Explore San Francisco

San Francisco for Art Lovers

The reopening of the SFMOMA in 2016—the largest modern art museum in the country—cemented San Francisco’s reputation as an arts destination. That reputation extends back to the Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915, when millions of people from around the world came to appreciate the thousands of works of art on display. Today, the city is home to numerous world-class museums and fine-art galleries showcasing works from just about every period and style you can think of.

But you don’t have to go to a museum to experience the arts in San Francisco; a myriad of public art installations are scattered throughout the city’s many neighborhoods. Three Diego Rivera frescos are permanently installed around town, and several locations, including Coit Tower, are home to murals commissioned by the Works Progress Administration (a New Deal agency employing millions of unskilled workers to carry out public works projects) in the 1930s. Read on for a look at the best of San Francisco’s art scene.

de Young Museum

Founded in 1895, the impressively varied museum is currently housed in an architectural masterpiece designed by the Swiss firm Herzog and de Meuron. It showcases collections from the Americas, Pacific Islands and Africa and features a tower observation deck. Free general admission first Tu of each month.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

After a three-year hiatus, SFMOMA has unveiled a Snøhetta-led expansion that makes it the largest modern art space in the nation, easily housing entire floors of abstract American art and minimalist and pop art. There’s an entire gallery devoted to Alexander Calder, with a focus on his work between the 1920s and 1960s.

Precita Eyes Mural Arts Visitors Center

Precita Eyes is the starting point for tours encompassing more than 80 murals in an eight-block walk in the Mission District. The center is a multipurpose, community-based arts organization that has played an integral role in the city's cultural heritage and arts education.

16th Avenue Tiled Steps

Artists Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher created the mosaic design for “The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps Project,” which was executed with the help of over 300 neighbors. The 163 colorful steps flow from sea to sky and are perfectly illuminated at sunset.

Legion of Honor

High on the headlands above the Golden Gate—where the Pacific Ocean spills into the San Francisco Bay—stands this grand museum, the gift of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels to the city of San Francisco.

Coit Tower

Upon her death in 1929, socialite and art patron Lillie Hitchcock Coit bequeathed funds for the “beautification of the city.” Her heirs used the money to build Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. Completed in 1933, the fluted column provides bird’s-eye views from an observation deck near the top.

Beach Chalet/Park Chalet Brewery Restaurant

The two affiliated restaurants in the historic Willis Polk-designed building on the western edge of Golden Gate Park specialize in seasonal cuisine and house-made ales. Upstairs, the Beach Chalet’s floor-to-ceiling windows provide commanding views of Ocean Beach.

First Thursday Art Walk

A monthly tradition for over 20 years, the San Francisco Art Dealers Association organizes this popular Thursday evening art walk among many Union Square galleries, including Caldwell Snyder, Mark Wolfe Contemporary Art and Hashimoto Contemporary. The art walk is held the first Thursday of every month.

Minnesota Street Project

The three warehouse gallery spaces that comprise the Minnesota Street Project’s Dogpatch studios and workspace are open to collectors and the curious public alike. Check specific galleries for hours, as each maintains its own.

Asian Art Museum

Home to more than 18,000 exquisite art objects spanning 6,000 years of history and culture throughout Asia, this museum is one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere devoted exclusively to Asian art. Free first Su of each month.