21 Free Days & Deals at San Francisco Museums

The San Francisco Bay Area has some of the coolest museums and attractions around. Many offer special opportunities to go free. Top picks include my favorite SF attractions: California Academy of Sciences, de Young Museum, and Aquarium of the Bay. But many other SF museums provide unique experiences you won’t find anywhere else. Remember, free days can get crowded, so go early, or grab a discount and go another day. Although not all SF Bay Area attractions have free days, many are worth a visit if you have the time. Noted here are the recommended venues, along with any currently available free days, coupons, or discounts.

Are There Any Free or Discounted Activities in the SF South Bay?

Looking for budget-friendly activities when spending a day in sf south bay? Fortunately, you can find plenty of free or discounted options to keep you entertained. Explore the beautiful parks, go hiking or biking on the numerous trails, visit local farmers markets or museums, and take advantage of free summer concerts and festivals. With a little research, you’ll discover that there are plenty of activities to enjoy without breaking the bank.

21 San Francisco Attractions

1. Alcatraz Island

ABOUT: The site of the first lighthouse and US fort on the West Coast, the infamous federal penitentiary long off-limits to the public, and the 18-month occupation by Indians of All Tribes which saved the tribes. Rich in history, there is also a natural side to the Rock – gardens, tide pools, bird colonies, and bay views beyond compare. ADDRESS: Alcatraz, 37.8267° N, 122.4233° W, San Francisco, CA 94122.

2. Aquarium of The Bay

ABOUT: A unique educational facility dedicated to the San Francisco Bay and its surrounding waters, including a 707,000-gallon aquarium, walk through 300-foot clear acrylic tunnels, and hands-on meetings with sea stars, urchins and sharks. ADDRESS: Aquarium of the Bay, Pier 39, 2 Beach St, San Francisco, CA 94133.

3. Asian Art Museum

ABOUT: San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum is one of the largest museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian art. A walk through their Asian doorway transports you through 6,000 years of history, and across seven major regions of diverse Asian cultures. Some of the museum’s works pre-date written history while others are more modern, including paintings, porcelains, bronzes, armor, weapons, furniture, and fabric. ADDRESS: Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 200 Larkin Street, San Francisco, CA 94102 (between Fulton and McAllister Streets in the Civic Center district, across from City Hall). FREE: Asian Art Museum offers several freebies including the following.
  • Free on the first Sunday of every month.
  • Library Pass Program (local libraries).
  • Military Discount (active plus up to five family members free).
  • SFUSD Students get in Free. Show your ID.
  • Social service agencies and nonprofit groups that serve disadvantaged communities, schools and youth groups can get in free. To apply, email groupvisits@asianart.org at least two weeks prior.

4. Cable Car Museum

ABOUT: Interactive demos on how cable cars work, cable car route maps with popular destinations, cable car fares and etiquette, and the location and hours of the San Francisco Cable Car Powerhouse. ADDRESS:  Cable Car Museum. Cable Car Barn & Powerhouse 1201 Mason Street San Francisco, CA 94108 (corner of Mason and Washington Streets). Street parking is rare, so take the cable car or the closest MUNI bus lines (the 1 and 30). FREE: Always free admission.

5. California Academy of Sciences

ABOUT: Newly remodeled one of a kind science museum with many amazing attractions, including Steinhart Aquarium, and many animal and natural history exhibits. ADDRESS: California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118 (in Golden Gate Park). FREE: The California Academy of Sciences offers free days four times a year on Sundays, and on certain days for SF locals by zip code.

6. Conservatory of Flowers

ABOUT: Four permanent galleries with plants rotated into the galleries as they bloom. ADDRESS: Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, 501 Stanyan Street, San Francisco, CA 94117. FREE: Admission is free first Tuesday of every month.

7. Contemporary Jewish Museum

ABOUT: Dynamic exhibitions and programs that explore contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. ADDRESS: Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94103. FREE: CJM freebies include the following.
  • Admission is free on the first Tuesday of every month.
  • Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders get in free on the first full weekend of every month via the “Museums On Us” program.
  • CJM offers free tours with the price of admission.

8. De Young Museum

ABOUT: Newly remodeled, the de Young is a landmark art museum that showcases many priceless collections of American art from the 17th through the 20th centuries, and art from the native Americas, Africa, and the Pacific. ADDRESS: de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118 (inside Golden Gate Park). FREE: de Young Museum freebies include the following.
  • Admission is free on the first Tuesday of every month.
  • Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders get in free on the first full weekend of every month via the “Museums On Us” program.
  • A Wall Street Journal Membership Card gets you free admission on the second weekend of every month (or 20% off special exhibitions anytime).
  • Free for all veterans and active military personnel on Veterans Day.

9. Exploratorium

ABOUT: Now in a new and beautiful building on San Francisco’s Embarcadero, the Exploratorium features hundreds of science, art, and human perception exhibits. Located at Pier 15, between the Ferry Building and Pier 39. ADDRESS: Pier 15, San Francisco, California 94111 )between Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf). FREE: The Exploratorium’s free days include Groundhog Day, Pi Day, and Mother’s Day. DISCOUNT: Exploratorium offers discounted admission for Bay Area Residents. Save 20 to 55 percent with the easy-to-use Go City San Francisco pass or the SF CityPASS.

10. GLBT History Museum

ABOUT: Located in San Francisco’s Castro District, the GLBT History Museum is the first full-scale, stand-alone museum of its kind in the United States. The museum celebrates 100 years of the city’s vast queer past through dynamic and surprising LGBT exhibitions and programming. ADDRESS: GLBT History Museum, 4127 18th Street, San Francisco, CA 94114 (half block west of Castro Street in San Francisco). FREE: Free admission on the first Wednesday of every month.

