Many of the Bay Area’s very best museums are free at least one day each month. These recurring free museum days are often crowded, but if you arrive early enough, you’ll stand a great chance of enjoying world-class museums for $0 plus parking and snacks (and maybe a special exhibition fee here and there).
Always Free | Free on 1st Sundays | Free on 1st Tuesdays | Free on 2nd Tuesdays | Free on First Wednesdays | Free on 1st Thursdays | Free on Random Days | Free to SNAP benefits holders| Free to members of other museums | Free weekends to B of A cardholders | Free to library cardholders
Note that holidays can change regularly scheduled free days and open hours, so please check with the museums first before attending.
Monthly Free Days to Bay Area Museums
These super museums are FREE First Sundays of the month
Asian Art Museum (San Francisco)
One of the largest museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian art with more than 17,000 artworks spanning 6,000 years of history. Special collection surcharges may apply.
What’s great for kids: First Sundays include storytimes for kids as young as three and museum kid tours. More about the family-friendly Asian Art Museum.
Location: 200 Larkin Street, San Francisco
Honorable Mention: Oakland Museum of California | $5 Donation Day
OMCA specializes in collections of art, history, and natural science to tell the story of California.
What’s great for kids: California historical exhibits include wagons you can climb in, fur you can pet, and video stories you can stare at. Each year the Dia De Los Muertos exhibit is colorful and accessible to kids. Rotating exhibits may or may not be family-friendly.
Location: 1000 Oak Street, Oakland
FREE admission on the First Tuesdays each month
de Young Museum (San Francisco)
One of the most visited art museums in the country, the de Young showcases a priceless collection of American art from the 17th through 20th centuries along with art from Central and South America and the Pacific, in addition to an impressive collection of textiles. Special exhibition fees may apply. Also free for Bay Area residents every Saturday!
What’s great for kids: the de Youngsters Studio was built to get kids, especially ages 3 to 8, exploring art and technology & lots of places to play in Golden Gate Park. Many de Youngsters activities have moved online, so check before you go.
Location: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park
Legion of Honor Museum (San Francisco)
This exquisite building with an incredible view overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge contains 4,000 years of ancient and European art. Some special exhibition surcharges may apply. Also free for Bay Area residents every Saturday!
What’s great for kids: Ok, so this museum is pretty old-school and not very exciting for most children. You might need to take advantage of other nearby perks to amuse the little ones.
Location: 100 34th Ave, San Francisco
Conservatory of Flowers (San Francisco)
We love the Conservatory of Flowers for mixed generational outings. While some of their exhibits have been more and less family-friendly over time, this wood and glass greenhouse is the oldest existing conservatory of its kind in the Western Hemisphere and features 1,700 species of rare, exotic, and endangered plants from more than 50 different countries.
What’s great for kids: Kids will like the scavenger hunt (ask at the front desk!) and free-range butterflies. It is also easy to combine a visit to the Conservatory of Flowers with a trip to Koret Playground in Golden Gate Park.
Location: 100 John F Kennedy Dr, San Francisco – Golden Gate Park
Honorable Mention: Cartoon Museum (San Francisco) | Pay What You Wish Day
The Cartoon Art Museum has lots to see from comic strips and anime to political cartoons and graphic novels. People of all ages are welcome to wander the exhibitions and screenings and create their own comics and animation at workshops.
What’s great for kids: Fun things to look at on the walls but won’t keep most kids’ attention for very long. It is always exciting to be in Fisherman’s Wharf. Pair this trip with a cable car ride and/or a ferry ride from the East Bay.
Location: 781 Beach Street, San Francisco
FREE admission on the Second Tuesday of each month
San Francisco Botanical Garden
The gardens are free daily from 7:30 to 9:30 am, the second Tuesday of every month, and on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Note: San Francisco residents are free every day.
What’s great for kids: Embedded within Golden Gate Park. Storytime and family tours are every other Sunday (not on the free days!) Find more family and community activities.
Location: 1199 9th Ave, San Francisco
FREE admission First Wednesdays
GLBT Historical Society Museum (San Francisco)
The GLBT Historical Society Museum, located in Castro District, is the first stand-alone museum of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender history and culture in the United States. While designed primarily with an adult audience in mind, they welcome families and children.
What’s great for kids: Ride a streetcar to get there, fun. Stop by the front desk to ask for a family-friendly path through the museum (and how to avoid some of the more sexually explicit material). Hot Cookie is one block away for an after-museum treat.
Location: 4127 18th Street, San Francisco
Honorable Mention: Bay Area Discovery Museum (Sausalito) | Every Other First Wednesday
Located at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge on 7.5 acres of National Park land in Sausalito, The Bay Area Discovery Museum features seven exhibition spaces and six research-based daily drop-in programs. Their free admission program is now limited to every other first Wednesday.
