Free Museums in San Francisco

San Francisco may be one of the most expensive cities in the country, but that doesn’t mean that you need to break the bank during your vacation here. Purchasing a tourist pass or, of course, following one of our “name your own price” tours can be huge money savers.

Another way to cut the cost of your trip to San Francisco is to note when certain museums offer free or reduced entry. Many have free entry days at least once a month, and a large number are always free to children 12 and under. Here’s an easy guide to free museums in San Francisco to help you plan a budget friendly vacation.

Always Free Entry

Always Free for Children

Zoos

 

Nationwide

Free Entry Monthly

Free Entry Included with Tourist Passes

 

 

The Cable Car Museum is always free! (see below)

Nationwide Free Museum Programs:

Bank of America’s Museums on Us  — Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders get free general admission to certain museums during the first full weekend of every month. Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders get free admission for the first full weekend of every month at the following museums in San Francisco: San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora, de Young, Legion of Honor, Contemporary Jewish Museum and Zeum, Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, San Jose’s Museum of Art and Tech Museum of Innovation.

Blue Star Museums —  This program provides free admission to the nation’s active-duty military personnel and their families, including National Guard and Reserve, from Memorial Day, May 26, 2014 through Labor Day, September 1, 2014. Participating museums are the Bay Area Discovery Museum, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Cantor Arts Center, Children’s Creativity Museum, CuriOdyssey, de Young and Legion of Honor, Filoli, Lawrence Hall of Science, Museum of Craft and Design, Oakland Museum of California, San Jose Museum of Art, Walt Disney Family Museum and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

 


Back to top


 

Bay area museums that are ALWAYS (or regularly) FREE:

The Autodesk Gallery has incredible examples of computer artwork and design that you can view. A great thing to do in the city that is the innovation hub of the world!

The Cable Car Museum shows you the history of one of the most iconic parts of San Francisco, the Cable Car!  See how the cable cars work, check out the motors driving the cars throughout the city, and even ring one of the famous cable car bells that you hear all throughout San Francisco. This is free all year.

Chinese Historical Society of America has very interesting history about the Chinese immigrants who made this country (especially San Francisco) what it is today. It is always free to visit.

The Japanese Tea Garden, also located in Golden Gate Park, is an incredibly well-kept garden with trimmed lawns, sculpted trees, plants and flowers shaped into a dragon, and more. Add a traditional Japanese tea ceremony here for just a few extra dollars, but admission into the garden is free from 9:00 – 10:00 AM every Monday, Wednesday, Friday.

Musée Mécanique, located on Fisherman’s Wharf, has video game machines, pinball machines, and other mechanical games dating back over 100 years. Go here with a couple of dollars in quarters, and this is the cheapest that you can have an afternoon of fun in San Francisco!

SF Fire Department Historical Society – Did you know that the San Francisco Fire Department has long been considered one of the best departments in the world? The work of the men and women of the SFFD have saved the city from destruction multiple times. This museum, free all year long, shows some of the incredible events and people that forged the city that we have today.

The Streetcar Museum shows how municipal railways spread throughout San Francisco, and how we managed to obtain the old fashioned streetcars from around the world that run through San Francisco every day. This museum is always free.

San Francisco Maritime Park located on Hyde Street Pier, right between Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf, is a fun place to visit for anybody interested in old sailing ships. Half a dozen old ships are docked at the pier, allowing you to get an up-close view of how the San Francisco waterfront operated in the 1800s. Admission to the pier (and the adjacent museum) are free, but there is a $7 charge to board the ships.

If you’re flying into or out of San Francisco International Airport, don’t forget to stop and visit the SFO Museum. It has great historical exhibits that are fun to look at on the way to or from your plane.

The Wells Fargo History Museum is located in the center of San Francisco’s financial district, and it has a fun museum all about the Wild West days of San Francisco. Learn about Gold Rush outlaws, see some gold nuggets and old money, and ride in a stagecoach! This museum is free all year long.

 


Back to top


 

Free Monthly Entry:

Asian Art Museum – Free general admission on the first Sunday of every month

The Asian Art Museum hosts great art exhibits from Asian artists, and it is based directly across from City Hall (another spot to visit for free!). This museum has free admission the first Sunday of every month, and $5 admission after 5:00 PM on every Thursdays.

