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 1st Wednesdays | Free on 1st Thursdays | Free on 1st Fridays | Free on Saturdays | Free on 2nd Saturdays | 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.
FREE admission the First Sundays of each 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. Looking to see a special exhibit on your visit? Access to special exhibits are discounted at $10 per person on these days.
What’s great for kids: First Sundays can 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 First Sundays
OMCA specializes in collections of art, history, and natural science to tell the story of California. Reduced admission is available the first Sunday of each month. Adults can take advantage of the nearly free admission and kids 12 and younger are always free.
What’s great for kids: The new OMCA Kids: Nature Playspace is a must visit for imaginative play. 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. The newly updated garden area provides a lovely outdoor picnic space. Rotating exhibits may or may not be overly family-friendly.
Location: 1000 Oak Street, Oakland
FREE admission on the First Tuesdays each month
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!), warm weather in the greenhouse, 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. It’s also free every day when you enter between 7:30 – 9 am, plus Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s 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 Wednesday of each month
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). Walk 10 minutes to Mission Dolores Park for after-museum playground time.
Location: 4127 18th Street, San Francisco
Honorable Mention: Bay Area Discovery Museum (Sausalito) | Occasional First Wednesdays
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 occasional first Wednesday; see the website or call for more details.
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 of each month
UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) is a forum for cultural experiences that transform individuals and advance the local, national, and global discourse on art and film. Keep in mind this money saving tip: One adult can receive free admission every day when accompanied by a child 13 and under.
What’s great for kids: Colorful, interesting modern art exhibitions on every floor. Art Lab is great for creating and open
Location: 2155 Center Street, Berkeley
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 1 pm to 8 pm Bay Area residents with proof of residence. 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 admission the First Friday of every month
CuriOdyssey (San Mateo)
CuriOdyssey is a sweet little hands-on science museum and zoo for younger children. Free First Fridays happen from 5 – 8 pm and advance registration is recommended. There’s food trucks, live music, cash bar for adults, animal presentations, and science activities that may the drive across the bridge worth it.
What’s great for kids: All. Of. It. Read our write-up of CuriOdyssey.
Location: 1651 Coyote Point Drive, San Mateo
Contemporary Jewish Museum (San Francisco)
The CJM is fun for people of all backgrounds with dynamic programs that explore contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. The architecture of the museum itself is a work of art.
What’s great for kids: The Zim Zoom Family Room is open daily. Lots of family art projects and celebrations.
Location: 736 Mission Street, San Francisco
FREE admission every Saturday
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. Free admission is for all residents of the 9 surrounding Bay Area counties. Also free for Bay Area residents every first Tuesday of the month!
What’s great for kids: Walk through the gardens to see the charming apple sculptures or relax in the skyspace. Join events on these free Saturdays, including sketching in the galleries or talks with artists, which may be better for grade school kids.
Location: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park
Chabot Space & Science Center Observatory Deck | Most Friday & Saturday Nights
Most Friday & Saturday nights from 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm, it’s free to visit the observatory deck at Chabot and see the telescopes in action for spectacular night sky viewing (weather permitting). Note: this program doesn’t include general admission to the museum.
What’s great for kids: Star-loving kids can check out the telescopes for free. Volunteers are friendly and help all visitors see the celestial bodies. Don’t forget to bundle up and check out these other helpful tips before visiting the observation deck.
Location: 10000 Skyline Boulevard, Oakland
FREE admission every second Saturday of the month
Museum of the African Diaspora (San Francisco)
MoAD celebrates Black cultures, ignites challenging conversations, & inspires learning through the global lens of the African Diaspora.
What’s great for kids: View art, film, poetry and other works of art from Black artists. In the past, there have been family-friendly events, but those appear to be on hold.