What’s great for kids: The whole indoor/outdoor location is a wonderful place to play with children, ages 6 months to 10 years. We love the Discovery Museum in Sausalito.
Location: 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito
FREE admission First Thursday Evenings for Bay Area Residents
SFMOMA (San Francisco)
Tickets are free and reserving online is highly encouraged. Tickets go online two weeks in advance. The SFMOMA is one of the largest modern and contemporary art museums in the country with over 45,000 square feet of art-filled public spaces (no ticket required). The public spaces are open daily at 9:30 am with the last admission a half-hour before closing. The free admission on Thursdays is for 4 pm to 8 pm Bay Area residents with proof of residence.
Another money-saving tip: Everyone 18 and under gets free admission every day.
What’s great for kids: Colorful, interesting modern art exhibitions on every floor.
Location: 151 Third Street, San Francisco
Free Bay Area Museums (Everyday)
- Bay Model Visitor Center, Sausalito – scale model of the San Francisco Bay is large, fascinating, and free Tue – Sat. Run around the waterfront after your visit. Website >
- Cable Car Museum (Nob Hill at Mason and Washington) – Learn about Free admission every day except when closed on Mondays, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Website >
- Musée Mécanique (Pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf) – One of the world’s largest (over 200) collections of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines in their original working condition. Prices range from 1¢ (it’s true) to $1. Most games cost 25¢ to 50¢. Free admission every day – 365 days a year. Website >
- Rosie the Riveter Museum (Richmond) – Open 7 days a week from 10 am to 5 pm except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. A visual and interactive way to learn about the homefront of World War II Website >
- San Francisco Fire Department Museum (Western Addition, Presidio Ave at Pine) – Open Thu – Sun. and donations are appreciated. Website >
- San Francisco Railway Museum (Ferry Plaza, 77 Steuart St.) – The museum features a full-sized replica of the motorman’s platform of a 1911 San Francisco streetcar, where kids can work the controls. Open Thursday through Saturday. Website >
For visiting museums for free on other days, plan ahead for Discover & Go passes >
Other Free Museum Programs
Library-card holders, credit card holders, and EBT card holders have additional programs to give you free and reduced admission prices to Bay Area Museums. Keep on reading.
Discover and Go Passes via libraries
Create your own family’s museum free day. Plan ahead and have a local library card, you can get Discover & Go passes for a free day just for your family for dozens of area museums.
Free Admission & Discounts for those using SNAP benefits
Lots of Bay Area Museums participate in Museums 4 All, offering free and reduced museum admission to those receiving food assistance (SNAP benefits). Across the United States, 500 museums participate. Here are a few dozen Bay Area museums. The offer of free or discounted admission and how often you can use it will vary by museum.
Bay Area participating Museums For All
- Bay Area Discovery Museum (Sausalito, CA)
- California Academy of Sciences (San Francisco, CA)
- California Indian Museum & Cultural Center (Santa Rosa, CA)
- Chabot Space & Science Center (Oakland, CA) — reopens November 2021
- Children’s Creativity Museum (San Francisco, CA)
- Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose (San Jose, CA)
- Children’s Museum of Sonoma County (Santa Rosa, CA)
- CuriOdyssey (San Mateo, CA)
- de Young Museum (San Francisco, CA)
- Exploratorium (San Francisco, CA)
- Filoli Historic House & Garden (Woodside, CA)
- GLBT Historical Society Museum (San Francisco, CA)
- The Lawrence Hall of Science (Berkeley, CA) — reopening October 30, 2021
- Lindsay Wildlife Experience (Walnut Creek, CA)
- The Marine Mammal Center (Sausalito, CA)
- Monterey County Youth Museum (MY Museum) (Monterey, CA)
- Museum of Children’s Arts (Oakland, CA)
- Museum of Craft and Design (San Francisco, CA)
- Oakland Museum of California (Oakland, CA)
- Richmond Museum of History (Richmond, CA)
- San Jose Museum of Art (San Jose, CA)
- The Tech Interactive (San Jose, CA)
Bank of America Free Days
Called Museums on Us, holders of Bank of America credit cards and debit cards get free admission to specific Bay Area museums for one weekend each month – typically the first full weekend of the month. Museums recognizing this cardholder perk include Oakland Museum of California, de Young Museum (SF), Contemporary Jewish Museum (SF), San Jose Museum of Art (SJ), and The Tech Interactive (SJ). Find more museums around the country with this perk >
Reciprocal Memberships to Bay Area Museums, Science Centers, and Zoos
Wait, there’s more! Membership to one or two museums can also get you discounts and free admission to others if the museums in question participate in the North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM), Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), or the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM). Targeted to membership families who travel to grandma’s house and can go to the zoo or children’s museum both here and there, these programs might give you perks at other local Bay Area museums. The details will vary.
What’d we miss? Tell us in the comments!
Visit our calendar to find other free & cheap activities to do with your kids every day!