11. Legion of Honor

ABOUT: The art museum displaying an impressive collection of 4,000 years of ancient and European art in an spectacular setting overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. ADDRESS: Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121. FREE: Admission is free on the first Tuesday of every month. Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders get in free on the first full weekend of every month via the “Museums On Us” program. Show your Wall Street Journal Membership Card at the door for free general admission on the second weekend of every month (or 20% off special exhibitions anytime). Free for all veterans and active military personnel on Veterans Day.

12. Museum of The African Diaspora

ABOUT: Features the history and cultures of the African Diaspora. Closed Monday and Tuesday. ADDRESS: Museum of the African Diaspora, 685 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94105. FREE: Children under 12 are free.

13. Museo Italo Americano

ABOUT: Also called the Italian American Museum, this nonprofit museum features Italian and Italian-American art and culture. ADDRESS: Museo Italo Americano, 2 Marina Blvd Bldg C, San Francisco, CA 94123 (located within the Fort Mason Center). FREE:  Always free admission.

14. PIER 39

ABOUT: Get postcard views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, the San Francisco Bay and the City skyline while you enjoy shopping, entertainment, and dining. ADDRESS: Pier 39, The Embarcadero & Beach St, San Francisco, CA 94133.

15. San Francisco Botanical Gardens

ABOUT: Escape to a unique urban oasis of extraordinary beauty at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Explore our world of gardens, horticulture library, bookstore, and education programs. Open 365 days a year. ADDRESS: San Francisco Botanical Garden, 1199 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122 (in Golden Gate Park). FREE: Free admission on the second Tuesday of every month and every day from 7:30-9 am. They also offer free guided walking tours and have amazing plant sales. Always free for San Francisco County residents.

16. San Francisco Fire Department Museum

  ABOUT: A small museum sponsored by the San Francisco Fire Department Historical Society featuring historical fire department tools and vehicles, including the first fire engine built in California. ADDRESS: San Francisco Fire Department Museum, 655 Presidio Ave, San Francisco, CA 94115. FREE: Always free admission.

17. San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

ABOUT: Walk onto the pier to visit the park’s collection of floating historic ships and for breathtaking views of the San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. ADDRESS: San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, located on the edge of San Francisco Bay, in the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood. The Visitor Center: 499 Jefferson Street (at Hyde), San Francisco, CA 94109. Hyde Street Pier and the historic ships are across the street from the Visitor Center. The Maritime Museum is in the Bathhouse Building at 900 Beach Street (at Polk), San Francisco, CA 94109. FREE: Free on the National Parks Free Days. Entrance to the ships is free for supervised children 15 years of age and younger. (Adults need a $10 ticket.)

18. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (sf Moma)

Photo: © Henrik Kam
ABOUT: The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is considered one of the world’s most innovative museums of modern and contemporary art. ADDRESS: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third Street, San Francisco CA (between Mission and Howard Streets). FREE: SFMOMA provides plenty of art-filled public spaces that are available free to everyone. Check out what’s currently on view in on our Free-to-See page.
  • First Thursdays at SFMOMA — Live in one of the nine Bay Area counties? SFMOMA invites you to spend an evening at their museum, from 4–8 pm on the first Thursday of every month. First Thursdays feature art exhibits and live programs related to the current exhibitions. Savvy Tip: you don’t have to, but we recommend reserving your free tickets on their website up to two weeks in advance to reserve your spot (two-person per reservation limit).
  • Children 18 and younger always get into SFMOMA for free.
  • SFMOMA schedules some Free Family Days when: “up to two adults may each claim a free ticket when accompanied by a visitor 18 and under …”
  • Free admission for Active US military, including active US Coast Guard and activated National Guard or Reservists.

19. San Francisco Zoo

ABOUT: The largest zoological park in Northern California and one of the Bay Area’s most popular cultural and recreational attractions, the San Francisco Zoo is home to over 250 species of exotic and domestic mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates. ADDRESS: San Francisco Zoo, 1 Zoo Road, San Francisco, CA 94132. FREE: Offers free admission to San Francisco residents on certain days of the year.

20. Walt Disney Family Museum

ABOUT: Walt Disney’s simple sketch of Mickey Mouse launched an entertainment phenomenon that has spanned generations and revolutionized movies, music, television, and theme parks around the world. The museum features Walt’s remarkable story and achievements. ADDRESS: Walt Disney Family Museum, 104 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, CA 94129 (in the Presidio). FREE: Admission is free year-round for active and retired military, their spouses, and dependents with valid ID. The museum also participates in the Blue Star Families program, which grants all active military free admission for themselves plus five additional guests between Memorial Day and Labor Day. DISCOUNT: Senior/student discount; children under 5 free.

21. Yerba Buena Center for The Arts

YBCA GalleriesABOUT: Presents contemporary visual art, performance, and film/video reflecting the San Francisco Bay Area’s diverse cultures. Closed Mondays and major holidays. contemporary visual art, performance, and film/video representing diverse cultural and artistic perspectives. ADDRESS: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Grand Lobby, 701 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94103 (downtown). FREE: Admission is free on the first Tuesday of every month. Admission is free for same-day film or performance ticket holders. Children age 5 and under get in free. Military service members are free with ID. DISCOUNT: YBCA discounts include the following.
  • Discounted $2 for seniors, students, and teachers,
  • Discounted $2 for non-profit employees.
  • Discounted $2 for KQED members.
  • Save $2 with a transit pass or same-day transfer, and with a public library card.

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