Location: 685 Mission Street, San Francisco
FREE admission on Select Days
Japanese Tea Garden (San Francisco) | Select mornings
Located in Golden Gate Park, admission is free when entering between 9 – 10 am on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
What’s great for kids: The beautiful blooming flowers are impressive to all. Sipping a drink in the tea house is a unique experience. Japanese structures and koi ponds add tranquility.
Location: Pier 15, San Francisco
The Exploratorium (San Francisco) | *Traditionally* Mother’s Day
May 14, 2023
The Exploratorium at Pier 15 is a museum of science, art and human perception. It’s historically free on Mother’s Day — also free for teachers with advance planning.
What’s great for kids: Hundreds of interactive exhibits are wonderful for kids and families. What we like about the Exploratorium.
Location: Pier 15, San Francisco
Lawrence Hall of Science | Free on Cal Day
Lawrence Hall of Science is open for FREE as part of Cal Day (in April). There’s also occasional $5 admission days on holidays during the school year.
What’s great for kids: Hands-on science activities for toddlers through adults. Wonderful climbing structures out front and a water feature that cools you off as it teaches on the back patio.
Location: 1 Centennial Drive, Berkeley
SFMOMA | Free Family Days
June 11, 2023
SFMOMA offers various Free Family Days throughout the year that offer access to the galleries, plus include art-making activities for the whole family in the Koret Education Center.
What’s great for kids: Colorful, interesting modern art exhibitions on every floor.
Location: 151 Third Street, San Francisco
Walt Disney Family Museum | Free on Walt’s birthday
December 2023 Date – TBA
Best suited for adults and older kids, the Walt Disney Family Museum typically only has one free day a year – to celebrate Walt Disney’s birthday on December 5th unless that falls on a Tuesday, when the museum is closed. Then it typically changes to be on December 4th. The date is usually announced and made official in August.
Location: 105 Montgomery Street, The Presidio, San Francisco
Always Free Bay Area Museums
- Bay Model Visitor Center, Sausalito – The scale model of the San Francisco Bay is large, fascinating, and free Tue – Sat. Run around the waterfront after your visit. Website >
- Blake Garden, Kensington – This garden is owned by UC Berkeley and serves as a venue for teaching and research in Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning. Admission and parking are always free. Open weekdays; closed weekends and holidays. 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 >
- Gardens of Lake Merritt (Oakland) – Stroll through various landscapes. It’s open nearly every day (can occasionally close due to staffing shortages) and always free. 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 >
- Randall Museum (199 Museum Way, San Francisco) – Open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm. This little museum features animals, trains, and jaw-dropping views of the city. General admission is always free and there are drop-in art classes for kids ages 5 to 7 on Saturdays from 1 pm – 4 pm for $10 per adult/child combo and $5 additional person. Website >
- Richmond Art Center (Richmond) – This community art space not only provides arts education but also has a series of rotating art exhibits. Admission is always free; Open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm. 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 Botanical Garden (Golden Gate Park) – Offers free admission when you enter before 9 am. It’s open daily, starting at 7:30 am. The closing time shifts with the seasons, 4 pm for winter, 5 pm for fall, and 6 pm for spring and summer. 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. Donations encouraged. 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) or EBT cardholders. 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
- Asian Art Museum (San Francisco, CA)
- 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)
- 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)
- Japanese Tea Garden (San Francisco)
- The Lawrence Hall of Science (Berkeley, CA)
- Lindsay Wildlife Experience (Walnut Creek, CA)
- The Marine Mammal Center (Sausalito, CA)
- Monterey County Youth Museum (MY Museum) (Monterey, CA)
- Museum of the African Diaspora (San Francisco, 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)
- Ruth Bancroft Gardens (Walnut Creek, CA)
- San Jose Museum of Art (San Jose, CA)
- The Tech Interactive (San Jose, CA)
- University of California Botanical Garden (Berkeley, 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), the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM), or the American Horticultural Society. Targeted to membership families who travel to grandma’s house and can go to the zoo, children’s museum, or gardens 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!