California Academy of Sciences – Free on third Wednesday
This is one of our favorite museums in the world. This fantastic museum has exhibits about science and nature that people of all ages can love. This museum has free admission on four Sundays per year. Check the calendar on their website for the currently scheduled days.

We love the Cartoon Art Museum because they have the same pricing model as Free Tours by Foot! They offer “name your own price” entry on the first Tuesday of every month.

Children’s Creativity Museum is a wonderful place to take the kids on your trip. It has many free days during the year. Check their website for this year’s scheduled dates.

Golden Gate Park’s Conservatory of Flowers has incredibly beautiful examples of flowers from around the world. In the heart of Golden Gate Park (which itself is full of free activities), the conservatory is free to visit on the first Tuesday of every month.

de Young Museum is another great stop in the middle of Golden Gate Park. The de Young has great art exhibits from around the world, and it is free on the first Tuesday of every month.

The Exploratorium, along with the Academy of Sciences building, is our other favorite museum in San Francisco. It’s also a science museum, but it’s extremely hands-on. You can play with many of the exhibits to see and feel how science works. The museum is free on five Sundays each year. Check out the dates on their calendar for this year’s free times.

GLBT Historical Society – San Francisco is known as one of the most gay friendly cities in the world. This city helped lead the fight for gay rights through the last 100 years, and the Castro District is a must-see during your visit to San Francisco. This museum is free to visit on the first Wednesday of every month.

The Museum of Craft and Design is free on the first Tuesday of every month, and they have fantastic exhibits of various arts and crafts in the Bay Area.

The San Francisco Botanical Garden  is a great place to visit if you love exotic plants, flowers, and trees. Free on the second Tuesday of every month, along with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day, this place is a hit for nature lovers of all stripes. And as a bonus for the locals, the gardens are always free for SF residents!

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, recently reopened after a major renovation, has beautiful artwork from modern times. The museum is always free for kids under the age of 18.

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts  has rotating exhibitions on visual art, film, and performance art Free on first Tuesday.

 


Back to top


 

Always free for children (12 and under unless otherwise noted):

Asian Art Museum The Asian Art Museum hosts great art exhibits from Asian artists, and it is based directly across from City Hall (another spot to visit for free!). This museum has free admission the first Sunday of every month, and $5 admission after 5:00 PM on every Thursdays.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum has exhibits about modern Jewish history, and it is free on the first Tuesday of every month.

de Young Museum is another great stop in the middle of Golden Gate Park. The de Young has great art exhibits from around the world, and it is free on the first Tuesday of every month.

Legion of Honor is a fantastic art museum on a world class estate. Situated on a location that has featured in more than one Hollywood film, you can’t go wrong visiting this place.

The Museum of the African Diaspora highlights the history of Africans who came to the United States (voluntarily or involuntarily) and the fascinating culture that the community brought about.

Museum of Craft and Design is free for children, and they have fantastic exhibits of various arts and crafts in the Bay Area.

San Francisco Maritime Park located on Hyde Street Pier, right between Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf, is a fun place to visit for anybody interested in old sailing ships. Half a dozen old ships are docked at the pier, allowing you to get an up-close view of how the San Francisco waterfront operated in the 1800s. Admission to the pier (and the adjacent museum) are free, but there is a $7 charge to board the ships.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art recently reopened after a major renovation, has beautiful artwork from modern times. The museum is always free for kids under the age of 18.

 


Back to top


 

Free Entry Included with Tourist Passes

CityPASS

  • California Academy of Sciences
  • Adventure Exploratorium OR de Young Museum
  • Aquarium of the Bay OR Monterey Bay Aquarium
  • Learn more.

All Smart Destinations Passes (Go San Francisco All-Inclusive, Explorer Pass and Build Your Own)

  • California Academy of Sciences
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
  • de Young Museum
  • Exploratorium
  • Legion of Honor
  • Asian Art Museum
  • Learn more.

Freestyle San Francisco Pass

  • Aquarium of the Bay
  • Walt Disney Family Museum
  • California Academy of Science
  • De Young Museum
  • Exploratorium
  • Legion of Honor
  • Learn more.

San FrancisGO Pass

  • Walt Disney Family Museum
  • Aquarium of the Bay
  • Learn more.

 


Back to top


 

 Zoos  

The San Francisco Zoo  is free on the first Wednesday of every month, and has an amazing collection of animals from around the world.


Back to top