languages forming questions that are rather coherent. This piece was created by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer in 2000 with the intention of symbolizing the frustration of technology. The questions don’t allow time for the viewer to reflect and answer the “33 Questions Per Minute” that it poses, which is also the title. The museum doesn’t only house inquisitive robot galleries, but traditional painted canvases can be found as well, most notably in Mitchell’s exhibit. I recommend this museum for those interested in unorthodox exhibits and modern art enthusiasts.

Legion of Honor

An expansive view of the city itself and the Golden Gate Bridge is visible from the Legion of Honor’s address at Land’s End. The Legion of Honor is not only a San Francisco museum, but a high French military award of nobility and prestige. The Legion of Honor offers free admission on the first Tuesday of each month, otherwise, those under 18 are free while non-member adults pay $15.

Greeted by Rodin’s “The Thinker,” visitors will find marble halls filled with European fine arts and ancient arts of the East and Mediterranean. About a dozen rooms showcasing historical depictions, as well as biblical and romantic styles, present the viewer with insight into the social and political trends of the respective era. Detailed descriptions of the artist’s and the art’s story add to the viewer’s interaction with the art. I would recommend this museum to those looking for a museum experience similar to fine art exhibits in Europe. 

de Young 

While the SFMOMA focuses on art from the last century, and the Legion of Honor places emphasis on European Fine Art, the de Young has it all. It is priced the same as the Legion of Honor, with free admission for minors and a $15 fee for adults. Different mediums like sculpture, fashion, textiles, sketches and paintings from the 17th to 21st century are displayed from around the world. The popular fashion displays like Oscar de la Renta, are popular attractions. Lasting until April 2022, fashion designer Patrick Kelly is taking the stage on his devoted exhibit, Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love. His message against racism is conveyed through his graphic designs, and his influence is demonstrated through runway videos, modeled clothing and written descriptions. Other permanent displays include glass-like fruit, intricate furniture and a man just under nine feet tall. This museum would be ideal for a family outing or a group trip because of the variety of art offered that  cultivates a very personalized experience.


Visiting museums can broaden one’s intellectual and artistic perspective by offering a glimpse into the time period the art represents, as well as through its creative expression. Seeing San Francisco’s  collection of art is an entertaining way to experience the city and spend time with loved ones!