San Francisco's Must-See Museums
San Francisco is one of the most culturally, educationally, and historically vibrant destinations on the west coast, this bayside city chock-full of unique and insightful museums perfect for student groups.
From top-notch science research and education centers to culturally enlightening community centers, this selection of San Francisco museums will be sure to cover all your groups' interests during your visit!
California Academy of Sciences
One of the largest, most innovative, eco-friendly, widely-acclaimed and best-loved natural history museums in the world. This landmark within a landmark, located in historic and beautiful Golden Gate Park offers a stunning and dynamic array of planetary, aquatic and historic specimens and extraordinary exhibits showcased in a cutting-edge venue; a sparkling and colorful aquarium, the largest digital planetarium in the world, a comprehensive natural history museum, lush tropical rainforest bio-dome, hands-on tide pool, fascinating naturalist center, and swamp exploration area all have something to show you!
Enjoy art exhibits representing America, Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, as well as a diverse collection of textile arts. The de Young has always been considered 'a vital public space where objects illuminate the past, speak of the present, and shape the future', the museum playing an essential role in local culture and art education. Students can especially gain a lot of art-inspired insight here, with educational resources meant to reflect an active conversation among culture, perspective, and time periods. There are free Saturday art classes and regular hands-on art activities, as well as opportunities to meet with docents, artists, and poets.
*Admission includes a same-day pass to Legion of Honor, another art museum focusing on over 4 millennia of history and culture.
The Walt Disney Family Museum
A local education and entertainment center that features the life and legacy of Walt Disney. There are several hands-on exhibits and original artwork within, as well as two different exhibit spaces showing regularly changing exhibits. You will learn about Disney's very first animated shorts, from the lost idea of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to the highly successful and iconic Mickey Mouse, as well as his live-action features. See his many cinematic achievements displayed before you, Walt being 'one of the most prolific filmmakers in history'.
*Plan your lunch with this stop, an onsite cafe located within the museum, as well as 8 very close Presidio eateries and cafes.
This is one of San Francisco's most highly visited blast-from-the-past locations, the bustling old-school storefront located in the heart of the Fisherman's Wharf. Inside the classic red and white facade, your group will find an interactive museum filled with 20th century penny arcade games and artifacts, from antique mechanical instruments to current arcade video games (and, of course, vintage arcade games as well). Zelinsky encourages his guests to 'play and look' all around the place, with over 300 items inside ranging from orchestrions and coin-operated pianos to slot machines and animatronics.
Museum of the African American Diaspora
This museum focuses on the African Diaspora and its effects throughout time, both locally and internationally. The Museum of the African Diaspora is located within the popular Yerba Buena Arts Districts and is one of the very few U.S museums focused solely on the African Diaspora. There are various programs and exhibits within that showcase the art, history, and cultural richness of the African Diaspora, several excellent ways to explore and celebrate the beliefs, practices, traditions, and customs connected to these major movements scattered throughout the facility.
Cable Car Museum
This free museum in the Nob Hill neighborhood is part of the complex that houses the cable powerhouse and car depot and allows you to see the impressive mechanics behind the ride. Established in 1974, the museum is open year-round and showcases historical and interpretive exhibits on the San Francisco Cable Car System. A variety of antique cars and memorabilia provide a real sense of bygone days while a wonderful gift shop, car-seat photo op, and penny machine offer perfect mementos of your foray into the very heart of the city's history. You can even buy your own bell to practice ringing through the city!
Described as the most important science museum to open in the 20th century and characterized as a mad man’s penny arcade, a scientific funhouse, and experimental lab rolled into one, the Exploratorium, today, is an out-of-this-world, 21st-century fun factory and learning laboratory! The groundbreaking nature of its more than 1000 participatory exhibits and self-identification as a center for informal learning has earned the Museum the great distinction of being recognized as a prototype for participatory museums the world over! Originally located at the Palace of Fine Arts, in 2013 Exploratorium reopened at extensively remodeled Pier 15 on San Francisco’s Embarcadero.
Must Mention Museums
The Beat Museum - A unique look at the writers, artists, and thinkers from 1950's San Francisco.
Aquarium of the Bay - A really fun and really educational way to look at local maritime creatures.
Museum of Cartoon Art - Explore the wonderful world of animation at this unique museum stop.
Children's Creativity Museum - If you have kiddos aged 2-12 in your travel group, this is a must-stop.
Need even more must-see museum options? Try out Destination Fascination 9 museum features!